Facebook At Work Will Quickly Change Enterprise Social

It may not yet be generally available, but Facebook at Work is a quickly evolving solution that will change how enterprises think about and conduct social interactions. It will also dramatically change, if not eliminate, the single-person role of Community Manager.
Carrie Basham Young, an experienced and respected social business strategist, published a series of blog posts on Facebook at Work last week. Her main thesis across these posts was that Facebook is playing a long game in which the line between social interaction in people’s personal lives and at work becomes blurred or disappears altogether. Facebook is betting that it can change enterprise social to more closely resemble the way that people interact outside of work, on Facebook.
Young made many other astute observations in the posts, including,

  • Facebook controls the message with respect to its product and the social networking industry in mainstream media
  • Adoption (logging in for the first time) does not equal engagement (ongoing, purposeful use)
  • Facebook at Work is “incredibly easy” to use and may nearly eliminate the need for user training
  • Facebook at Work’s extreme end-user focus may cause problems for enterprises, and IT staff at big companies will have a negative view of Facebook at Work until it incorporates enterprise-grade identity management, security and information lifecycle management functionality
  • Facebook has the power to change the entire conversation, user expectations and their behavior without input from currently active community managers

Changing Nature of Work and Organizations

The present (and future) trend in the workplace is toward fewer managers in less hierarchical organizational structures. However, eliminating roles that command others’ work does not equate with getting rid of those who guide and coordinate work. The need for people who can design, facilitate and monitor people interactions within business networks will only increase as authority, responsibility and accountability are decentralized across the employee base of an organization.
If Young’s assessment of the irreplaceable contributions of community managers is correct, then Facebook’s intention to minimize or eliminate them may be a fatal mistake. Instead, Facebook at Work should give all employees access to the tools that Young cites as necessary for successful community management. By doing so, Facebook would accelerate the existing trend of democratizing authority and distributing work ownership. Everyone would be responsible for contributing to the management of communities in which they are members, and stewardship of them would shift contextually.
This vision is not unprecedented. Over the last two decades, Knowledge Management (KM) has moved away from being a top-down activity started and executed by an individual situated fairly high in a company’s organizational chart. Instead, the notion of Personal KM has gained favor, making all employees responsible for creating, capturing, sharing and using knowledge within their company.
It is possible that day-to-day community management will move in the same direction and become a distributed responsibility and activity. Young clearly acknowledged this when she wrote,

“Facebook will maintain a pure focus on viral adoption, resulting in an industry-wide slow shift away from the concept of managed communities and toward the concept of ad-hoc, self-driven collaboration as a new normal employee behavior”

I disagree with Young’s interpretation of Facebook’s goal for Facebook at Work though. I think Facebook seeks to de-emphasize or eliminate community managers, but not community management. It appears that Facebook at Work has been designed for distributed, bottom-up community coordination, rather than top-down, imposed management. (I sincerely hope that Facebook at Work does not intend to have communities ruled by algorithms that decide which topics and interactions are given preference in an employee’s activity stream.) While this will be unappealing to existing community managers, Facebook’s vision for more self-governed collaboration is consistent with the larger trends that are distributing and democratizing work coordination in increasingly flat, networked organizational structures.

Enterprise Social Will Change Sooner Rather Than Later

Young is right that Facebook at Work will upset the status quo in enterprise social and community management, but I think her timeline is too long. This change is likely to happen in 3 years or less, rather than the 5-10 years she predicts.
It will be faster because Facebook can learn from other vendors in adjacent enterprise software market segments, most notably Box and Dropbox in the Enterprise File Sync and Sharing space. Like Facebook, both of those companies began as consumer-oriented services that emphasized user experience over other considerations, including breadth and depth of functionality. Box has since built an offering that meets many of the security, privacy, administration and integration requirements of business customers.
Dropbox has also undertaken that journey, although it did not begin it until well after Box started. That is an advantage in some ways. Dropbox is moving down the learning curve quickly because it has watched Box and learned from its strategic decisions taken and tactical moves made to effect the consumer-to-enterprise shift.
Facebook will do the same, gaining insight from both Box and Dropbox. This will allow Facebook at Work to become enterprise-ready in a fraction of the time that most expect. Watch for Facebook to gradually expand beta access to Facebook at Work over the coming months, then make a version that meets most enterprise requirements generally available by the end of 2016.

