Innovating for Social Media

In one of the reports in one of the recent Harvard Business Review issue, Harvard Business School's Mikolaj Piskorski's compilation of the relative activity of Facebook and Myspace with respect to overall Internet activity in the US was given. This comparative analysis showed Myspace to be over indexed in southern and Midwestern US and Facebook in other regions. This compilation, claimed the report would enable marketeers to target either platform's users with more targeted messages.

Social Media has long arrived on the tables of companies to innovate downstream. Why not- Facebook alone has around 350 Million users and is still counting. People- from celebrities to normal people tweet, blog, buzz with Google, make profiles on MySpace or Facebook (and a myriad of social networking sites) and the never ending list of professional networking social media websites. Social Media holds the breath of the new Generation Y- the generation that creates a workforce at the junction of multiple cultures, multiple languages and that is truly global in nature; a generation that sees thinner and thinner boundaries between work and private life and a generation that necessarily doesn’t have the same motivational levers as those of the earlier generation.

This expanding and social media web savvy workforce of generation Y is increasing in numbers, especially in countries with high Internet penetration. In fact in the same issue of HBR, Prof Utpal Dholakia of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business and Emily Durham of Connections, a Houston based restaurant consultancy found evidence of higher net promoter scores, emotional attachment and cash flows from customers who were targeted through Facebook.

In their 2003 Book, ”When Generations Collide: Who They Are, Why They Clash. How to Solve Generational Problem at Work”, authors LC Lancaster and D Stillman describe generation Y in terms of training, learning style, communication style, problem solving, decision making, leadership style, feedback, technology usage and Job changes. In terms of training, comparing the traditionalist, Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y generations; they argue that the traditionalist generation’s training ‘the hard way’, ‘too much and I’ll leave’ attitude of the Boomer generation towards training, training as a necessity to keep the generation X, Generation Y- born between 70s and 2000 expect continuous training from their organisations. Similarly in learning style, Generation Y is more collaborative and networked compared to classroom, facilitated and independent learning styles of Traditionalist, Boomer and Generation X generations.

With respect to communication styles, in contrast to the top-down and guarded styles of traditionalist and Boomer generations as well as Hub and Spoke communication styles of Generation X; generation X believes in a more collaborative communication style. On problem solving, differing to the earlier generations being hierarchical, horizontal and independent- generation X believes yet again in a collaborative approach to problem solving.

Decision making is for this generation ‘team decided’ in contrast to ‘approval seeking’, ‘team informed’ and ‘team approved’ for other generations. This generation approaches leadership style more on a partnership basis, as compared to the traditionalist approach of command and control, rebellious ‘get out of the way’ boomer approach or coaching approach by Generation X. Similarly for Generation Y; Feedback is ‘on demand’, instead of frequent or none for other generations and technology use and job hopping is embraced as has not been done by earlier generations.

Social media innovation by organisations is primarily about creating a network of ‘trust’. Web 2.0 here can not only create a network of trusted environment and help participate in collaborating in order to innovate new products and services but can provide a very easy way to share fair information transparently.  A recent Business week competition on twitter and Blogs asked for best people innovating in social media and came out with four different categories. In terms of Tool masters- the ones who create new social media applications; in terms of people using social media for philanthropy, entrepreneurs who harness social media to reposition or reinvigorate their businesses and Hidden heroes who are the people working in old style enterprises and helping their organisations to adopt new culture and operations.

In the first category in this social media innovation competition convened through social media; the winner was Noah Brier the tool master who created ‘Brand tags’ a website that gives brand names and invites people to describe them through single words- making those words bigger which have the highest frequency. In the second category, the winner was Beth Kanter who used social media to collect funds for raising funds for Cambodian children through her charity. In the third category Eric Brown innovated his Royal Oak Michigan based apartment business into a social media laboratory. Finally for the hidden heroes category, the winner was Scott Monty, the head of social media at Ford motor company.

Social Media also has its downside. If things go wrong- people know about them fast. The same trusted communities can become a fireball with a snowball effect to blow the reputational capital off in seconds. Worst still, if explanations communicated are not fair and honest. Trust has always been important in business- Social media is reinventing trust in markets as it has never been seen before. Good news for innovators, wanting to innovate downstream- they can embrace social media through a variety of practices and technology solutions; the bad news- you cannot escape them. As not being there is letting them out of control (I should say rather ‘influence’). Social media is here to stay and every organisation must embrace it, of course innovating!

About Gunjan Bhardwaj

Gunjan Bhardwaj, advisor, senior editor and member of the editorial board. Gunjan is the leader of the Global Business Performance Think-tank of Ernst&Young. He is also the solution champion for Pricing strategy and effectiveness as well as Innovation management in the advisory services of Ernst & Young with a focus on Pharmaceutical and FMCG sector.

Gunjan is also a guest professor for Growth and Innovation management at European Business School (EBS) in Germany and a member of the scientific advisory board of Plexus Institute in the US which researches on complexity in health sciences.

Gunjan has published a number of papers and articles in various Journals and magazines and has been a frequent speaker in conferences on marketing and innovation related topics. He is also the chief editor of the quarterly journal of Ernst & Young’s advisory practice called Performance.