Tag Archives: Stop Blocking

When Blocking the Web… Stops Work Getting Done

Interesting situation recently. As long-time readers know, I’ve been a big fan of the Stop Blocking campaign for a number of years, and I tend to find it frustrating when I come across blocked networks. Trust and empowerment make me feel great in my job.

I’ve spent most of October and November travelling to speak with customers and present at a couple of conferences around Europe. In that time, I generally had very few problems with network access.

On one occasion though, I realised just how tricky things are becoming, as “social” elements become increasingly baked in to the fabric of the Web. I was in Switzerland, and the plan was for me to present locally during the morning, and then to host and facilitate a conversation with a number of my colleagues in the Hursley lab during the afternoon. The hosts arranged guest wifi network access for me, so that we could make this work. I’d be able to use Sametime to receive files to present locally (we couldn’t access LotusLive), to clarify questions with the remote team, and to coordinate other team members to join the conversation as we went along.

This plan was initially all looking good, until I found that the VPN connection I was using to tunnel in to the corporate network would suddenly and apparently randomly, drop in the middle of a conversation.

After a while these VPN disconnections became more frequent, I became more frustrated, and the meeting became less productive.

… and that’s when I looked at the piece of paper I’d been given with my guest network credentials. To summarise, it said that guests would be subject to all of the same restrictions as employees regarding network access and specific sites were disallowed including “Personal email: Hotmail, Gmail etc; IM: Skype, Google Talk, etc; Social networking: Twitter, Facebook, etc”.

The penny dropped that my browser was sitting there with tabs open on sites like Gmail and Twitter. I shut them, reconnected, reconnected to the VPN, and things…. were better…. well, better, for a while.

I still wanted to use the Internet, of course, so I continued to do so – searching Google for relevant issues when questions were asked in the workshop. That’s when the VPN started flaking out again…. and that’s when I realised that with the Google redesign, the +1 features in the header bar were accessing Google+ when I loaded the Google page, treating that as a “social network”, and silently dropping my wifi connection.

This was a case where a heavy-handed filter, no doubt designed to “protect” the users from themselves and the organisation from inappropriate behaviour, actually impaired real work getting done. Either this technology needs to get a lot, lot smarter; companies need to reconsider these blocking rules, and trust an increasingly savvy workforce to behave responsibly; or the Web just needs to stop getting so darned social and… troublesome. Which option do you prefer?

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Is Facebook really useful for B2B?

I was struck by the title of Chris Koch‘s recent piece for Social Media Today, 4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing – it’s an eye-catching headline. This topic is something I’ve thought about a lot recently. In my professional space, much of the marketing is in aid of business-to-business product awareness – or sometimes, business-to-employee, or developer relations – but it is rarely a straightforward, business-to-consumer/man-in-the-street model. I read Chris’ article with interest, as well as another article he’d earlier tweeted about, Facebook Can Work for B2B Marketers, and I was surprised to find that both pieces missed out on what I believe are some very important points.

As regular readers will know: I’m not a marketeer, I’m basically a techie who sometimes talks about social stuff. However, since I’m tagged as a “social media guy” within a software development organisation, I’m often asked whether a particular software product or technology should have a Facebook page. What about support information, documentation, introductory videos – surely those kinds of things should be available via Facebook? Isn’t that where all the cool kids are?

My answer is usually tentative and skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of  brands having some presence on Facebook is fundamentally useful for visibility, and more so if an organisation is prepared to spend some time on engagement (NB ephemeral, instead of ongoing engagement is one of the key holes that B2B campaigns can fall into that Chris Koch picks up on in his piece). I follow Starbucks UK and love getting the occasional freebie from them… and I am a fan of many other brands, too. However, considering a B2B relationship, I personally feel that Facebook is a far less useful social space in which to share information and engage with customers than, say, a network like LinkedIn or a standalone site with API hooks to existing social networks.

