The Connected Company – Restructure now or die in today’s hyperconnected economy – #bookreview

The Connected Company
Dave Gray, with Thomas Vander Wal
(O’Reilly,
hardbackKindle)

If you buy only one business management book this year, make it this one. It’s that good, and definitely timely.

Whether your organization chart stretches across continents or consists of just you, your smart phone and your computer, you can learn important insights and paths for new action from Dave Gray’s and Thomas Vander Wal’s well-written book.

“Competitive intensity is rising all over the world,” they emphasize. “Global competition and the Web have given customers more choices than they have ever had before. This means that customers can choose from an ever-widening set of choices, and it seems that variety only breeds more variety. The more choices that become available, the more choices it seems that people want.”

At the same time, like it or not: “The balance of power is shifting from companies to the networks that surround them. Connected, communicating customers and employees have more choices, and more amplified voices, than ever before. They have more knowledge than ever before. These trends are only increasing with time. This means the network—customers, partners, and employees—will increasingly set the agenda, determine the parameters, and make the decisions about how they interact with companies.”

And: “By changing the way we create, access, and share information, social networks are changing the power structure in society.”

Today, one negative tweet, blog post, or video that goes viral can wreak havoc within a company (or political campaign), disrupt careers, damage or destroy expensive advertising campaigns, and turn potential and existing customers away in droves.

In an economy increasingly service-driven, your factory-model training and mentality is now completely obsolete. You must be connected, you must stay engaged with customers and the rest of the world, and you must be able to respond to rumors and actual bad news as quickly and completely as you respond to orders from your best customers.

The Connected Company is organized into five parts that clearly spell out the problems and the achievable solutions.

  • Part One: Why change? – “Customers are adopting disruptive technologies faster than companies can adapt.” And: “Customers are connecting, forming networked communities that allow them to rapidly share information and self-organize into powerful interest groups.” To survive, you have to be more responsive to what they need and increasingly have the power to demand.
  • Part Two: What is a connected company? – “To adapt companies must operate not as machines but as learning organisms, purposefully interacting with their environment and continuously improving, based on experiments and feedback.”
    Part Three: How does a connected company work? – “A connected company learns and adapts by distributing control to the points of interaction with customers, where semi-autonomous pods pursue a common purpose supported by platforms that help them organize and coordinate their activities.”
  • Part Four: How do you lead a connected company? – “Connected companies are living, learning networks that live within larger networks. Power in networks comes from awareness and influence, not control. Leaders must create an environment of clarity, trust, and shared purpose, while management focuses on designing and tuning the system that supports learning and performance.”
  • Part Five: How do you get there from here? – “Connected companies today are the exception, not the rule. But as long as the environment is characterized by change and uncertainty, connected companies will have the advantage. There are four ways your company can start that journey today….”

The traditional hierarchy model of business structure still works when your markets remain stable. But when is the last time, lately, that that actually has happened? Companies divided into functions increasingly go awry in times of uncertainty, because those individual departments cannot adapt, change, and respond quickly enough. In the world of The Connected Company, “companies must organize differently. They must reorganize from hierarchies into holarchies, where every part can function as a whole unto itself.”

Gray and Vander Wal stress: “A connected company is flexible and resilient, able to adapt quickly to change. The path from divided to connected company is not simple or easy. But in an increasingly volatile world, it is also not optional.”

Fortunately, their book lays out some clear strategies and procedures, as well as imperatives,  for getting there.

Si Dunn

The Art of Community, 2nd Edition – Creating online success in the social economy – #bookreview

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, 2nd Edition
Jono Bacon
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $39.99; Kindle edition, list price $34.99)

Whether you work for a large firm or operate a one-person shop built around an online presence, you should check out this newly updated guidebook on now to build, maintain and grow online communities.

Yes, it is a work focusing on organizational management — not exactly a topic that lights fires under reader excitement. Yet Bacon’s book is written smoothly and clearly, and it is rich with good ideas and good strategies that can help businesses, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer groups of virtually any size.

Creating an online community is not simply a matter of launching a website, sending out tweets and links, and then hoping and praying a few people will show up, hang out, participate, and occasionally buy something.

There are, Bacon says, effective planning strategies that can help you successfully enter, staying in, and succeed in the social economy. And, once you are there, it is vital to keep attracting new contributors.

“When your community kicks off, you’ll be way ahead if you can get down on paper its primary purpose goals,” he writes. Prior to launch, you need to clearly define its aims and its mission, the opportunities and areas of collaboration it can offer, and what skills will be needed in the community, he says.

