There's an interesting cross-current between social media and the new connectivity and networks social media create, and innovation. It's fairly obvious when you stop to think about it - good ideas spring from the interaction of different perspectives or point of view, and the more interconnected we become via social media, the more opportunities exist for innovation.
It was with this frame of reference that I agreed to review Empowered, by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. Bernoff, as you may recall, was co-author of Groundswell, which was really a seminal book about the different kinds and uses of social media. Groundswell helped define what social media is, and demonstrated the value of social media tools at a time when many businesses were questioning whether or not those tools had value. Tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums and so forth. The questions about whether or not the tools have value have, to a great extent, been proven out. Now the real question becomes, who uses those tools and how does that change the way the organization works?
In Empowered, Bernoff and Schadler turn their attention to exactly this question - what does it mean to have powerful social media tools that enable increased communication and idea exchange? What could that mean for your business, and how will it impact your business? The authors posit that a HERO will arise from these attributes - Highly Empowered Resourceful Operative. In some ways these HEROS arise in response to the fact that customers make demands on the organization - Twittering about bad service or blogging about a faulty product. This seems to suggest that the HEROs arise in reaction to the difficulty of responding to customers. I suspect, quite to the contrary, that these HEROs have always existed, but now have the tools to reach the customers and other like-minded fellow employees. In other words, social media came along and created communities, but also provided the tools necessary to help engaged, empowered employees to solve problems and create new relationships with customers that simply wasn't available previously.
If you haven't read Groundswell, I'd recommend reading it before Empowered, simply to ensure you have the foundation for understanding the different social media tools and their uses. The book is packed with a range of ideas and suggestions and sometimes seems to create a new acronym per chapter. Beyond HERO we get IDEA, the methodology that HEROs should use to interact with engaged customers:
This methodology defines how HEROs can recruit, develop and use customer activists to further powerful, positive messages about the company through social media. The authors also borrow from Gladwell, leveraging the concept of Mavens and Connectors to further this thinking. Much of the early part of the book does a great job identifying what the HEROs can do to interact with other HEROs internally or with engaged customers externally.
I felt the book got a bit preachy and cheesy in the middle, when it spent time on a HERO compact, basically an agreement between HEROs, Information Technology and Management. Each leg of this three legged stool ends up with a stated compact and set of agreements they must live up to. Yes, IT does often get in the way of the use of externally oriented social media tools, but they have their reasons. And yes, Twelpforce at Best Buy is proof that engaged employees can provide support to consumers, but one example does not demonstrate that every firm will be successful using this approach, and the HERO oath applied on pages 116 and 123 feels forced.
The book turns its focus to helping HEROs achieve great outcomes in the last third, with a focus on helping HEROs innovate and helping HEROs collaborate. These chapters, while short, reinforce cultural changes that must occur to support the rise of hyper-connected employees and the shifts in the work they do and the value they deliver.
For the most part, this book is really less about innovation, or empowerment or social media, and more about the possibilities that exist in a well-educated, engaged and connected workforce. The real barriers to HEROs, beyond the IT bug-a-boo, are hierarchy, culture and risk. The silos that exist in many firms keep the best people from interacting with customers and helping customers achieve their goals. Prevailing cultural attitudes about what to say, and whom to say it to, and who in the organization should say it, will restrict a significant amount of the work the authors are trying to promote. Most organizations live in mortal fear of allowing anyone to say anything in any channel that hasn't been vetted six times. That fact alone will constrain HEROs and social media interaction.
Empowered is a good book that helps describe the shift that will happen in organizations as top-down hierarchical firms begin to shift to flatter, more nimble and more engaged organizations relying on social media tools and the interactions they create between the company and its customers and partners, and internal silos as well. While I think the authors intended this book to act as a guidebook for implementing social media and empowering corporate teams, I suspect it will probably be a longer term change, but completely on target with their ideas.