"These are a few of my favourite things". Image by Conorwithonen on Flickr

"These are a few of my favourite things". Image by Conorwithonen on Flickr

The phenomenon of Social Media is revolutionary in the truest sense. Citizens, Consumers and Communities can now organize without “organizations”.  It is an issue, then, that Organizations need to take very seriously.

While Social Media may seem to some to be a bunch of online websites and mobile applications, it is in fact a cultural phenomenon that is coming to define our times.

These websites have all emerged as a result of the convergence between people’s fundamental social needs and a host of enabling technologies - the founders didn’t invent online social media, they responded to an emerging trend with well-designed database-backed websites that made it easier for people to do what they already wanted to do.

It’s useful to distinguish between the tools that we use, and the trends that enable their use. Making this distinction will ensure that we invest our effort in ways that are meaningful as opposed to simply ‘cool’. To make this clear, try consider Social Media in terms of Trifles, Trends and Truths:

Trifles are fashionable at a particular time, but aren’t likely to represent a major societal shift by themselves. In the product world this could be something like skinny jeans - it might seem like a great idea right now, but in time that feeling will pass. The technical world is filled with trifles - thousands of websites and applications that are launched every month, each one promising to be the next big thing. Trifles are here today gone tomorrow. Even giant companies like Facebook and Twitter could be seen as Trifles, because there are no guarantees that they’ll be around in a couple of years - we’ve certainly seen many other large companies come and go in recent years.

Trends are more sustainable shifts in commerce and culture than any particular company or product can represent. Whereas YouTube.com may be a Trifle, Social Media and people’s capability and desire to share their perspectives online is a Trend. The trend is large, millions of people and thousands of companies are behind it, and it’s likely to shape the way we all do things over the coming years.

Truths underpin and enable any trend. The closer a Trifle or Trend is aligned with a human Truth, the more likely it is to be sustainable. The human truth of Social Media is that people are fundamentally social. People’s need to connect with each other is almost as high up as the survival instinct. Combine this powerful natural driver with web-based tools to enable social connection with mobile devices that connect seamlessly to the web, and you have the makings of a major behavioral shift. People are responding compulsively to the opportunity to do social grooming whenever and wherever.

The idea is to align why you use technologies to the truths (and this is the most important work you can do), what you do to the trends, and how you do it to the trifles.

Digital Nomads

The use of mobile phones is a particularly interesting trend to pay attention to. Smart phones -  that enable web browsing and applications - grant us the wherever, whenever access to our social networks that we so compulsively desire.

The first mobile social-network was your phone’s contact list, and it was every bit as revolutionary as Facebook’s social graph - if not more so. The contact list in the phone in your pocket accompanies you to work, and the work-places of your “friends” (I use inverted commas because we all know how far the definition of “friend” is stretched in social media). The effect of which is to blur the boundaries between our social-lives and our work-lives. No need to deny you use your phone, however occasionally, for personal communication while at work - the research shows that we all do it.

The thing is that your work life is probably creeping into your social life too. Email is no-longer confined to your desktop. Thanks to mobile devices it now follows you around to dates, lines at the supermarket, and even holidays.

In this way we are digital nomads: mobility allows us to roam with our economic and social structure carried with us in tiny digital caravans. We’re seeing the enterprisation of our social lives, and the socialisation of our enterprises.

Companies around the world have blocked Social Media access at work, because it’s seen as an unproductive waste of time. However, as we all know - with the rise of smart-phones, people are accessing Social Media media at the office anyway.

The good news, though, is that research conducted at the University of Melbourne has shown that a certain amount of free web browsing is actually conducive to productivity, as long as it doesn’t take up more than 20% of our day.

Busyness

This blurring of boundaries can have a host of unforeseen consequences. For one thing, there’s a general sense that we are all more busy and distracted than ever before.  There’s always something demanding our attention.

Multitasking has gone to another level. Tabbed browsing online, multiple applications running on your computer, and people contacting you on various devices and channels - everything urgent, everything “real-time”. While media multi-tasking may have seemed like a good idea some-time in the 90’s, it was clearly a trifle, because subsequent research has shown that it may have adverse affects on memory and brain function.

Do you ever get anxious when looking at your email? You could be suffering from “Email Apnea” - the tendency to hold your breath when dealing with an over-full inbox. This nasty little unconscious habit activates your sympathetic nervous system to kick-in the fight-or-flight response - so your poor body thinks it’s being chased by a mammoth animal while you’re just sitting at your desk. This is generally experienced as “stress”, which by the way can make you fat.

A simple way to deal with this overload is to just force yourself to single-task. Commit uninterrupted time to complete work tasks, enjoy short guilt-free social-media breaks between, and take regular “tech-free” sabbaticals on holidays and weekends.

Social Media and Reputation

Time-wasting is perhaps the least of company worries when it comes to social-media. With entire organizations connecting to the outside world publicly, the potential for PR blunders, Wikileak-type scandals, and general impropriety is greatly enhanced.