These planning strategies can be effective, he adds, whether you want to build and maintain an online community for marketing products or services, or supporting a cause, or even developing open source software. (Bacon, an open source veteran, favors “fixed release cycles versus the release-when ready approach,” for several solid reasons important to a community built around an open-source product.)

A key lesson in his book is making sure that you create and maintain a sense of belonging in your online community. “If there is no belonging, there is no community,” Bacon emphasizes.

This book’s first edition in 2009 drew a good response from readers, and Bacon has both updated his text and brought in new materials for the second edition.

Three new chapters cover: (1) the major social media networks; (2) measuring community so you can track “the work your community or team commits to” and keep the work on track”; and (3) case studies “to help you develop your skills as a community manager.”

In a solo business, you are your community manager, as well as the proverbial chief cook and bottle washer. You create your products or services, you market them to the world, you fulfill orders or deliver services, and you also try to build, support and grow a community of followers, some of whom buy from you and others of whom help keep you inspired, grounded or focused.

In a larger business, however, your job title and sole focus may be “community manager.” The author, for example, is the community manager for the worldwide Ubuntu community. “Community management” is now a hot topic in the corporate world, and debates continue, Bacon says, on whether it is a marketing or engineering responsibility. “I firmly believe,” he emphasizes, “that community management is a tale with both marketing and engineering story lines flowing through it. If one is missing, community can feel unbalanced, misrepresented and ineffective.”

Even though your focus will be the online world, do not plan to base your whole community-building strategy around social media, Bacon warns. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others are, in his view, “just tools. There are many useful tools in the world that have become new and disruptive to our behavior, but few have been immersed in the sheer amount of hype, nonsensical ramblings, and just pure, unfiltered, salty bull that social media has.”

Some of the other tools to consider, he says, include discussion forums, email lists, IRC networks, and collaborative events such as online meetings and physical events where members gather, meet and interact in person.

The goal here, of course, is to maintain good communication, “the foundation of how your members work together, share goals and ambitions, and build social relationships with one another…[w]hen your members feel like they are disconnected from the community, they lose their sense of value,” he points out.

Jono Bacon’s 539-page book can show you how to create and grow an online community into a rich source of new ideas, a reliable support network, and a strong and wide-reaching marketing force, whether you are selling something, promoting a cause, or developing and maintaining open-source software.

Si Dunn

#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community – #bookreview

#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community
By J.S. McDougall
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $9.99)

Okay, you’ve finally ventured onto Twitter. Or, maybe you’ve been tweeting a while and now wonder what else you can do with 140 characters besides report that you have just brushed your teeth and are ready to seize the business day like a donut-chomping tiger shark.

#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community offers useful suggestions that can help businesses, nonprofit organizations and social causes quickly gain more customers, donors and followers.

None of the 25 projects – such as Twitter BOGO (buy one, get one) — are rocket science. And some of them will not help your particular situation. But several of the Twitter projects likely will be immediately useful and easily adapted to your needs. And you will have fun and gain followers in the process of putting them to work – that is, if you don’t make the classic business Twitter mistake of trying to turn every tweet into a sales pitch.

 “Twitter is not a marketing channel—and you should never view it as such,” J.S. McDougall cautions.

“Twitter is a community. Folks join Twitter to meet new friends and to discuss their interests with a wide variety of people—most of whom they will never meet in the real world. No one will ever tell you that they joined Twitter to make themselves available to more advertisers. Advertising on Twitter—sending out one-way, uninteresting, very short commercials for your stuff—will annoy people and you will be blocked, reported, and unfollowed. All of that is hard to wash off,” the author warns.

McDougall says his book’s 25 “community-building projects” can help you “build an interested and engaged community for your business. The payoff that comes from having such a community around your business is increased sales, referrals, and opportunity for feedback and improvement. It is vital to understand the difference between your goal and your payoff.”

The book includes a Twitter-integrated QR code at the beginning of each chapter. If, while reading #tweetsmart, you happen across a project that you think might help or interest a friendly follower on Twitter, you can scan the code with your mobile device and tweet them a recommendation.

Friends helping friends…entertaining friends…informing friends…advising friends…connecting friends with other friends – these are all at the heart of how Twitter works best.

Definitely not: “Today only! 25% off SoopahSwoosh nuclear-powered toilets! Click the link, buy now & FLUSH!”

Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Google+: The Missing Manual – #bookreview

Google+: The Missing Manual
By Kevin Purdy
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $14.99; Kindle edition, list price $11.99)

 I believe too much social media can rot the brain and waste many good hours of our lives. So, after I opened a Google+ account (mostly out of curiosity) a few weeks ago, I promptly let it sit unused.

I wasn’t sure what I could do with Google+ and how it might benefit me. Furthermore,  I felt that I was too busy to dig around on it, learn by blunder, and have to open a bunch of help screens and blog postings to try to find more information.

Most of all, I didn’t want to click or check the wrong box and start inviting hundreds of email contacts to join me on Google+. Particularly since there was absolutely nothing about me to see except one photo and a few bare words of “profile.”

Google+: The Missing Manual promises to deliver “the important stuff you need to know.” So I recently got a copy of it and gave Google+ another try.

Kevin Purdy’s book, I am pleased to say, is well-organized for beginners and is proving easy to follow as I gradually enlarge my Google+ beachhead.

I am still trying to figure out how to add Google+ efficiently and effectively to my online social life, as well as my writing and editing business. At this point, I still like Twitter much better. But that fact, likely, is because I have been using it for several years and have devoted a lot of time and effort to writing tweets, sharing links, retweeting information and following interesting people.

Kevin Purdy’s book now is helping me make some choices before I click on some of the Google+ setup links and go crashing off into the digital weeds.

Here is how it’s structured:

  • Chapter 1: Getting Started
  • Chapter 2: Managing Contacts with Circles
  • Chapter 3: Streams, Sharing, and Privacy
  • Chapter 4: Notifications
  • Chapter 5: Sharing Photos and Videos
  • Chapter 6: Hanging Out
  • Chapter 7: Searching and Sparks
  • Chapter 8: Google+ Mobile
  • Chapter 9: Playing Games

With the book’s help, I have ventured forth and tried a few things that I might otherwise have avoided or misunderstood. And I now have more features listed to try out during my next opportunities to spend time with Google+.

I am, frankly, still pondering if — or how deeply — I want to invest my social media time in Google+. But Purdy makes the compelling case that “Google+ is more than just a way to connect with friends, family, and acquaintances online. It’s a smarter way of sharing online that’s tied into all the other Google services you might already use”–such as Gmail and Google Docs.

And: “What Google+ really does differently…is give you nearly total control over who can see each thing you put on Google+, and what kinds things you see and from whom.”

I rate this book a well-written keeper (1) for anyone trying to get started on Google+ and (2) for anyone who, like me, has jumped into it and is now trying to figure it out, feature by feature, during busy days.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

The Twitter Book (2nd Edition) – What newcomers & veteran tweeters need to know #sm #bookreview #TwitterBook

 

The Twitter Book (2nd Edition)
By Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $15.99)

It’s easy to spot a business that’s starting to use Twitter for the first time. They think “tweets” are a great and inexpensive way to push out information and reach potential customers worldwide. So, over and over, they tweet how great their new product or service is, and they include a link where you can get more information, place an order and add cash to their bank account.

But a funny thing happens on their way to easy fortune and fame: Most Twitter users shun them; many actually block them; and some get snarky and snarl about their lame tweets.

Twitter, the authors point out in their newly updated book, is mostly about sharing information, being helpful to others, and generally being interesting and entertaining.

Yes, there are ways to sell stuff using Twitter. But one of the quickest ways to failure on this widely popular social media outlet is to just barge in and try to be an electronic door-to-door sales person.

The recently published second edition of The Twitter Book is fun reading and nicely illustrated. And it is a good guide for learning how to use Twitter without the “common gaffs and pitfalls” that many newcomers commit.

Many experienced Twitter users likely will find helpful tips and techniques in this book, as well.

If you are thinking about trying to put Twitter to work in your business, the two authors offer some sage advice: Listen first. For a long time.

“People already on Twitter will expect your corporate account[s] to engage with them,” they write, “so before you start tweeting away, spend a few weeks or so understanding the ways people talk about you. Get a sense for the rhythms of conversation on Twitter, and think about how you’ll hold conversations.”

That listen-first and “rhythms of conversation” advice applies to all other new users of Twitter, as well.

And it wouldn’t hurt if some long-time Twitter-istas paid more attention to what others are saying and less attention to tweeting their every thought (or half-thought).

One more benefit of The Twitter Book:  It can introduce you to some of the third-party services and tools now available, such as TweetGrid, Monitter, Seesmic, and TweetDeck., which provide more “features and flexibility” than the standard Twitter web interface offers.

Si Dunn