Six approaches for social media adoption – 6. Embed

And finally… the end of a torturously drawn out (for you and for me) series concerning different approaches to adopting social media. Even though I had most of the thinking complete when I embarked upon this series, its taken me much longer, and its been much harder, than envisaged. If I ever hint about writing a series of posts again, please make sure that I have written them all before publishing them (or shoot me)…

If you recall, the series is based on a piece of thinking I developed during and after my work on the cabinet office review of social media in early 2007.

I set out six different approaches to using or deploying social media techniques; be that for a particular tool, channel, business need, or whole organisational approach. It is not meant to be prescriptive, but details options under three broad headings. These are:

  • Observation: Do nothing or Listen
  • Interaction: Reflect or Converse
  • Initiation: Experiment or Embed

So, without further ado, lets finish this with ’embed’.

What do I mean by embed? I mean investing in self-hosted applications and tools to allow officials to use social media tools in a corporate environment.

The advantages of this approach are that the applications selected are owned, maintained and approved by the organisation. Any niggling IT security issues are resolved and the robustness of the service pretty much guaranteed (within reason).

On the downside, its likely that the speed of implementation and deployment of a tool will be very slow and expensive compared to using a web or third party hosted tool.

But once the hosting platform is in place it will be fairly simple to deploy multiple instances of tools on a trusted platform. It also sends message to staff that the organisation takes online engagment and collaboration seriously.

One of the big threats to this approach that I have seen is that many of the ‘enterprise’ social media platforms that often become chosen in these situations are fairly inflexible in their functionality and may only be partially fit for purpose. Investment in the platform can divert funding from what I think is more important (given the free and low cost tools available via other methods) – the education and training of staff which arguably is more crucial than the technology. Its also possible that investing in tools that are available elsewhere at low cost or for free could attract criticism.

The costs of investing in self-hosted tools are significant compared to the other models. Hosting platforms from suppliers of existing government web platforms are generally high cost and may also require complex and expensive procurement exercises.

Choosing this route will likely require significant project management and IT implementation resource on top of the resources identified in previous models.

Phew, thats it. The last one. Finished. Thoughts?

  1. Jeremy, congratulations on finishing you six great tasks. They may have been great for you, they’re gigantic for government organisations to implement.

    A thought about ’embedding’. The content of your blog was not what I expected from the title. Your point is, if I gather correctly, that government should make use of WordPress, Ning, UserVoice, etc. instead of building such online environments for itself.

    I agree with your point, but talking about embedding I had expected ideas about the remixability of the web. E.g. embedding widgets from elsewhere on your site or making parts of your site embeddable. Or just making information available through API’s so others can embed the content in their sites.

    Any thoughts on that? Number seven perhaps. You knew this wasn’t going to end at six … 😉

  2. Lots of thoughts!

    Firstly, thank God this series is over. 🙂

    Secondly, I definitely agree corporate investment in self-host software can be a very powerful message to staff and customers that the organisation means business. Would add that on intranets, server side software is probably the only real choice on security grounds, and if you use the same software for both outward and inward facing sites you’re onto some economies of scale.

    Thirdly, running all your social media tools off one platform can potentially have a massive benefit for usability by sparing users from having multiple sets of login details, eg one for wiki, another for forums. (Or sparing the development cost of achieving this single sign-on nirvana across separate applications).

    On the negative side, my fourth thought is that as well as intrinsic inflexibility on functions, big enterprise software tends not to be updated anywhere near as frequently as it would need to be to keep pace with innovation in the open source marketplace. So there’s much to be said for just keeping yourself footloose and fancy free so you can pick and choose tools as the need arises.

    As you know, I speak from experience on this one!

  3. A fifth thought: embedding tools into the corporate web infrastructure is not the same thing as embedding them into the corporate culture! Or to quote Steph Gray: “interactive websites are no use without interactive organisations behind them”. And on this score we can only start small…

  4. Well done on finishing. Embed is definitely the way to go, but you seem deeply (and understandably) ambiguous about self-hosted applications and tools. On the one hand, this is definitely the thing to do. On the other hand, it may not be such a good idea. I certainly do not know the answer to this dilemma and my feelings rather echo yours – it seems to be the way to go, but it risks becoming inflexible and killing the spirit of innovation!

