Executives Association of Great Britain speech

The upgrade to my site has now completed, but unfortunately, I lost the entry which recorded my speech to the Executives Association of Great Britain. Here it is again for the sake of posterity!



12 JUNE 2008

TOPIC: GOING SOCIAL – The protocols and pitfalls of social networking technologies for business


I hope that at the end of this presentation that you will be entertained by the stories of how a geeky academic and entrepreneur was able to turn her eclectic skills to social media, and that the stories you will hear may in fact help you to communicate what’s good about social networking technologies, If you haven’t already done so, on the basis of these stories, you may be prepared to think a bit differently about how you might use social media both in business and in life generally.


I’ve had many careers….
Ballet dancer, ballet teacher, cleaner, store-man and packer, photographic printer, mobile phone salesman, after school care coordinator, production assistant for a television current affairs program, secondary school teacher, research assistant, event manager, webmaster, programmer, graphic designer, university tutor, university lecturer, chief researcher, radio series writer and producer, marketer, business technology consultant, interaction designer, small business leader, author, public speaker, and business developer.

Of course, for most of my career, most people have said I do too much.

But the truth is that I have spent more than 15 years as a business woman and academic, focusing on new technologies – primarily by accident, but accidents can be fortuitous.

For 12 years I taught communications, marketing, media design and policy, and strategic use of information technology initially to undergrads and for the last 6-7 years to post-grads, specifically in MBA programs in Australia. Through it all, I was conducting my own research and running a private business in web design and consultancies, but it was the business side and my dabbling in technologies which interested me most – and therefore, considered a hobby.

As an academic who was supposed to be doing research on telecommunications and broadcasting policy, I of course began to play with building websites and chatting to other people online. Well if you had a choice between reading the Telecommunications Act or chatting to friends about current events or your favourite hobby, wouldn’t you elect for chatting???

The thing about getting involved with web development back in 1993-1994 is that the only other people online were geeks. But these were decidedly social geeks, even if they only developed the bravado to be social humans online.

In the very early days on my playing online I became a member of a number of list-oriented communities. These were mailing lists and newsgroups where people would be discussing the science behind the latest episode of The X-Files, or considering how files could be better compressed for sending large files to each other, or debating the latest theories of networks. So let’s face it, the majority of people out there were IT geeks, librarians, academics and net-savvy pioneers who logged on using their telephone lines and 14.4Kb modems that they’d purchased for about £200. (Today a modem with 4 times the download capacity would cost about £5, but most people completely bypass their phone lines and use a cable or ADSL connection which has about 10 times that capacity as a bare minimum.)

Now I found it fun, but I had a bit of trouble convincing non-geeks of the value of going online. The only way I could really show someone the value of the technologies was to propose that they ask me a question they wanted answered, or to ask if they had anything they wanted to find out about. A Scottish cook based in Melbourne wanted a good recipe for Haggis. A fashion buyer wanted to know about elephant riding tours in Thailand. A cricketer wanted to know what the score was in a game currently being played in Karachi. And for all these questions, the internet was providing. Curiosity began to grow. But in those heady early days, it was just about a basic information resource. A kind of super library where people could find out stuff. But there was clearly more to the interconnections between people than was being experienced in these little case studies of information access.

It was the connections between people that struck me as being the greatest value of these new technologies. The capacity for people to consult one another, solve problems together, share knowledge, debate issues, record new knowledge – this is what we saw as being the power of the medium. It wasn’t just about publishing information, but about letting that information shift and change and evolve over time.

And as I was a geek and an academic I eventually began to consider how the internet could be used as a medium for word of mouth communication and the development of highly specialised networks of users could actually be used for business purposes. I began to start publishing in the area and talking about it to business customers.


The key technology I began to research was that of blogging. The old premise for new media was that ‘everyone can become a publisher’. And some online users towards the end of the 1990s became rather prolific publishers with a regular following of readers who would get into arguments with each other and the site author over the value of what was being said – these were the earliest bloggers and blog-readers. And it fast became clear to me that bloggers were influence leaders in the marketplace. And businesses should be blogging.

It was clear to me that blogging gave to business the opportunity to have complete control over what media channels said about a firm, but did so in such a way that had not previously been experienced. Unlike standard media releases and brochure-ware, blogging was a two-way conversation. And businesses could use that two-way conversation to engage users, as well as allowing users to act as advocates for a product or service.

EXAMPLE 1: Pre sales of books – DoubleDay and John Twelve Hawkes’s book, The Traveller.
EXAMPLE 2: Intriguing the fans – Ferrari and the F1 blog talking about the technologies and encouraging fans to attend and watch events
EXAMPLE 3: Public engagement in decision making – Queensland Water debate.
EXAMPLE 4: Improving morale in a business environment – celebrating successes across departments of an organisation

So it became clear to me in my research that new technologies such as blogging were bringing about:
• Changing consumer expectations from companies in terms of information accessibility;
• The notion of continuing conversations rather than passive engagement with content;
• The opportunity to do extremely targeted market research, at a fraction of the cost of traditional research;
• Easy tracking of brand reputation and awareness; and
• Opportunities to get customers to do your PR for you.

