Tag Archives: transparency

Developing a social media policy for your enterprise? Use bottom-up design principles

In response to the explosion of use of social media and collaboration tools over the past 12 months, many organization leaders (e.g., CIOs, CPOs, etc.) are developing formal Social Media Polices to guide their staff in approved use of these tools inside the enterprise. Their challenge is to ensure staff use social media in ways that comply with both the enterprise’s mission and general policies—without overly inhibiting the benefits of open collaboration. By starting from bottom-up design principles, leaders can create Social Media Policies that productively encourage creativitywithout risking their enterprise’s mission and reputation.

Enterprises routinely start with a top-down approach

HierarchyEnterprises traditionally employ top-down approaches when defining standards, policies and procedures. This is natural and unsurprising as the majority of enterprises are hierarchical entities.

Top-down approaches are great at driving compliance

Top-down approaches are very effective when the goal is to prevent outliers and discrepancies. Their use is ideal when you want to drive adherence to things like plans and regulatory compliance.

However, top-down approaches are counter-productive to encouraging creativity

Creativity is not something you can drive on demand, from the top downward. Have you ever tried to order a team to be creative according to a plan? If so, did this produce the results you desired? Likely not. Creativity needs to be encouraged, not driven.

Social media requires a bottom-up approach

Social media is inherently non-hierarchical. It creates a “flat” network that enables all members to participate in the same way, regardless of level, time or location.

Social media results develop along embryonic lines

nautilusSocial media-based creativity follows a rather organic approach. Members initially join social media networks and share information about topics of personal concern or interest. Members with similar interests then link together to collaboratively develop initial thoughts into fleshed-out Ideas. These more complete Ideas then compete with the Ideas of others for attention and support. Those that “rise to the top” attract increased interest and collaboration, resulting in fully-vetted solutions to problems or unmet needs. While the social media community has coined worlds like “crowdsourcing” and “wikification” to describe this process, it is essentially embryology at work (albeit embryology of Ideas).

Embryology works from the bottom-up, following local rules

Embryology forms rich, complex works from simple beginnings by following a bottom-up process. Richard Dawkins, elegantly described the power of this on page 220 of his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth:

“The key point is that there is no choreographer and no leader. Order, organization, structure—these all emerge as by-products of rules which are obeyed locally and many times over… That is how embryology works…this kind of programming is self-assembly.
… [I]t seems impossible to believe that the genes that program their development don’t function as a blueprint, a design, a master plan. But no: … it is all done by individual cells obeying local rules. The beautifully ‘designed’ body emerges as consequence of rules being locally obeyed by individual cells, with no reference to … an overall global plan.”

Dawkin’s major point is that you will obtain richer, more robust results by defining bottom-up, local rules for the evolution of Ideas (instead of driving them top-down from a master plan or policy).

Many examples of this exist throughout the technology world

Bottom-up self-assembly of robust, complex systems through use of local rules is not simply confined to the biological world. Some of the most successful expansions of technological change were built on the same approach. Just take a look at everything from Internet routing and open source technologies to Google’s Page Rank algorithm and Apple’s iPhone application development model.

Creating a social media policy based on bottom-up principles

Using bottom-up, locally followed rules to develop a Social Media Policy looks very different in structure than a traditional top-down policy.

Below is an outline of sample rules (and how they would locally execute throughout a social media ideation process) that I would initially consider to develop an effective Social Media Policy. For simplicity’s sake my unit is an Idea. An Idea could be a plan, policy, design, rule, product or anything else you can imagine.

A) Define the stages of ideation

Define what stages a collaborative idea should pass through from a root concept to completion. This is the skeleton for all other local rules. An example:

  1. Brainstorming of Ideas to consider
  2. Competition of Ideas to see which should be elaborate upon
  3. Elaboration of Winning Ideas into a critical level of detail
  4. Editing of Elaborated Ideas to a Released State

Once Ideas are Releases they become subject for further Brainstorming efforts to adapt them to changing business conditions (evolution at work).

B) Define the allowed actions at each stage

Define what staff can do to an Idea at each Stage. For example, staff can—

  • Create or delete Ideas during Brainstorming
  • Vote, share (internally) or comment on them during Competition
  • Add or remove whole Idea Components during Elaboration
  • Refine existing Idea Components (only) during Editing

Limiting what can be done at each stage provides just enough organization to reduce chaos and encourage productive collaboration. Brainstorming is all done in one place. You do not waste time fleshing out Ideas until they proceed through the Competition Stage. Similarly you focus on Elaborating upon and Editing late-stage Ideas (instead of chaotically replacing them with an unexplored, pre-Brainstormed half-Idea).