The Return of Middle Managers

“That experiment broke. I just had to admit it.” — Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse Island, on his attempt to run the company without managers

There is currently a widely-held view among organizational design experts and pundits that managers, particularly middle managers, are a harmful artifact of hierarchically-structured, command-and-control organizations. Conventional wisdom holds that middle managers, and their responsibilities and stereotypical behaviors, are outdated and severely constrict the speed at which a business can operate. Flat, democratic organizations made up of loose, recombinant relationships have gained favor in the org design world today because they enable agility and efficiency.
There’s just one problem with that view – it’s not entirely accurate. It represent an ideal that may be right for some organizations, but very wrong for many others.
Carson and Treehouse Island’s failed experiment was one of the examples given in a recent Wall Street Journal article (behind paywall) titled “Radical Idea at the Office: Middle Managers”. The common thread between the companies mentioned in the article was that the elimination of bosses had the opposite effect of what had been envisioned. Productivity decreased because workers weren’t sure of their responsibilities and couldn’t forge consensus-based decisions needed to move forward. Innovation also waned, because new ideas went nowhere without a management-level individual to champion and fund them. Employee morale even took a hit, because no one took over the former middle management’s role of providing encouragement and motivation when they were needed.
Research of over 100 organizations conducted by an INSEAD professor led to this conclusion, cited in the WSJ piece:

“Employees want people of authority to reassure them, to give them direction. It’s human nature.”

Enabling Technologies that Don’t

Another problem experienced by many of the organizations mentioned in the WSJ article was that technologies meant to enable employees to work productively in a manager-less workplace failed to do so. Enterprise chat systems were specifically fingered as a culprit, for a variety of reasons.
At Treehouse Island, which had never used email, decision-making was severely compromised by employees opining on chat threads when they had no expertise on the given subject. This led to “endless discussions”. The chat technology drove conversations, but ideas rarely made it past discussion to a more formal plan. Work tasks informally noted and assigned without accountability in the chat application mostly got lost in the shuffle and weren’t completed. Treehouse Island eventually turned to other communications channels and even acknowledged that email has valid uses.

Worker Education and Training, Not Managers, Are the Problem

While I agree with the assessment that human nature is a barrier to effective manager-less workplaces, I also think that our base impulses can be minimized or completely overcome by alternative, learned attitudes and behaviors. Society and institutions in the United States have programmed multiple generations to submit to authority, seeking and accepting its orders and guidance. Our educational system has largely been designed to to produce ‘loyal and reliable’ workers who can thrive in a narrowly-defined role under the direction of a superior. Putting individuals who have been educated this way into situations where they must think for themselves and work with others to get things done is like throwing a fish out of water.
As for enterprise chat technology, it has seen documented success when deployed and used to help small teams coordinate their work. However, most of those teams working in chat channels either have a single, designated manager with the authority to make things happen, or they are able call upon a small number of individuals who can and will assume unofficial, situational leadership roles when needed. Absent people to act with authority, chat-enabled groups become mired in inaction, as document in the WSJ article. As I put it in my recent Gigaom Research post on enterprise real-time messaging,

The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc. Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors.”

We will see more experiments with Holocracy and other forms of organization that eliminate layers of management and depend on individuals to be responsible for planning, coordinating and conducting their own work activities. Some will succeed; most will fail. We can (and should!) create and implement new technologies that, at least in theory, support the democratization of work. However, until systemic changes are made in the way people are educated and trained to function in society and at work, companies without managers will remain a vision, not a common reality.

Medium hires its first head of content advertising

Medium has hired someone to develop its native advertising partnerships, the first such role for the company. As Mathew Ingram previously reported, the blog company is expanding its content advertising, publishing sponsored posts that look similar to regular Medium stories. Riddhi Shah, the new hire who will oversee these efforts, will hold the title “Branded Content Lead.” (Disclosure: Shah and I interned together at The Nation four years ago.)

