Where frontiers are waiting to be crossed
Channel proliferation can open up new worlds of ideas for enterprises to explore if they are bold enough to go where non-corporates have gone before, David Bowen says.
|BASF Facebook||Siemens home page|
|Siemens YouTube||Shell Facebook|
Fifty online managers from a range of big European private and public sector organisations got together in Budapest for the fifth Bowen Craggs Web Effectiveness conference in mid-June.
Our principal theme was governance, on the grounds that everything always comes back to it. There is a high correlation between the companies near the top of the FT Bowen Craggs Index and strength of governance structures. We heard useful lessons from them and from those fighting to catch up. But even the very best performers are struggling to keep pace with channel proliferation (social media channels, mobile web, apps etc). As one speaker said, ‘We’re coping now, but…’.
Some of the most interesting and unexpected ideas came from our two non-corporate speakers, however, and were amplified by speeches and comments from other speakers and the floor.
Masses of involvement
Julius van de Laar is a German who feels very much at home in the US and who helped build Barack Obama’s impressive (quite possibly presidency winning) campaign in 2008, and is preparing to join the 2012 campaign later in the summer.
He explained how the campaign team combined election registers, purchased-lists of lifestyle information and data gathered from Facebook, Linked In and other social media channels to create a mass of invaluable intelligence. Facebook users were asked if they minded the Obama team posting messages directly onto their pages, and at the end of the campaign volunteers were mobilised online to make 7 million calls in 48 hours. ‘The crowd’ in effect became part of the Obama campaign team. This year the team has an app that uses geo-location to point volunteers to the doorsteps of undecided voters. But, Mr van de Laar, observed, all this was far from pushing control out to the grassroots: it was tightly controlled by a small group in Chicago. Governance is the key.
Owen Pringle runs Amnesty International’s digital strategy. He told us how the NGO (non-governmental organisation) has been exploiting open innovation – getting people to come up with ideas that can then be exploited. Amnesty got 25,000 people to generate ideas on technology that could reduce the impact of illegal detention. More than 300 ideas came out of a giant ‘makeathon’, resulting in four working prototypes.
Ripe for involvement
What could a mainly corporate audience get from this? Little chance, surely, of thousands of people giving up their spare time to help a multinational? Maybe, but it turned out there is plenty to contemplate.
First, it made the online managers think about ‘big data’ in a way they had not before. Political organisations and NGOs are expert at mining information about their online visitors. So, too, are some corporations – not just Google and Facebook, but any business with a loyalty mechanism or mass marketing programme. But can the communications team get in on the act? And should they?
The answer ‘can they?’ must lead to the answer ‘yes’ if they have any form of social media channel. BASF has a busy Facebook page, even though it is a pure business-to-business organisation. Most posts come from people outside the company, we were told. Who are they? Shell has almost one and half million ‘likes’, with a huge number of comments. Who are these people inhabiting corporate territory? Not so difficult to find out.
‘Should they?’ provoked an interesting debate. Plenty to worry about on privacy, for a start. Mr van de Laar acknowledged that he had an interesting perspective. Coming from Germany, where privacy concerns are unrivalled, but working in the US, where they are much less bothered about. Will US relaxation about privacy spread east – there is a theory that young people everywhere care little about it and that the US is simply ahead of Europe. We shall see.
Build up involvement
Second, the idea of ‘the crowd’ helping big companies may not be as daft as it sounds. Revert to one of the early names for social media – user-generated content – and you find a resource that Siemens is happily exploiting. For more than a year now it has been using its corporate home page – mirrored on YouTube and Facebook – as a private film production and screening enterprise. The initiative is going pretty well, with videos commissioned from established directors getting up to 200,000 views on the YouTube screen alone. But the company has now started asking its audiences to produce and send in their own films – 15 have been posted so far with one, on Abuja, having more than 80,000 views on YouTube. Saves money, engages with the audience. What could be better?
Will your audiences do your work for you on Facebook, too? Ask a company such as Nestlé that has seen its page turned into enemy held territory, and it will probably say no. But ask Shell or BASF and you will get a rosier view. BASF has about 26,000 likes, and says it gets a good level of engagement – most of the posts are made by other people and most are about other posts – that is, they are conversation. A small percentage offer mindless praise (‘BASF you are great’), with an even smaller number hostile. Still more interesting is Shell’s page. As you would expect, there is a fair amount of criticism, but on balance this is friendly territory – and not, it seems, because most posters want a job.
How can that be exploited? Multinationals are not going to get the masses out knocking on doors for them. But are there other ways this raft of support can be brought to the aid of the commercial party? Worth some deep contemplation, at least.
First published on 27 June, 2012