C) Define the transitions between each stage

Define what conditions triggers movement of an Idea from one stage to another (forward or backward). By defining the conditions you let the network act without requiring extensive oversight. Samples for movement out of Competition could include the following:

  • When an Idea gets enough votes it moves into Elaboration
  • When an Idea gets flagged as offensive or disruptive enough times it moves back to Brainstorming

D) Define who can see what at each stage

For example, only I would be able to see my Idea until I advance it for Competition. Once this occurs, only My Organization would be able to see and vote on it until it reaches a particular threshold (or is approved by the Organization Leader)

This type of rule set encourages two things. First, it enables edge-condition “long tail” idea creators to participate. Second, it makes department heads feel safer encouraging their employees to ideate and collaborate.

E) Define who can do what to an idea at each stage

For example—

  • Only I may be able to edit my Idea in Brainstorming
  • Only my department Colleagues (i.e., my friends) may be able to add or remove Components of an Idea in Elaboration
  • While everyone can refine Idea Components in Editing

The first rule protects the individual and encourages Ideation. The second protects the Department, encouraging the Department Head to allow social media-based Ideation. The third protects the mission or the enterprise (and can even ensure regulatory compliance).

These rules are just a brainstorm to start

These Rules are only Ideas at the Brainstorming stage. They require a full cycle of collaboration to see which win out and which do not. (After all, defining these as the rules for social media and collaboration would be Top-Down thinking.)

Social Networks for Business Tip #8: Treat Your Community Like a Garden

I have found ten common tips that apply irrespective of what your enterprise does, your market is or what technology platform you are using. This is my eighth tip in this series. There will be 10 total posts; each with a particular theme. They are intended to be read in the order presented, building upon each other…


Communities are Ecosystems

180px-The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17The largest difference between “Web 2.0” enterprise social media communities and “Web 1.0” enterprise web sites is based on content. Traditional web sites are built around relatively static content created in accordance with Corporate Communications, Legal and Public Relations guidelines. On the other hand, social media communities evolve around user-generated content, i.e., content dynamically created, edited and critiqued by external groups like customers, employees and partners. How this content (and the community) evolves is subject to many conditions outside of the enterprise’s control, ranging from entry of a hostile individual to formation of competing and cooperative groups. In essence social media communities are living ecosystems.

What Happens When You Don’t Manage Your Ecosystem

When you don’t manage your community as an ecosystem, it can quickly evolve in many ways into something very different that what you intended to support your enterprise:

1. Die-off Due to Lack of Resources

If your community does not reach a critical mass of content to foster participation and collaboration it will simply die off due to inactivity. Members will simply not have enough content to make it worth their time to return or inspire them to contribute.

The way to avoid this is to seed you community with compelling, inspiring content. An enterprise community that does a great job of this is American Express’ OPEN Forum. They have partnered with over two dozen expert contributors to provide valuable content for their community:

2. Die-off Due to Lack of Population Diversity


If your community does not have a critical mass of members, it will not generate enough connections and interactions to make it self-sustaining. Members will not form relationships that encourage them to return or foster the collaboration required to create community-unique new content.

The way to avoid this is to nurture development of your membership. First advertise the existence of the community across every channel you have. Second, monitor the results, learning what works and what doesn’t. Finally, make this a continuous improvement process to sustain your membership. An enterprise community that does a great job of this is Men’s Health Belly-off Community. If you don’t believe me just pay attention to the magazine covers the next time you are in the checkout line:


3. Take-over By Encroaching Elements

If you do not put the proper safeguards in place, groups of individuals can essentially “hijack” your community by creating content that is counter to your mission and bringing in members to feed on this to make it the dominant material of you community. At best, this will drive out those members you are trying to attract; at worse it will damage your brand.

The way to avoid this is to put controls in place to essentially prune you community of undesired content and behavior (these controls are complex enough that discussion of them will be the subject my next tip, “Create a Safe Environment.”) Someone who did this well was AOL with its fostering of the concept of safe online communities in the 1990s. A recent example of someone else who did not can be found by clicking on the image below:


The Take-away: Treat Your Community Like a Garden

Gardens – from English Botanical to Japanese Contemplative to Home Vegetable – serve as fine examples of tending an ecosystem to produce highly desirable results. Apply the same techniques you would use to manage a successful garden that you would to produce a great business community: