I love being a catalyst for new things. I have been a catalyst in the companies I have worked for with regards to Internets, Intranets in 1997, Extranets in 1999, .NET based product catalogues in 2001, and finally social media in 2009. I took all the lessons from 1997 and found that the 2009 adoption of social media was following the same path but just so much faster. Very much faster, but the same steps were there. This kept me calm as I knew fairly well that once I had achieved a certain type of proof point then I could guess what the next stage would be in the maturity path and so I could mentally prepare myself for it and the others around me.
Spock from Star Trek reminds me of the typical type of character that I have encountered on the path to social media maturity. I decided to use Spock to illustrate 8 aspects of being a social media catalyst.
"Social media catalysts need to develop proof points to get the C-suite going from skeptic, interested to fascinated"
Venturing into a new world
Spock – “Insufficient facts always invite danger”
Being a new media catalyst often involves striding into the unknown in terms of what your company is used to. Catalysts have a firm belief that they have grasped the future and go boldly where no one has gone before.
I have an engineering background and I used this methodical approach to find out from as many case studies as I could before proposing a fresh new direction. I have a rich directory of these case studies now on almost any aspect of social media that you can imagine. I appreciate the concerns of Spock, and I would rather avoid danger and uncertainty too if I can possibly do so.
Empowered social media catalysts
Spock – “If I seem insensitive to what you’re going through, Captain, understand – it’s the way I am”
In 2010 the “Empowered” book was published, written by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. It described empowered catalysts as HEROes. Chapter 9 in the book is entitled “leading and managing HEROes”. It is not as easy as it looks to manage social media catalysts when they are busy innovating and testing new programs almost every week.
Can the managers of empowered social media catalysts cope? Chapter 9 of the book suggested that there are two sides to getting HEROes to deliver actual results. “First you have to lead them, and then you have to manage them”. Wise words for managers of catalysts.
Asking lots of questions
Spock - “Has it occurred to you that there is a certain inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made up your mind about?”
One of the things I learnt from my years as an engineer; GET THE BRIEF RIGHT. Social media catalysts are used to experimentation to help achieve success, nothing wrong in that. Catalysts know the value of turning early pilots into success stories so that they can be used for internal promotion, knocking down barriers to other departments or business segments. So ask all the right questions so that successful social media pilots actually add business value. Many pilots often finish as successful but did not add business value because key questions that align results to business outcomes remained un-answered.
Innovation, Inspiration and Creativity
Spock - “Change is the essential process of all existence”
This was the mission statement for SXSW interactive; Innovation, Inspiration and Creativity. SXSW is one of the best events to provide social media catalysts with a fresh injection of energy. I could not attend the event this year but I did managed to attend the Iris agency event SXSW – “The best bits” in Amsterdam in May 2014 (#SXSWAMS). I heard lots of great ideas and case studies varying from content, wearables, to marketing campaigns etc.
Spock once said “change is the essential process of all existence”. Catalysts sometimes get swamped with day to day activities and then need events like SXSW to get them up and out of the daily grind, re-acquiring the spark of creativity based on the latest ideas and trends.
Catalysts should be able to demonstrate business value without expensive enterprise tools.
Spock – “I’m afraid that’s illogical captain”
In the early days a social media catalyst needs to have enough room and freedom to show the impact that social media can have on the business. Essential for this is an executive sponsor and the ability to pick small pilots to create the first proof points. I spent my first two years in social media with a small amount of budget and I proved that proof points can be obtained without huge amounts of budget.
I think it was actually a good thing to start without a huge budget, as it removed the temptation to invest in one or more expensive enterprise tools to do all the work. I believe that obtaining an enterprise tool as the first action could lead to a tool based approach rather than developing a process tuned for overcoming those “hearts and minds” barriers. Catalysts need time to develop those techniques that work best for certain types of people. In the early days I created a process framework that helped people get through 90% of the thinking and planning, with the remaining 10% fueled by the use of smaller tools in specific areas. These were a mixture of 30 day free trial periods and free tools. I developed a personal program testing a new startup or free to use tool every 1-2 weeks.
