In September 2014 I had the opportunity to speak to the US China Business Connections (UCBC)
group here in Minneapolis about Social Media in China. I focused on Tencent’s innovative mobile app called WeChat. My key point was – this app is a gold mind for on-line commerce and marketing in a market that must be understood, especially both those who want to leverage mobile tools for enterprise collaboration.
Since then, it has been remarkable to see the global recognition given to Chinese technology firms, including:
A Deeper Dive: What’s Not in the Headlines
However, it is far too easy to misread these kinds of headlines about Chinese technology companies. The danger is either being overly pessimistic (these companies are simply U.S. knock-offs that are going to take over the world) or overly optimistic (we’ve found the next growth stocks that will magically rescue the global tech industry).
For a balanced view we need to take a deeper look at what Chinese tech companies are doing that is innovative, especially as it relates to using mobile, social technology to drive collaboration. To that end, I want to highlight three of the key findings from previous blog posts:
- 2) Tencent, China’s Social Giant: An introduction to Tencent, the largest social tech company in China and one of the top 5 internet companies in the world. In addition, a basic overview of the company’s wildly popular mobile app, WeChat, which has over 400M users and is uniquely innovative.
- 3) WeChat – An Innovation Platform: A deep dive into what make’s WeChat so innovative. Not only does it incorporate unique user-friendly features like a walkie-talkie button, but it also can be used as both a marketing and commercial platform. In other words, it has the functionality of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Uber, Groupon and Paypal all in a single app!
Bottom Line: Ignore China at Your Peril
China can’t be ignored, especially If we want to understand where mobile or social platforms are going to add value for enterprise collaboration. Not only are these innovative tools being used by employees in their personal lives, but increasingly these same employees will come to expect innovative collaboration tools within their work places.
Once again Dilbert serves as an unexpected source of insight for building an effective enterprise social network behind the company firewall.
Dilbert points out the obvious problem with the stalled “Project Unicorn” by telling his boss….
To which his boss replies….
While the executives in Dilbert’s world may think “there’s no time for substance when you’re at the top”, the real world executives we work with everyday know that substance is critically important.
If we are going to create meaningful social business content within our companies social networks, we need to keep three best practices in mind
- 1) Relentlessly Focus on Adding Business Value: Every activity of your company’s social network should be tightly aligned with contributing to increased business value. Examples may include a dynamic wiki post that serves as a single source of truth for a pipeline of sales deals for a critical product line or a discussion forum that helps employees quickly answer common HR questions. The key principle is to seek to add content to your enterprise social network that drives either top line or bottom line savings. If you can’t identify business growth or savings in your content, then it should go the way of “project unicorn” and die.
- 2) Create a Constant Feedback Loop for Users: “But how do I determine if content add business value?” The answer to this reasonable question is closer than you think – ask the users of your enterprise network and (gasp!) your end customers. You must reinforce the importance of adding business value by encouraging a healthy degree of criticism from all users and external customers. Through various channels – on-line and off-line – ask employees and customers to provide constructive criticism of the business value of your social content by asking “How does this content help us either drive sales or save cost?”. Granted you may not be able to allow your customers to see all of the internal content, but you can still get helpful feedback by describing the content to them and actively seeking to understand what will add value for them.
- 3) Remember Social is One of Many Channels: Keep the value of your social enterprise content in context. If you encourage creating content that drives business value and reinforce the value of such content through a healthy feedback loop, you will well be on your way to creating business relevant content. However, never forget that the information captured on your social network constitutes only a fraction of the information pulsing within and into your organization. The social network should help capture critical business content, but is only one of the channels through which the information is captured. The network can never replace face to face brainstorming sessions with your team, the creative genius of a subject matter expert or direct customer feedback.
Relevant content is critical to the value of any social network and the social networks behind company firewalls are no exception. If we keep these three best practices in mind, we will well position our companies for creating content that adds business value. The sooner we can encourage the creation of such content, the quicker our executives and key stakeholders will see that there is indeed always “time for substance”.