Here are my own “4 reasons” why Facebook doesn’t hit the mark for B2B:

  1. Facebook is famously a “walled garden”. You put content in, and they keep it there; it’s not indexable or embeddable from the outside. They’ve recently added a tool to export personal profile data, but not product or brand pages, to my knowledge. Facebook has always been about absorbing data, whereas a company like Google has been about indexing it. If you read Jeff Jarvis‘ excellent book What Would Google Do? it quickly becomes clear that Google grew and became successful by building or acquiring tools which made it easy to embed their information and gadgets into your site (whilst of course, recording signals as people visit those sites). That YouTube video you created? Easy to socialise and embed on other websites. Post a Facebook video? it can only be played on Facebook.
  2. It’s ok for Business-to-Consumer products, but not so useful for enterprise software and middleware where the relationship is essentially B2B and less visible. What does it mean for me to “like” WebSphere Middleware (or whatever) on Facebook? Why would I want to make that statement in a personal context? Will my friends and family, many of whom I don’t work with, know what these things are when they show up in their social streams? It makes sense for me to be part of a professional network via e.g. Slideshare or LinkedIn, but the value for B2B / middleware / invisible products is a lot less tangible.
  3. Facebook is blocked by a very large number of companies. I may not like that personally, and in fact I’m a supporter of the Stop Blocking campaign. I happen to work for an organisation where I have a wide degree of freedom in my access to and use of the web. On balance, though, it’s unlikely that users connected to a corporate network will be able to do lot with content that is posted on Facebook, during business hours. Have a presence, but think about whether it’s worth the effort to push a lot of content through that channel (and see point 1, again, too)
  4. It’s not necessarily a useful place to post content if your goal is to attract people in “nascent / emerging markets”, either. I spent some time in China last year, and clearly in countries like that, Facebook is officially inaccessible. Consider how to maximise access and “sociability” of content – Facebook is unlikely to be that channel.

So, having said all of that, and started out declaring myself “not a marketeer”, I end up sounding suspiciously like one, talking about channels, content and effectiveness! I am a page owner and I’ve played around with the advertising tools, so I do know that Facebook offers some very compelling segmentation, reach and analytics tools – but again, I’d argue that you have to consider whether you’re really providing wide access and ongoing value by centralising information inside their network.

What about Google+? I’ve not written about the social network of the hour here on my blog yet (but if you are on G+ feel free to add me to a circle…) but given Google’s interest in making content indexable and easy to locate, it is likely that when business pages arrive, content over there will be more widely accessible than it is inside Facebook. I’m not saying that “social” in general doesn’t work for B2B communications and marketing… I’m just saying that Facebook, to me, doesn’t make the perfect choice.

I’m still not a marketeer, and I don’t think I’d make a very good one – but I try to apply common sense to these spaces. Those are my 4 pennies on this issue… let me know what you think!

Trust and empowerment are key

From a great post about the ESPN and USMC social media rules / bans:

You might not expect a corporate juggernaut like IBM to lead the way when it comes to creating effective social media guidelines for its employees, yet here we are: IBM was one of the first enterprise-size companies to not only recognize the need for such a document, but also to deliver an adequate set of guidelines within it that made sense and allowed its culture to spread. IBM recognized that treating its employees like responsible adults rather than dangerous little children might yield pretty good results.

Indeed. I’ve written about IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines before, and I’ve spoken about them at conferences. I’ve also repeatedly opined that blocking access is counterproductive. It’s important to note that the guidelines were written collaboratively, and they are linked to IBM’s existing standards of professional conduct (the Business Conduct Guidelines) which employees agree to annually. Folks at the leading edge of technology continue to inform and educate the rest of the organisation on good practices and behaviours in these online social spaces.

Let’s end with another of the many quotable extracts from Olivier Blanchard’s post today:

The risk here is not the medium, it is the behavior. Ban access to the medium and you solve nothing: The behavior is still there, only now, you are blind to it. Double-fail.

Oh, in case you’re new around here: I’m an IBMer. My opinions may differ from IBM’s official line from time to time, but that’s OK. My employer trusts me, and I appreciate that.