Tag Archives: C-suite

Dealing with the unstructured

One of the major shifts we have seen in the past five years or so is that business models are under serious challenge from mobile technology, the Internet, and especially social media. This rapidly changing business model picture is happening because the way that organizations relate to their customers, their employees, and their stakeholders is changing, and social media is driving and shaping much of this. As a result, executives are on notice regarding the need for an urgent change of focus in organization capabilities and how these can help deliver greater business value.

One such capability is how to deal with unstructured data and information that is now permeating the Internet especially via social media. Not so long ago, we lived in a world that was highly structured and systematized. Data tended to be tightly organised into rows and columns and tables. Analysis was done by interrogating spreadsheets and using various formulas for interpreting performance in various areas. But advances in technology have caused massive amounts of unstructured data to be created on a scale never thought possible just a few years ago. Here are two examples to highlight the point –

(1) Growth in Twitter activity – from Twitter Q2 2014 results:

  • Average Monthly Active Users (MAUs) were 271 million as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 24% year-over-year
  • Timeline views reached 173 billion for the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 15% year-over-year.

(2) What happens in one minute on the Internet – from Intel September 2013:

  • One hundred thousand new tweets
  • Six million Facebook views
  • More than two million search queries on Google.

The above provides some insight into the massive amount of data that is being generated. But the key point is that it is largely unstructured data. With social media, the main type of data is commentary, text and photos that come in many different forms and languages. It is not information collected in a structured form that is easy to summarise and analyse. Organisations are therefore challenged in how their capabilities need to be re-shaped to make some sense of all the data that is relevant to them. Consumer facing businesses like airlines, banks and retailers have a vital interest in the patterns that are emerging in comments and chats on social media. How are these potentially impacting their brand, their products and competitor moves?

Recent growth in the field of analytics has meant that sensible conclusions and decisions can now be more effectively made from these large volumes of data. This is especially true for the analysis of information emerging from unstructured data from social media. Pattern recognition is a key capability and interestingly the use of some skills outside of the traditional technology fields is starting to emerge.

The issue is not whether these capabilities need to be re-shaped but rather how quickly they will change organizations as we know them. The winners will be those organizations and industries that strongly embrace these capabilities as truly new change initiatives and deliver them accordingly to add value.

For many organizations, this will represent a major challenge. It does require the discipline to take a reality check on future directions and priorities. For instance, a transport business would need to ask about its capability in managing, say, a growing pattern of customer frustration regarding their booking systems. As part of this consideration, it would also need to assess how quickly such a capability can be developed or acquired, and the cost of the investment.

Organizations need to consider four factors:

  1. Think of the building of new capabilities as a major business change initiative – not just recruiting a few more analysts
  2. Consider new capabilities in the context of real competitive advantage – not just a systems improvement or upgrade
  3. Drive the change from the C-suite – new capabilities need the right level of investment and commitment from the most senior levels in the business
  4. Build new thinking in the business – patterns in social media provide the opportunity for a new agenda for the future

As French author and Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide once said, “One cannot discover new oceans without the courage to lose sight of the shore”.

The right business conversation about social media

Organizations have become more and more aware of the need to address social media in some way. It is a rarity today to find executives who have not considered the impact of social media on their organization and what options may be available to them. However, it is still a challenge to ensure the right conversation is conducted within the organization. Too frequently the social media conversation is directed to either the wrong level in the organization or to the wrong function. Let me illustrate.

Social media is not a sideshow

Not so long ago, I was working with a business in the services arena that was growing rapidly. It had a dynamic leadership team strongly focused on gaining market share. In a conversation with the CEO, I asked about their social media strategy and how they viewed this as a strategic opportunity. The answer was that they thought social media was important and that they had asked the so-called young people in the business to develop the approach and how this could be implemented. On one level, it was admirable to have the so-called young people involved, and this gesture was appreciated within the business. Furthermore, it was also seen as a very contemporary statement by embracing the new joiners in the business, especially those fresh from university.

But on the other hand, this approach defied logic in so many ways. In fact, it sadly highlighted a virtual abdication of responsibility on the part of the leadership of the organization. Yes, the young people have a role, and their ideas and experiences would add much to the discussion, but the key point that I emphasized with the CEO was that the social media strategy and its approach are crucial business issues for the CEO and C-suite executives.

In another situation, I was speaking to a group of executives at a breakfast briefing and their view was also somewhat off the mark. They espoused the virtue of their decision to let their IT community come up with some options and really drive the social media agenda. The IT function of course has a key role in the development and the execution of the social media strategy, but it is only one factor in the mix.

C-suite ownership and involvement are crucial

The above conversations are not uncommon and, sadly, miss the mark. Moreover, they could be costing organizations lost opportunity in the marketplace or with their stakeholders. The conversation around social media is one that affects the entire organization and therefore must involve the C-suite. This is the case whether the business is B-to-B or B-to-C as outlined above, but it is particularly the case for a B-to-C organization. It also applies equally to government organizations, especially those dealing directly with citizens.

The business conversation needs to take into account a number of points.

First, the social media activity will have an impact on all aspects of the organization in some way. For many organizations, this will be a very direct interaction with customers whereas for others it will be more around brand reputation and stakeholder management. But the point is that it is a business issue that needs to be considered as a whole and not just palmed off to one part of the organization to address.

In addition, the execution of a proper social media strategy will need the allocation of resources, and so the involvement of the C-suite is essential to ensure that the full business perspective is provided for these decisions. This is also important to ensure that the return on investment process is monitored and managed over time.

Finally, the social media strategy may need to change over time to respond to changes in the marketplace and to the actions of competitors. Earlier chapters have already highlighted the fast-moving nature of social media, which in turn underscores the importance of C-suite involvement in this journey and engagement in the changes that will inevitably occur.

Key questions to consider

  • What plan does your organization have for engagement in social media?
  • What type of business conversation do you propose to have with your executive team regarding social media strategy?

The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at https://www.createspace.com/4678871