For Medium, bringing on its first content advertising manager is a significant move. It shows the blogging company is shifting gears, starting to prioritize revenue as it moves into its fourth year. (Medium did not respond to a request for comment sent  Thursday.)

Befitting its part publisher identity, Medium is turning to someone with a more traditional New York media background, instead of tech or business, to lead the charge. Prior to joining Medium, Shah was the Editorial Director of branded content for The Huffington Post. She worked with companies like Chipotle and TED, who advertised on particular HuffPo sections. For example, Chipotle sponsored a “Food for Thought” page as it attempted to remake itself as an environmentally and ethically conscious company.

Shah was uniquely suited for the position because she worked as a journalist for eight years prior, reporting for a variety of publications in India and the U.S. That background made it easier for her to pitch brands potential story ideas they could sponsor. Medium’s hope is that she’ll bring similar brand negotiation skills to the blogging application.

As Mathew covered, Medium wants native advertising to become a key source of funding. Even before hiring Shah, Medium already started lightly experimenting with it, launching a travel vertical called Gone, by Marriott Hotels, and a design section called Re:form, by BMW.

These stories are labeled as being “presented” by these brands, although they’re not necessarily about the companies themselves. For example, Marriott paid the expenses for Medium writers to travel to Haiti and report on the evolution of business there since the massive 2010 earthquake. You can read Mathew’s piece for a good take on the journalism ethics considerations.

From a business perspective, content advertising is well-suited for design-centric Medium. It can avoid ugly, distracting banner ads and reap more worth for brands by helping them subtly associate with certain causes or ideas.

Startups are flocking to hire community builders. Why now?

Communities have existed on the web since its earliest days, with tech employees tasked with cultivating them. Until recently, however, community building wasn’t a profession in its own right. That’s starting to change.

Bosses are for slackers like Google

Seattle-based games company Valve claims to make more per employee than even Google and does it without employing a single boss. How does the company manage to do so well with no hierarchy? The employee handbook lays it all out. Should others follow suit?

Tips for Managing Remote Workers

Since my post last week talked about how to manage your boss while working remotely, I thought that it was only fair to provide managers with some tips for managing those employees in other locations — something that I’m about to start doing again.

Apple Negotiating Deal With Second Chinese Cell Carrier

No one said Apple’s (s aapl) partnership with China Unicom is exclusive, right? It’s an open relationship. Y’know how it is, dinner dates, the cinema, maybe even occasionally meeting the parents. But it’s totally cool for them both to see other people, OK?

And that’s precisely what’s happening. Back in July, I reported here that China Unicom had secured the deal to supply to the iPhone in China. Just two weeks ago other sites were reporting the same thing and now, according to the Wall Street Journal, rival carrier China Mobile appears to be getting in on the action, too.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum, China Mobile’s chairman Wang Jianzhou said that Apple’s deal with competitor China Unicom was “…absolutely not exclusive.” Read More about Apple Negotiating Deal With Second Chinese Cell Carrier

Sequel Pro 0.96 Released

The open-source project team that released Sequel Pro 0.95 three months ago has just released 0.96. The update adds polish to the application, making working with it more pleasurable — if you can ever call working with databases pleasurable.

They’ve also added some new core functionality and optimized the backend. To me, this feels like more than a 0.01 update. With every update of Sequel Pro, the open-source project continues to close the gap between itself and commercial competitors such as Querious. Read More about Sequel Pro 0.96 Released

10 Clipboard Managers for OS X

Clipping

The clipboard in a modern operating system is one of the most useful and practical tools available. Being able to select some text or images, copy them to the clipboard, and then paste them in other places is indispensable (look at the uproar over the fact that the iPhone OS 1.0 & 2.0 did not support a clipboard to see how valuable it is). You most likely use it without giving it another thought.

The standard clipboard behavior is that when you copy a new item, it replaces the existing item. You can’t go back to the previous item as there is no history of items copied. This is what a Clipboard Manager does, providing a memory and browsing history so you can paste something, and then find it later, even after using the clipboard multiple times.

There are quite a few Clipboard Managers available for OS X, some free, some not. Here’s a quick overview of what is on offer and what they can and can’t do. Read More about 10 Clipboard Managers for OS X