Connecting with other catalysts
Spock – “Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans”
I first learnt the value of connecting with like-minded souls in a digital world when I was started the first Intranet project for Thorn Lighting in 1997. I attended as many Intranet events as I could mainly to hear from the speakers but then I found that I was not among a shipload of illogical humans. I found myself talking to other Intranet catalysts fired up with the exact same assignment as I had … “Go and create our first Intranet”.
I have repeated that basic trick each time I had a new assignment to lead in the development of a new technology. Internet sites followed the Intranet, then Extranets, product catalogues and then I tackled social media in 2009. I recommend that social media catalysts surround themselves with other catalysts to keep their drive and enthusiasm up and this helped me to benchmark my progress as well. Sponsors love to know if they are ahead of the pack!
New roles and responsibilities in the era of emerging media
Spock - “Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected, in this case I would think interesting would suffice.”
Brian Solis listed the fresh roles that the new media era is cultivating in his book “Engage” in the chapter “Divide and conquer”. This book has been my flight companion on many long transatlantic flights!
Here are some of the interesting role names Brian mentioned in that chapter:
- Digital Sociologists
- Digital Ethnographers
- Research Librarians
- Digital or Social Architects
I also saw a recent list of 51 hilarious social media job titles. Here are some of the ones I like the most from that list:
- Social Media Profit Mechanic
- Social Mercenary
- Social Media Assassin,
Of course, the elegant… Social Media Badass
For a social media catalyst, the job title is almost irrelevant in most cases. In my opinion, social media catalysts need to develop processes and proof points to get the business C-suite like Spock going from skeptic, interested, to fascinated!
Social media maturity
Spock - “I am endeavoring, ma’am, to construct a mnemonic circuit using stone knives and bearskins”
Social media catalysts are often active transforming their companies from the inside in the area of communication and collaboration. Forrester Research detailed 6 aspects to address that could guide companies onto the path of social media maturity. These six aspects were listed in a report called “Accelerate Your Social Maturity” from June 2012 by Christine Spivey Overby with David M. Cooperstein.
I had the pleasure of meeting Christine and I used this report to model the social media maturity of my company at that time and shared this back to Forrester in 2012. Looking back, the benchmarking was very effective indeed. Here are the 6 highlighted aspects:
Doing social media.
Companies are in need of new responsibilities and skills.
This one is close to my heart. Social media catalysts are often busy creating pilots and examples of what social media could do for their business but eventually you have to tie them down to document the various processes. Do this before they courted away to startup the fire in another company.
This topic goes much further than the usual ROI aspect.
Long term plans supported by management
I am glad that Forrester research sees this aspect as both bottom up and top down when applied to the startup nature of social media adoption. 5 years ago I was working at both ends to start up the social media fire.
Disruptive technologies are innovations adapted so fast that they become a part of everyday life. Social media and social networking technologies are both disruptive technologies and often a catalyst is deployed to start the company adoption of them. Forget the strange job titles, or the geek appearance that some catalysts might display. They could be crucial to the adoption of a disruptive technology especially at the early stages. People that have a deep knowledge of the business, experience of the processes, and yet can perform the role of a game changer catalyst are an essential component to the adoption speed of a disruptive technology within a company.
What experience do you have with social media catalysts?
Were they successful?
Let me leave the last word to Spock and Captain Kirk…
[Spock]: “Captain, you almost make me believe in luck.”
[Captain Kirk]: “Why, Mr. Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles.”
I am a social media strategist, blogger and speaker about social media marketing. This blog is a fun outlet for me to talk about new trends and applications, especially helpful if you are new to Social media. Subscribe and learn about how to use and adopt Social media for Marketing, and keep up with the latest news. I am also the Head of Social Media for Philips Lighting. I am active with strategy development, activation, governance, projects and educational training activities for all aspects of social media within Philips Lighting. I have been working in the digital marketing area since 1997, and previously held roles in engineering, design and sales. In addition to this blog, I tweet daily on two Twitter accounts, have two Facebook pages, Google+, Pinterest, So.cl, Instagram, and participate in many other social networks.
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