Qantas Airlines discovered this earlier this year when their share price was significantly affected by a false rumour that emerged on Twitter. The hard-earned lesson, in words of their CEO, Alan Joyce: "In this modern day and age with social media, you have to be responsive immediately. You have to be out there with the facts very fast, so it's changing the whole dynamic and speed to market that organisations like Qantas have to respond to."

It’s not just companies that need to be mindful of social media. It has become standard hiring practice to do a Google search on someone before hiring them. Have you Googled yourself? What comes up there is colloquially called your “Google CV” - the contemporary alternative to the paper version. If you want to take control of the impression you make online, the best advice I can give you is to ask yourself if you’d be happy for your boss or clients to see what you’re uploading. If not, don’t post it.

Clearly it’s not possible to stop people from using social media, so the most viable response seems to be simply to educate people on responsible online activity. Forward-thinking companies have drafted official Social Media guidelines for staff, along with ongoing training to help people use these powerful tools responsibly, professionally, and sustainably.

Radical Authenticity

One of the fears that people have with all this online use is that Big Brother is watching us, but with all our millions of tiny cell-phone cameras, tweets and wikis, the bigger story is that we are now watching Big Brother.

With the explosion of information available online - much of it unreliable - we have become far more skeptical consumers.The true currency of the web today is Trust. And Trust is built over time by aligning what is said with what is done.

Ultimately, social media is not just a communications channel that can be managed and controlled. It is a not a set of technologies to be mastered, it is a cultural reality to be engaged with. It promises to expose the corrupt and reveal the extraordinary, and if nothing else it is to guaranteed to keep us on our toes. It is chaotic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. So the best social media strategy, then, is not a strategy at all, it is to be purposeful, ethical, and transparent and let our communications and behaviours flow from that.

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If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in a course I'm running in July for UCT Graduate School of Business: Nomadic Leadership

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AuthorDave Duarte
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Is formal education the surest path to health, wealth,  happiness and societal progress? I think it's important that we start looking directly at what is working for people who we consider successful today.

With the unprecedented rate of technologically driven change in industries and jobs, along with a super-abundance of information, perhaps being educated is no longer a matter of having completed a degree once upon a time. From what I've seen from the most successful people that I know, learning is a lifestyle and the most learned people are not bookworms, but "pracademics" - part doer (practitioner) and part researcher (academic).

As I see it then, being educated in in the age of Google and the web is now a matter of:

Being Educated.001.jpg

1) Being Curious and Humble

The greatest threat to the sustainability individuals and companies are that their current processes and technologies become obsolete. Instead of falling back on what you know, you should nurture a curiosity about what is possible. Once you know what problems are worthwhile solving, the answers are easier to find than ever before. 

"Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge." Kahlil Gibran

2) Learning fitness

There should be an expiry date on most degrees. Knowledge is dating at a faster rate than ever before - from web marketing to medicine - industries change as science and technology progresses.  The ability to discern fads (quickly dated tastes) from trends (slow-building, sustainable and significant changes) will help us align our learning to what is likely to be most valuable to society.

"The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet" - William Gibson

3) knowing how to access and store information (web user skills + knowledge management)

The answers to your questions are out there, but to find them, store them, and access them when you need them takes some skill. Do you know how to determine the credibility of a web resource? Are you savvy in Boolean operators for search? Can you use Google Fusion Tables to analyse data on the fly? Do you use metadata to help you save and sort relevant articles in an online app? There are a host of tools that can radically enhance our intelligence, capacity, and research abilities.

"Access is better than ownership" - Kevin Kelly

4) Connecting with the people who are involved in doing what you're learning about (networking)

Knowing the right people leads to opportunities for continued success and learning - this happens through conversations, introductions and collaborations. I've personally found that the best way to meet and connect with these people is a combination of participating in online networks, and attending conferences and courses that are topically related.

Support, mentoring, and coaching is also a key element of this value factor.

"Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (A person is a person through other people) - Zulu Maxim

5) Keeping focussed (goals and analytics)

The most useful part of a university degree is the paper you get at the end of it, but not for the reasons you might think. The paper (the degree) is an end-goal that motivates you to finish what you started. The best preventative measure to this distraction is to have goals, milestones, metrics, and an accountability system (once again, mentoring and coaching can play a key role here) that will ensure that you get to a significant depth of understanding and praxis.

"There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

6) Maintaining energy, health and wellbeing (exercise & nutrition)

The modern corporate lifestyle is almost by defined by traffic, desk-bound work, technological dependence, high stress, regular air-travel, junk-food,  and stimulants. If education's role is to improve the lives of the educated, then it's incumbent on educators to embed healthy practices that enable clear thinking, creativity, and well-being.

Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

7) Philosophical Engagement (Mental Models and Ethics)

Perhaps the two surest ways to sustain success and build momentum in the long run are: a) having philosophies, mental models, and paradigms that that allow you to zoom out of the day-to-day activity of your work and see whether what you're doing is truly worthwhile to yourself and others,  and b) A good reputation, gained through years of ethical practice.

"The sacred is all about unconditionals; the profane is all about conditionals." - Nassim Taleb

What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything here? How can we move closer to making this vision a reality? I'd love to hear your views.