But while the value of blogging for business was clear to me, it wasn’t so clear to my business consultancy clients. Frequently I’d have a business owner saying, ‘Yeah I know what blogs are. I just can’t see how they’d be useful in my business.’ What I established was a need to show business owners the varying uses of blogs.

So I took these queries to a colleague who was doing research in the same area as me and we came up with the book, Uses of Blogs, which came out in 2006. Fortunately for us, Business Week agreed with us that blogging was important, and as they reported just last week, their 2005 article ‘Blogs Will Change Your Business’ is still one of their most accessed articles in their archives. So even here in 2008, our ideas about blogging still hold.

It’s a horrid buzz term, ‘blogging’. But damn useful, because it’s such a unique term that you don’t have to put multiple terms in to a search engine to get information about it online. It is what it is, and if you search for it as a term, you get lots of stuff on blogging.

WEB 2.0

But while all this work on blogging was around, we also became aware of the technologies sitting behind blogging and the many ways that users could get together – not just through blogging but through memberships in sites and chatting about events, movies, books, images, products and services, clubs and societies, religious & ethics debates and public affairs. These were all contexts for communication – and providing a platform where people could meet and exchange information about themselves and their ideas was the basis for the social networking revolution.

Enter the social media and Web 2.0 phenomenon: people chatting about nothing or talking to each other just to stay in touch. As blogging became more refined and more professional, people turned to other social networks for either more specialised or more generic forms of information sharing. Most recently the much-discussed Twitter phenomenon has effectively restricted the depth of information exchange and expertise down to 140 characters – not words; characters. This is the age of the text message, being broadcast to everyone online either through a website, through Facebook or through a subscription list. Technically, twittering is micro-blogging; sending brief updates and immediate responses to an environment to a mass audience.

Last month I managed to scare the hell out of my Mum in Melbourne, Australia, by going mountain climbing in Wales by myself. I’m an Aussie. I come from a country which could fit the entire of the United Kingdom into its land space more than 316 times over, with a population which is only a third that of the UK. So we’re used to fewer people around all the time. And occasionally we just like to get out and away from all those people. But Mum of course, was terrified I was going to fall off a mountain and no-one would find me for a month, or that wild animals would attack me or something. I did point out to her that the only wild animals on Welsh mountains were sheep but this apparently didn’t comfort her. So I needed to somehow keep her informed of my status during the hike. But while I knew I wasn’t going to be carrying my laptop up Cadair Idris, I knew I would be taking my mobile phone. And by sending a text message to the Twitter phone number, which had my mobile phone number registered with my account name, I was able to update her every hour of the journey. And yes, she did send me a message through my blog on my return down the mountain saying ‘Thank God you are back.’

Now that’s just a little personal story. But the same technology can be used – publicly or privately – from businesses in the form of stock market stories, legal proceedings, business decisions and even plain old meeting notes. It’s easy to follow, simple to use, and most importantly, cheap and immediate.

Increasingly I’m finding in the work that I do, that the value of social media is in creating and sustaining networks in a rapidly globalised, highly informed world, and in allowing the technologies to work *for me* in research, in organising my calendar and organising my access to content.

That’s effectively why I am where I am today – because I have made a profession out of using technologies to forge links between information professionals, service providers and mad-keen or even just mildly curious users of a social networking system. Lucky me. I get to play with fun tools and charge people for my constructive recreation.

But I’m also here today to think a bit about the future of social media and put to you where I see lunches like these going in 10 year’s time. Well fortunately for the Executives Association for Great Britain, we all still need to be fed. And when it comes down to it, there’s no replacement for meeting in person. Where social tools can help an event like this is in recording the content for later access via YouTube, providing a series of resources around a subject matter, acting as a facilitator for connections forged even around our tables. How many of us ran out of cards today or handed across a fairly dog-eared business card? And how many of us today have popped any business cards we have collected in to the bottom of our briefcases and handbags, only to be discovered some weeks later, covered in the ink from a pen that’s leaked into a bag, or between the pages of some book we’ve been reading but forgotten? And by then we have absolutely no idea when or where we met that person. Having a resource we can access that can tell us about those people and to foster business connections and opportunities is not just useful, it’s easy. And if we only could take a pic of each other around the table and have that image uploaded to the EAGB site through a SMS phone number – sending the image to the phone number, and tagging that with the name of the person you took a photo of – then we could not just contextualise the information about the people you’ve met today, but we could make reconnections easier. And if we had a twitter group feed based on this presentation, you could read or hear what other people think of this session, either while I’m speaking or after the event. You could then decide to check out who attended previous events, consider who you might want to work with, based on their responses to previous and current sessions, you could start your own chat session with individuals either publicly or privately and by the time I finish speaking you could have signed off on an Heads of Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding. This isn’t just fantasy. It can happen right now.

There’s no doubt about it. There’s a lot of rubbish on Facebook and MySpace. But there’s an opportunity for us all to capture these technologies to do business. It’s not going to replace public events like these, but it is going to make these events last well beyond the hours we spend here, and that’s certainly more than can be said for the champagne 

I’m happy to discuss anything I’ve said here further, but in the meantime I will let you get back to your conversations. Thanks for having me speak and I hope I’ve left you with some food for thought on social technologies. Happy social networking to you all – both offline and on!

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.