  5. @davied – I’m not sure my thinking was that developed at the time. But its definitely something that I am actively considering now. Another post perhaps… 🙂

    @Neil – great points, especially the point about culture vs technology.

    @Paul – long time, no speak. Not necessarily sceptical, but was trying to set out the pros and cons of each approach. Horses for courses I suppose?

    • Richard
    • October 8th, 2008

    Interesting but well above me. Should have been born 20 years later !

  6. This is a big one, and I don’t know of anyone who’s really tackled it yet. To me, truly embedding social media in a large organisation means:

    1 – getting the infrastructure/platform in place
    2 – training the right people
    3 – regularising use of the tools
    4 – through use of the the tools, changing the way most people (not just a few) in the organisation think about the world outside
    5 – through the way the tools are used, changing the way the world (not just a few people) interacts with the organisation

    I’d say organisations like the FCO are at around level 3; can’t think of any examples of organisations at 4/5 except for pure technology firms like 37Signals, Flickr, and Moo.

    Now, you could argue that ’embedding’ in the real corporate world doesn’t really mean taking it to level 4 or 5: what’s Bob in Accounts got to do with our YouTube channel? Does it matter if Katie in Policy would never blog about her work – as long as a few bright sparks in her team do? When we talk about embedding social media, as of 2008, we mean equipping some brave pioneers with the equivalent of media training or putting some smartboards in meeting rooms, not putting a phone on everyone’s desk and expecting them to use it all day long.

  7. Absolutely Steph – couldn’t agree more. I been blathering on that ‘social media isn’t the tools’ for almost as long as I wrote the six approaches – but these were more focused on the technology and technical implementation pluses and minuses which are a whole other ballgame (and way way more important).

    I’m increasingly thinking that some organisational mainstream approach to this will undoubtedly require some business culture change. Which is daunting indeed…

    • andrewlewin
    • October 10th, 2008

    I should have marshalled my thoughts and got here earlier, because I think Steph just made the point that’s been niggling at me the last few days since your post went up, Jeremy: that the difference between ‘experiment’ and ’embed’ shouldn’t be related to the technological platform. That’s only the delivery mechanism and quite different from anything within the department’s culture.

    I’ve worked with clients that have ’embedded’ the technology just fine in the sense of getting the infrastructure in place and installing tools like discussion forums – but it’s been skin deep, a bolt-on that has affected maybe 2-3 people within the organisation but no more. Sometimes I think that the hosted tools actually offer more flexibility and responsiveness and generate more excitement and buy-in from a wider range of people. But most times I just think that the platform is a detail to be sorted out rather than truly significant.

    So what does embedding mean for me? Well, it’s just as digital media has finally become ’embedded’: it’s when you no longer have to make the case for a blog, wiki, website, etc. – the default position is that you have it. Unless there’s a reason why it’s not needed in this case. It’s when the chief executive turns round and says “And what IS our Second Life strategy?” and expects an implementable answer, instead of having to be told there are these things called virtual worlds and wouldn’t it be a good idea to actually find out something about them.

    As for requiring business cultural change: we forget sometimes, but that’s what we do, and it’s what we have done ever since the start of new media. Digital has changed the culture of business and politics massively in the last decade, but it’s hard to see sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, but no CEO these days would ever question the need for a website or digital marketing.

    Social media is just another strand/phase of that ongoing process, another transformation for businesses and governments to adjust to.

  8. @Andrew – I agree that culture is fundamentally the important thing. When I was originally writing the series about 18 months ago, the immediate challenge was the practical how of doing it, rather than the cultural how of getting the organisation onside. Perhaps it deserves a whole new series of its own.

    • Russell
    • October 15th, 2008

    Thanks for this series – I’d definitely welcome a new series on culture!

  9. Embed … like an icepick?

  1. October 23rd, 2008
  2. February 9th, 2009

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