Your organisation and social media – taking steps in 2013

We’ve been working on how we can best help organisations to use social media in 2013 and are launching a new service called Social Media Insights. So we want to share our thinking behind it in this post.

We have noticed big changes in how people deal with social media since 2008 when we founded our company. In NativeHQ’s early days we found ourselves introducing the potential of networked conversational media platforms in their organisations.

When we started, the term ‘social media’ was becoming more popular and there was a general sense among many that it might be worth investigating although probably a bit risky. NativeHQ received invitations to give talks of a certain kind, to shake people out of their regular routine and tell them that Something Is Coming and to try and unfold a few pairs of crossed arms by the power of presentation. We usually managed to find a balance between practicality and exuberance without straying too far into hype.

Recently we have been travelling between Cardiff, Caernarfon, London, Swansea and other places when we meet people where our clients are based. We get an impression of what people are doing with social media and the kind of questions they are asking.

Let’s just say that people don’t generally ask us for that kind of presentation anymore. Maybe you can identify with this – there is a cycle for anything new, especially in the application of technology. People no longer need convincing that social media can help them collaborate better, develop products, serve customers, promote products, services and events, and so on. They understand that it’s a revolutionary shift in communications and are looking for ways to use it effectively in their own context.

Much of the apprehension and maybe fear about social media is gone, which is good. In place is a feeling in organisations that some things are missing and that better work is possible in various departments. But there’s a sense that there’s a lack of time to learn and develop this. The situation in any company is unique but some questions recur. How could social media fit with the rest of what we do? How should we do it? What are the right platforms for us to use? Who should be doing this work? Could it be that some of our time is being spent on the wrong things? How do we realise the value of social media in our specific situation? How do we measure whether we are being successful? You can find lots of general answers on the web, but how do you make the right decisions for your own, unique organisation?

Sometimes people refer to their organisational ‘unknown unknowns’ too – that is, gaps in the field of view and what lies outside of their frameworks of assumptions brought from previous experience. It’s not as if assumptions are always a negative thing. It’s a bit difficult not to have assumptions. But these people are looking for clear reasoning in order to form a strategy – rather than a haphazard, opportunistic use of social media or an approach based on orthodoxies taken from another field.

Another ‘unknown unknown’ is how the best use of social media will develop over time, during 2013 and beyond. There will be new start-ups and services but there will also be new displays of human creativity using familiar platforms. So that means that it could be a mistake to lock down any particular set way of doing things. It’s a rapidly developing field.

In the context of all these observations we’ve been trying to put together a way we can respond to the evolving demand. Our new service is called Social Media Insights and is based on a longer-term relationship with a client. It involves regular analysis and monthly meetings with you where we explore relevant data and facts, share insights and help you to learn and develop your practice. We are making our experience and understanding available to help clients develop strategic approach, tactics, skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis.

We still don’t ‘ghost blog’, posting on behalf of our clients, on social media because we have no desire to own their network or community and the impersonation makes it a bit fake for that community, frankly. We much prefer to train and equip them to use their own voice and participate in the relationships they develop. We believe that in time, using an outsourced model for social media conversation will seem a bit quaint. When a professional who is in an organisation goes online to share some of his or her thinking, learnings and questions with honesty and enthusiasm then other people pay attention – they respond to that authentic voice.

This is about organisational change, which takes time. It’s about iteration and application of knowledge in context.

Besides there are a whole bunch of other things happening in the organisation and use of social media has to be integrated into the work flows. Personal, individual use of social media is very different to what happens in organisations. You could liken the change process to the difference between steering a bike and navigating a ship.

So that’s a bit of background about Social Media Insights, which complements the existing services we offer and special projects we do. Contact us if you’d like to know more and we can arrange to visit you to discuss what it involves in more detail.

The Guardian Newspaper launches its own API (And Why this is Exciting)

Today’s exciting story at the crossroads of media and technology is the Guardian’s new API.

If you’re new to the idea of an API, or “application programming interface”, read The Guardian’s own intro to the concept of APIs from 2007. Here’s today’s announcement.

OK, why is this exciting?

Every newspaper is a massive storehouse of potentially interesting data. You can access that data by getting a paper copy and reading it. Or you can access it by visiting their website.

There aren’t many other ways of sifting through the stories, features, facts and statistics held by the newspaper. You are somewhat limited by the design and the methods the Guardian have deemed useful for presenting that data.

But now, The Guardian have opened up access to their content. The same copyright applies, they’ve just allowed you to query it in a multitude of ways. Now, you can write software (or hire someone to write software) which presents it in new forms, giving new insights. The “interface” part of API is not a graphical interface but a set of requests you can send which result in answers and other data coming back.

The API idea is familiar to software developers. Usually it wouldn’t be a surprise for an online service to launch an API – examples abound: Amazon, Facebook, Google Search, Google Maps, Twitter, Yahoo, Flickr and YouTube are just some of the services that offer their own APIs. If you visit one and scroll to the very bottom of their homepage, usually that’s where you’ll see a little API link which takes you to the documentation for developers.

If you take the perspective of a service owner, the set of data you are sitting on is suddenly more useful because of the versatility of access you have allowed. The world at large knows more than you about what it wants from your data – and can do more. When that data is combined with data from other APIs, in the form of a “mash-up”, that’s when the real fun begins.

The practice of newspapers offering APIs is relatively recent. The other big one already available is that of the New York Times. Here’s a real example I picked arbitrarily, Reading Radar. This developer has taken the bestselling books chart from the New York Times and is linking directly to the Amazon listing for each book. Incidentally, he probably makes a modest amount of money via Amazon Associates, an affiliate scheme to drive sales. He credits the New York times prominently as the source of the data, so they get the kudos and the brand recognition. Here’s some technical info on how he achieved it.

Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research has a list of suggestions for developers who are keen to flex their coding skills and tap into this rich resource. You can guarantee that most or all of these will appear in the coming weeks.

If you’re not a developer, you can still make use of the new services that spring up – Reading Radar and the like. That’s the point! If you’re on Facebook and have ever used applications like Scrabulous (as was), Super Wall or the hundreds of others then you’ll know this – and sometimes with annoyance in that case. But people come back to Facebook because the usefulness and fun factor outweighs the clutter.

But if you’re a content owner then you should be thinking about how this could impact on the future of your business. Jeff Jarvis argues today that APIs are the new distribution, citing BBC and National Public Radio as further examples of media owners who’ve experimented with offering APIs.

News Corporation, Trinity Mirror and other media owners should be eyeing this Guardian announcement with interest.