Groundswell technology comes to consumers first. At home, we get social, mobile, video, and cloud services pitched to us 24x7. Facebook, Android, iPad, Foursquare, Google, YouTube, Office Web Apps, Twitter. The list is endless and growing every single day. Empowering technologies like these will always come to consumers first. Why? Because it's a wide-open market. A single developer can build an application that changes the world from their broadband-connected bedroom.
All this technology puts tremendous power directly into the hands of your customers. Your customers often have more information than your sales team — or medical staff — does. They can also whack your brand from their smartphone, with video even, while waiting impatiently in line. They can get a recommendation from someone in their business network while listening to your pitch. Customers are empowered by information and connections. You'd better make sure you give customers better information than they can get elsewhere.
The only way to do that is to empower your employees to directly engage the needs and expectations of empowered customers. Only empowered employees can solve the problems of empowered customers.
Fortunately, your employees are not standing still. People are problem solvers. Left alone, your innovative employees (we call them HEROes — highly empowered and resourceful operatives) are building new solutions using these same groundswell technologies — and many others besides — to solve customer problems.
In fact, 37% of US information workers — employees that use computers for work — use do-it-yourself technology to get work done. Personal mobile devices. Unsanctioned Web sites like Skype or Google Docs or LinkedIn or Smartsheet.com. Unsanctioned software downloaded to a work computer.
Each year we conduct a search for the best examples of social media/social communities as part of our search for winners of the prestigious Forrester Groundswell Awards. This year we have added a new category of award aimed at internal communities designed to help management with innovation and/or collaboration across the organization — communities that empower employees.
In the fall I’ll be helping my colleague, Ted Schadler — co-author of the upcoming book Empowered — to judge the winners of the management category. So if you have a social community or social media success story please consider nominating your firm for one or more categories in this year’s awards.
Lately, a lot of our clients have been asking about how to manage their social media programs across more than one country. It's a real challenge: While some sites (like MySpace) have long offered solutions to help marketers direct users from different countries to the correct branded page, the current social media leaders (Facebook, YouTube and Twitter) don't seem to do this nearly as well. How, then, do you make sure that the Facebook page on which you post UK-specific content doesn't misinform your European fans? How do make sure the support community designed to help your US customers doesn't confuse your Canadian audience? Do you create multiple pages in each social network to serve all the countries in which you operate? Or do you maintain a single presence in each network, and avoid posting any country-specific material? If you offer different product lines in different countries -- or use radically different marketing strategies market by market -- it only gets more difficult.
If the seventies and eighties were dominated by technology-led innovation, with IT in the driving seat, the nineties and two thousands was surely the period of marketing-led innovation. With the emergence of social computing as such a big influence on business, spreading rapidly beyond the sole domain of marketing, it seems we are entering a new era - the era of Social Innovation.
In this era, innovation will be driven by empowered customers and employees and IT and Marketing will need to join forces and collaborate as never before. The CIO and the CMO, IT and Marketing, will jointly power this new era of Social Innovation by bringing together their extensive domain expertise to create a Social Innovation Network.
The way I see it, true Social Innovation goes beyond customer interaction and idea generation, it requires a powerful and coordinated network of players to take customer-generated innovation and to test, scale and implement it. IT has a key role to play in this Social Innovation Network as the broker, helping to connect the network players and components and to establish the management, strategy and technological backbone of the network.