Occasionally it feels like those of us focused on the social media phenomena live a little bit in a vacuum. While the circle seems to be growing, there are times where it feels like we are all preaching to the choir - to the already converted. We read each others blogs, follow each other on , friend each other in , attend many of the same conferences, etc. Most of this is great! Heck, it is a bit of the theme of how I named this blog - "group therapy." There’s a lot of value in those of us with common interests and challenges getting together and sharing experiences, ideas and new learning. I do wonder how we all measure whether we are broadening the circle of those embracing social media. It struck me at a recent conference (that was great by the way) that everyone in the room was essentially bought in on the topic in a significant way. This is good in that it gathered really amazing people and inspired focused conversations, and we need that. It was bad in that it didn’t feel like the circle really grew that day. Out of that conference, I committed that in 2008, I will focus more of my conference time on industry events where social media is a track, vs THE TRACK - for example, I just committed to speak at SSPA in May.
What gets missed sometimes in our swarming with each other is capturing the simple examples that help illustrate how the business and user engagement model changes in a web 2.0 world. Content is one of my favorite illustrations of this. Many companies spend extraordinary amounts of money on content for their users - for this post, let’s focus on help and support content. Here are a few examples:
Once the investment is made in an authoring model (in house or vendor), more money is spent to localize the content - all of which, at best, serves the fat part of the long tail of help and support content needed to really assist the breadth and depth of users. There’s nothing unique about this model, this has been in place for many years and as we know, changing the model is not simple. This is obvious ground for community models (Q&A support forums and wikis). Most are doing this, though in very few cases are these different models integrated - look at the sites and it’s clear these are silo’d efforts. If your users can draw your org chart just by navigating your web pages - you have an integration problem…ok, opportunity:) Does a single search crawl both in-house and user generated content? What about user generated content beyond the bounds of yourcompany.com. For example, look at this 6 minute video on Youtube of Note the # of views, stars, favorites and the two most recent comments!
How should Microsoft (Disclosure - I work at Microsoft right now) treat this content on Youtube? What are the processes to discover content like this? How do you decide what to include or not? How much risk do you take with dead links to external content that can vanish? What should be done about the video creator - this is an influencer - probably should thank him at a minimum - but much more should be done (another day, other posts on influencer program development).
A more radical view of this would be the following question: When do you stop authoring content in house? (and re-deploy that investment to drive a user generated content model?)
Before I go further, let’s be realistic. You probably can’t just stop authoring content. There will be some content you may always need to author. Security content for example - where many users will expect vendor created (and legally indemnified content). You may also find that this enables a shift in which content you write - more pre-release and deployment/training content and less help and how-to content. Likewise, there is a business scorecard problem. Businesses measure results on a monthly/quarterly/annual basis - particularly when we are talking about investments like content. So, how can you achieve a breakthrough in results from a new, user driven model, when your scorecard is assuming continuous quarter over quarter improvement. This conflict quickly converts companies from being risk takers to risk averse.
What would happen if you stopped writing content and converted your entire KB/FAQ process to a wiki? In the near term? There’s a high probability the quality of your content would initially go down (at least that is the right expectation to set). User generated content is not the holy grail, it won’t solve world peace. This is where the scorecard conflict is key - you need executive patience in longer term goals than quarterly results. Look at Wikipedia…a few years ago there was plenty of debate about its accuracy - now it is generally accepted (and research has supported) to be as accurate, or more than, commercially published encyclopedias. In fact, a simple example is to look at how current it is. When will that old school publishing model be updated with yesterdays assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Wikipedia took less than 24 hrs and it’s not just in English, but here in French, Spanish, Dutch…and many more.
The real answer is more about percentage of content authored in-house vs via community - move from 80-90% internal to 80-90% user generated. While the quality might initially go down, there is little question that ultimately a user generated content model will be more complete (topic and language) and at least as good (likely far better) than anything that can be done in house. Depending on your business, you need to forecast how long this transition might take - will it exceed the old model in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years? What’s the bet? What’s the tolerance for the duration? How do you risk mitigate the potential quality dip? You know you will have resisters who on day 1 will email around links to some user submitted piece that is terrible - are you prepared - is the corporate culture ready to withstand these bumps?
By now you should also be thinking about the revised scorecard. Why are you doing all this? To save cost on content? Deflect calls from your call center? Reach more users? Increase satisfaction (users find what they want)? All valid goals, but with only these elements, it’s likely a richer scorecard than what most organizations have today around help and how-to content.
Practical social media for business. I like it, wonder what you think?
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