For your further amusement the full cartoon strip is below or you can see it here on the Dilbert site.
A critical innovation that has built Tencent up as the world’s fourth largest internet company is its ability to leverage WeChat as an innovation platform. As my blog co-author, David Wolf, clearly outlined in this April 2014 post innovation platforms are “technologies that serve as foundations that allow others to innovation”.
In China’s competitive social media space, WeChat is just such a innovation platform as it not only offers a first rate messaging features, but more importantly provides easy access to other valuable services. Five of these innovations are clearly outlined in this February 2014 Tech in Asia piece, but I would highlight two that will become increasingly important:
It’s a Marketing Platform…
Through subscription based accounts users can receive the latest marketing content from brands they follow. The beauty of WeChat is that the platform is not only open to major brands – sample 3M ad below – but also local or regional players – like the Shanghai-based Mexican Grill called Salubre. Much like Twitter or Facebook in the U.S., WeChat provides both large and small companies a social platform to connect directly with consumers.
No, It’s a Payments Platform…
WeChat also provides convenient access to a variety of financial services. The platform covers a wide variety of services from ordering a taxi (like Uber or Lyft) to learning about group buying discounts (similar to GroupOn). Such payment services are becoming more popular as indicated by the fact that the WeChat wallet was used over 40 million times during the 2014 Chinese New Year to exchange “lucky money”. These gifts are traditionally exchange through hand-delivered red envelopes filled with cash over the holiday, but WeChat enabled users to do so virtually.
It is Actually An Innovation Platform!
The reality is that marketing platforms – like Twitter and Facebook – and payment platforms – like Uber or GroupOn – are nothing new. However, Tencent’s key innovation is their ability to use WeChat as an innovation platform. Tencent has successfully integrated numerous platforms into a single app so that its 438 million users have an increased number of value added services they can access – without every leaving the app.
So What’s the Big Deal!?
In a future post it would be interesting to compare WeChat’s innovation platform to the portfolio of brands that Facebook has collected – including Instagram and Whatsapp. However, at the moment let’s just appreciation there is immense business value created by the WeChat innovation platform. The next post in this series will focus on specific tips for leveraging WeChat’s platform (or any social platform) to connect more deeply with your professional colleagues, especially if they are Chinese.
On our respective night-stands this week is Cheryl and Mark Burgess’ The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work: Success Lessons from IBM, AT&T, Dell, and Cisco on Building a Social Culture. I’m looking forward to understanding the thinking and the methodology the Burgesses use: I remain incredibly skeptical about social media experts who lack experience dealing with wider enterprise issues. Joab, a Cisco employee, is going to do a reality check on the Burgesses’ assessment of Cisco’s success with social media. His experiences at work are what inspired him to begin delving into the subject of social companies. Needless to say, he’s a bit skeptical himself.
Either way, it should be interesting. We’ll let you know what we think.
Against a background of the communication challenges address in this Feb 7, 2014 post, social media has numerous benefits that enable it to address a wide scope of internal communications needs.
Below is a sampling of three key benefits from social tools:
- 1) Real-Time Communication: People in different time zones can update relevant business information at different times in the day – as it happens – via centralized platforms such as an internal company blog post. Globally dispersed team members can address the same business issue without having to schedule unnecessary meetings at odd hours.
- 2) Faster Dialogue: When properly managed social tools such as internal discussion boards enable communication to occur more quickly – without the communications department “gatekeepers” slowing down the communications flow. When such discussions boards are available to all employees it also reduces the need for communications staff to answer the same question multiple times.
- 3) Organic and Engaging: Internal messaging platforms (similar to Whatsapp or WeChat) enable organic and engaging employee to employee conversations that enhances daily productivity by eliminate unnecessary meetings and e-mail exchanges. This is a platform that gen Y employees are especially accustomed to using in their personal lives and are eager to adopt in a work environment.