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Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

For lawyers, social networking has always been an important feature of the way they do business, and there are many characteristics of lawyerly behaviour that map very closely to the features of online social networking, such as:

  • Relationship based-business development;
  • Individual brand based on reputation and trust;
  • Expertise location and knowledge proliferation through social networks;
  • Development of legal content and expertise as a social endeavour;
  • Strong guild-like legal community.

Nevertheless, as traditionally conservative adopters of technology, many lawyers simply have not had the time to consider the implications of these social and technological developments, whilst others dismiss them as passing fads or consider them unlikely to have any real impact on the legal world.

by ocean.flynn

by ocean.flynn

The popularity of networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has tended to limit perceptions of social networking to the online out-of-work pass-time of the younger (Net) generation, leaving many lawyers struggling to see beyond these media-created impressions of online networking.

Some question the value of professional networking sites, which have yet to attract a critical mass of participants.  Others do not see as relevant activities like micro-blogging, social tagging and bookmarking, or are concerned with perceived risks associated with online social networking stemming from a breach of ethics or data security, and “inappropriate” behaviour.

These concerns, which need to be acknowledged and addressed if we are to see widespread adoption, have not deterred some innovative legal professionals who have observed the highly visible success and popularity of sites such as Wikipedia, Delicious, Facebook and LinkedIn, and are getting involved in social networking in an effort to secure competitive advantage through:

  • Development and exploitation of social capital within online social networks;
  • Development of collective intelligence, both inside the firm and more broadly within a market context;
  • Informal knowledge sharing using online social tools and networks.

Within the firm, over-structured group collaboration tools are increasingly giving way to lightweight wiki-based team and group spaces. Costly internal newsletters are becoming blogs, one-way intranet publishing is being opened up using wikis, RSS is starting to replace email alerts and internal social networks are taking forward the concept of expertise location and ‘know who’.

Within the marketplace, online social networking is helping legal professionals and firms alike to increase their visibility and be part of the conversation where ever it is happening, build reputation and relationships, recruit and retain the best and brightest new legal minds who have grown up as internet natives, and provided value-added personalised legal services and secure referrals.

Clearly, there are many opportunities to re-think the way firms operate and emerge as more effective businesses. Have you thought about the potential for improvement in your firm?

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If I created a tag cloud of the presentations and ensuing discussions from last week’s Unicom Web 2.0 conference, the ‘email‘ and ‘twitter‘ tags would dwarf all others.  Not surprising really, since email is for most businesses a pivotal communication channel, which is systemically (over) used across all organisational levels.  Twitter, on the other hand, is a fresh technology offering some genuine improvements to communications and networking behind the firewall.

But, as Clay Shirky pointed out in his recent interview with Dave Cushman, stuff doesn’t get socially interesting until it gets technologically boring.  And that’s precisely the situation we face with email and Twitter.

It’s annoyingly effortless to inundate people with blanket emails, cc’d information, repeated queries or requests for information.  The cycle of overuse is perpetuated because it’s too easy to hit ‘send’ without considering other options for engaging people or the impact of sending the email.  Of course, existing ‘options’ may vary depending on the technologies available in the organisation and the extent to which people are actually using them.  Like Twitter, for example, which is still being tested as part of the business social media landscape and use cases being established (see these posts by Lee Bryant, Chris Brogan and Jay Cross).

So in that context, Luis Suarez shared with us at the conference some insight into ‘giving-up’ work email based on his own efforts in that regard, and his use of alternative technologies to help him work more effectively.

Since ‘giving up’ email, Luis explained that if people want to communicate with him, they now do so through any and every mechanism other than email.  It’s up to the individual to find the medium which best suits the task at hand.  And for Luis, his kit is now replete with ‘elective’ tools – meaning he can dip in and out of conversations at the best time.  He constantly updates his ‘status’ (using twitter) so that everybody’s aware when he’s available for calls, for IM exchanges, or to meet up.  This means he doesn’t waste anytime in his inbox, nor is he bothered by IM or other alerts when he’s trying to work.  It also means that people’s expectations are well-managed, for example in respect of Luis’s availability and response times.  Amongst other things, this approach makes for less interruptions and greater productivity/effectiveness.

The clear message here is that email is just one channel, and it’s a really bad tool for connecting to people and finding out what’s in their heads!   But people use it like it’s the only tool.  They close down many opportunities for improvement simply because they don’t take the time to think and unlearn some bad behaviour.  Since his abstention from email, Luis reports that getting the job done is all about his network and ideas.  He knows what he wants to tune into, and uses his community (and social tools) to help him filter the masses of information, so he receives only the choice cuts and doesn’t waste time on bogged down in the inbox.

Luis’s story provides a great example of how a twittering-style technology can be used in the flow of daily work providing tangible benefits to the individual (status updates signaling work levels or availability) and others (who’s doing what and when).  It’s this need for greater transparency that Jay Cross referred to as a key use case for Twitter to improve learning in the enterprise:

“When I draw a blueprint of an ideal enterprise learning environment, it always includes an expertise location function. You see, lots of corporate learning comes from asking other people how to do things. The trouble is, we ask the person closest to us rather than someone likely to have the right answer. Getting blank looks instead of viable answers or, worst yet, getting the wrong answer, is a prime means of frittering away time on the job.  A corporate [“twitter”] network could overcome some of these difficulties. For one thing, Twitter grows a self-organizing social network. Nothing to fill out. When a question is thrown out to the network, people with time and energy can volunteer at answer. No more inundating the expert.”