Later this week I'll be going to Kampala, Uganda for the Africa Media Leadership Conference (AMLC) in Uganda.From Wikipedia:
The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, bordered on the east by Kenya, the north by Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by Tanzania

The following is from the conference press release:
AMLC is an annual meeting among African media bosses. This year it is focusing on how the continent is embracing new media technologies to serve the changing needs and interests of their customers.

The conference will be attended by 40 senior editors and CEOs of media firms stretching from South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland in the south to Kenya and Ethiopia in the north and from Senegal and the Ivory Coast in the west.

The topic of the talk I am presenting is: How African Traditional Media can Tap Into New Social Media and Blogs.
The conference is co-hosted by Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) in South Africa and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation.

“This year’s conference is looking at a range of digital media platforms that have emerged and continue to emerge around the world and the challenges that face media companies in Africa in adopting and adapting these platforms for their competitive advantage,” said Francis Mdlongwa, Director of the Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI).

“Given the breath-taking technological changes which are re-shaping and even redefining the entire media industry, we felt that Africa should pause, take stock, look at what works and does not work in our part of the world and why, and plan ahead,” he added.

The SPI is Africa’s only university-level institution offering high-level media management and leadership training programmes to both practising and aspirant media leaders from across the continent. It runs a post-graduate programme in media management and leadership and a series of certificated management programmes for senior editorial and business media managers.
Frank Windeck, the head of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s Sub-Sahara Africa Media Programme, the sponsor of the Africa Media Leadership Conference series, said: “These meetings give Africa’s top media people a unique opportunity to network at the highest level and to examine key industry and other issues which concern them and to seek practical solutions by examining case studies drawn from Africa.”

The conference series was launched by the SPI and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in 2002 to promote high-level interaction among Africa’s media chiefs and to seek practical, innovative and creative solutions to challenges faced by the African media.

The conference meets annually in an African country, and past conferences have debated topics such as Revenue Generation for Robust African Media (Cape Town, South Africa); South Meets East: Strategic Challenges for African Media (Nairobi, Kenya); Managing Media in Recession (Mauritius); and Policies and Strategies for Media Viability (Maputo, Mozambique).
I'm looking forward to the trip, and to meeting and engaging deeply with the ideas of some of Africa's top media people. I will, of course, be sharing as much as possible of the knowledge I gain with you on this blog.
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AuthorDave Duarte
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Last week, my perspective was shifted by an improvisational leadership educator. I told him "Robert, you always make the best of situations", and he said: "No, Dave, I always make good of situations". There's an important distinction there.

See, there is only one best solution to any challenge, but there are usually alot of good solutions. When I am focusing only on "the best", I can get gripped by fear of failure and end up not taking any action at all.

In the business sense, there are companies who's top goal for the next year is "to be the best in xyz-sector". How can they expect to make market-disrupting innovation breakthroughs in this way? Doesn't focussing on being the best keep us from being characterful?

When I asked an entrepreneur billionaire a few years ago what his number 1 tip for business success is, he told me: "Don't try be big. If you're focussed on being big, you'll mess up. Just try be good and the growth will be natural".
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Image Courtesy of Yale Daily NewsThe issue of whether to allow employees access to social-media apps, Facebook in particular, is a growing concern in many companies. Bandwidth costs are soaring, and some people think it's affecting productivity. As someone quipped on the Nomadic Marketing course "Is it Social-Networking, or Social-NOTworking"!?

Of course, the people inside these companies probably don't appreciate their access to these sites being curtailed. I, for one, think these things enhance my productivity. But I'm obviously a bit strange.

Of course, someone has created a support group for these people, on Facebook, ironically.

The group, called "I hate IT departments who block MSN, MySpace & Facebook" could be big, but only if it's target membership can actually access it!

Anyway, some interesting commentary is coming from the group:
We have found a way to access the book at work - hee hee ..... www.logmein.com... basically download the free software to your pc at home - leave it running while at work - and you can access your pc from work and facebook ALL DAY .... WICKED!!!

An IT guy had this to say:
We (The IT Guy) is not the enemy we do as we are told and what security procedures we have to follow... But what the boss doesn't know wont hurt him!

And:
Make friends with the IT guys they have basically your office world at their finger tips...

Where there's a need, there's a Facebook group. What are your thoughts on this?
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Patricia De Lille blogPatricia De Lille has denounced the freedom of bloggers, asking government to crack down on bloggers. This follows a bout blog of criticism targeted at ID colleague, Simon Grindrod.


IOL reports that she's even applying to use tax-payer's money for a National Intelligence Service investigation to track the blogger down.

Fortunately, we live in a free and democratic country where this will not get very far. Perhaps, as Angus points out, MP De Lille will find a more sympathic government in communist China or North Korea?

The point of citizen journalism, as opposed to regulated mainstream media is free and natural expression of ideas by ordinary people (i.e. voting constituents). If these issues with Grindrod are being raised online, people are probably talking about them in natural conversation too. She could gain alot more benefit by paying attention to what is being said, and possibly responding in a public forum to the issues that have been raised. This is the meaning of "join the conversation".

This is why your fellow parliamentarians Helen Zille and Ebrahim Rasool from the DA and ANC respectively have social-media profiles... And I congratulate them for that.