It may yet take a little time for this to become the reality of mainstream business communication and networking landscape.  However, that shouldn’t stop people reflecting on the effectiveness and efficiency of their present processes, behaviour and use of technology.  And for those who do make some simple shifts toward a more informed use of technology to better support business practice, they can expect to be at the front of the disruptive change (i.e. innovation) in the way business gets done!

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Over the last few weeks there’s been some interesting exchanges around mandating the use of social tools (in particular blogs) within an organisation as ‘reflective’ tools for sharing and learning (see Abraham, Leberecht, Leyden and Cornelius). Those exchanges dovetail nicely with another weighty debate around tailoring the functionality of tools like ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ to suit the enterprise context, and more particularly, whether their use should be given a top-down or other informal nudge to ensure contributions are sufficiently work-related. The former is now moving through a spectrum of mandating -> encouraging contributions and the latter is focusing on channeling or containing them.

Moving away from a ‘they just must‘ perspective, we can instead observe how people are communicating and with whom, and why in other instances they are not. We also have the opportunity to consider how to channel ‘twittering’ behaviour to help us work in a more fun, informed and effective way.

The working paper “Communication (and Coordination?) in a Modern, Complex Organisation” by Adam M Kleinbaum, Toby E Stuart and Michael L Tushman (Harvard Business School, First Look, 29 July 2008 ) provides some extraordinary insight into the structure of communications in a modern organization. In other words, who is communicating, how often and with whom? To answer the following question, the study analysed millions of electronic mail messages, calendar meetings and teleconferences for thousands of employees in a geographically dispersed, multiunit enterprise:

What is the role of observable … boundaries (i.e. business unit, office location, gender and tenure in the firm) between individuals in structuring communications inside the firm?

The salient findings include:

  • The extraordinarily high similarity and parallel relationship between email and face-to-face/social networks within the firm.
  • The striking relationship between e-mail activity and hierarchical level; the average executive (members of the top four salary bands) in the sample sent and received more than twice as many e-mails as the average middle manager who, in turn, sent and received more than twice as many as the average rank-and-file employee.
  • That women, mid- to high- level executives, and members of the executive management, sales and marketing functions are most likely to cross the company’s social structure gaps and participate in cross-group communications.

What we don’t know is whether (and if so the extent to which) other communication/collaboration technologies were available within the firm. Of course the authors warn against generalisations based on results from a single organisation, but given well-known issues associated with email overuse, abstinence from traditional ‘above-the-flow‘ KM/collaboration, and the need for buy-in from management, I think the study supports some principles which can guide behaviour in other instances.

If social tools are thrown into the mix, any adoption strategy should look to the participation of the groups identified above, who are key information/social networking nodes and would be invaluable to any social software pilot. But engaging the high-level executives (in particular) could be a very large mountain to climb. Whilst that group has a considerable amount to gain from ‘above-the-flow’ activities and slight changes to behaviour (like micro-blogging instead of emailing), they usually have well established preferences for face-to-face, email or phone communications, and need to cope with a variety of political/power dynamics. And as for a “they just must” approach with this group: forget it!

Simply articulating the value to be obtained from experience will clearly not be enough, even if people are being given the time to take up the opportunity. Instead, barriers to the participation, reflection and learning processes need to be lowered. Amongst other ways, that can be achieved by giving people the means to capture their thoughts on a platform in a more informal conversational way – whilst they are working (i.e. more ‘in-the-flow’ of daily operations). Whether that be through micro-blogging, sticky notes or commenting, status updates or wall-postings, the process should reflect people’s preferences for technology and communication style. As we are seeing, that means enabling ‘twitter-ing’ quick-fire style exchanges during people’s work, which can be rapidly embellished and/or responded to by others.

And rather than defining the scope of the tools (like “please use this for client and not social purposes”), use tags, aggregators and RSS to manage/channel the flow of content. Having started the debate, McAfee on further reflection notes “… norms and policies might not be the only ways to make a tool like Twitter work well for enterprise purposes”. The idea is to “tag” the tweet, perhaps by prefacing it with characters (like @FM) corresponding to a client or contract. In that way, it would be possible to categorize and organise the flow of information.

In fact, that may be one use case for PagesPlus (which Paolo Valdemarin from Evectors very kindly demostrated to everybody at Headshift yesterday morning!). Since the core of PagesPlus is an aggregator, it can digest any form of RSS/Atom and use tags to organize everything it aggregates. Because the aggregator supports tag schemas not only can it distinguish between a topic-tag and a category-tag, but it also allows you to create your own schemas to address specific needs. With the WYSIWYG application allowing users to easily create content at the front end, it would be a small step to continually auto-save the content and for the system to recommend to the user tags based on an analysis of the text being typed (and other tags applied in the past). That content could be pushed out to the categories and pages corresponding to the tags, and to the users who are subscribing to feeds from those categories.

Essentially, designing the tools around people’s preferred styles of communication and collaboration will help to support behaviour rather than control or mandate it – a poor counterpart. People may then filter content and functionality depending on their style and preferences, and then hook other people and content into the process by creating actions and feeds out of their activity. All up, that approach should help to get people on board and keep them there.

In the same way the famously contrasting perceptions of the nature of organizational communities has animated a great debate in organization theory during the past few decades, so too perhaps will the issues discussed here continue to test knowledge workers. Kleinbaum et al cite the study of Hannan and Freeman (1977), which posed the classic question, why are there so many organizational forms, and DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) rejoinder, why are there are so few. Likewise, I wonder about the levels of diversity of communication and collaboration actually being facilitated in organisations, and why there aren’t more.

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