Organisations don’t tweet, people do, a manager’s guide to the social web - Euan Semple

1 February, 2012 - 10:47
Stop reading case studies - and become one! That is the challenge that is thrown down in this guide to what it actually means to put the emphasis on the social rather than the media.

For those of you who don’t know Euan Semple, he was the Knowledge Manager at the BBC instrumental in getting the venerable broadcaster to start using social media back in the 90s. He has since become a regular fixture on the social business circuit with over 6,000 followers on twitter.

He is a man who lives and breathes social media. I caught up with him because he tweeted that he had some hours to spare in London after getting an appointment wrong in his diary.

One tweet and suddenly the hole in his day was filled with two client calls and an interview with simply-communicate before going in to chat with a senior communicator at one of the UK's top companies. It’s a pretty neat example of how adopting social media can make you more productive in your working life.

So why did he write the book?

"I wanted to give clients something to give to their colleagues who find social media alien and challenging. Perhaps by reading a chapter or two it will help them get on board with what is in it for them. Basically I wrote it to motivate managers to take social media seriously."

The book was produced over just a 4 month period so it feels right up to date yet the thinking is pretty heartfelt; Semple clearly has been mulling over these issues for some time.  It is just coming out in the 'dead tree' hardback, but I - like many others - downloaded the Kindle version.  The book is a fair length at 280 pages and is notable throughout for Semple's very particular voice; you can hear his West Scotland tone ranging from the purposeful to - at times - preaching.  For although he writes with a wry smile about the idiocies of corporate speak; this is a man who has clearly seen the future and is determined that his reader understands just what is at stake here.

"A lot of people who have read it so far are pretty knowledgeable people, which is very flattering.  And I have been told that the book explores complicated ideas in a simple way.  It was like having me sitting beside them, summing up stuff that they knew already but had not seen written down before. I hope not to be preachy, but I did not set out to write a dispassionate text book. There is much autobiographical content and I believe that social media encourages a personal style that people should be exploiting when they are writing for effect."

There are no in-depth case-studies; in fact Semple deliberately avoids padding out his arguments with them.  Instead the chapters are short and lean, with the obligatory sum-up of key points at the end of each.  Nevertheless he does develop a series of arguments that are hard to ignore. I particularly liked his assertion that:

"Improving your corporate culture and the collective mood of your organisation will increasingly depend on your literary skill...Much business writing is badly done and ineffective...Improving our writing skills and seeing it as part of everyone's job will improve the effectiveness of our organizations."

In a time when so much emphasis is put on technology tools and platforms from Yammer to Jive, it is refreshing to see Semple argue that the real tool we have to develop as communicators is just plain better writing that grabs and engages our corporate audiences.  He revealed:

"If I write another book that will be the focus. We need to encourage a new form of business literacy. Much business writing is turgid. I honestly think there is shift from writing a 40 page report to producing a tweet that can change the world. If you have all your people writing in this connected style that's a real business benefit.

"Some will struggle and find it difficult to map. There are big issues around the democratisation of business.  While I do not believe that we are going to lose our hierarchial behaviours in the workplace, I do think that we are evolving different pecking orders based on people's ability to get an argument across.

"If you have an environment where people are thoughtful and their voices are heard then maybe we will avoid the mistakes such as a few senior managers who think investing in sub-prime mortgages is a safe bet.  Being disconnected and powerful can take you down some strange paths, that maybe companies won't follow if the debates are more widely distributed."

A key theme in the book is about loosening the grip on colleagues through allowing conversations to happen more naturally.  Semple quotes David Weinberger's insight that "conversations can only take place between equals" and encourages managers to influence people by simply showing that they are interested in them.  He talks about his time at the BBC when he forced himself to hold back and not try to fix the problems that colleagues encountered when they started to use forums and blogs.  He claims the biggest risk is summed up in the phrase "to rescue someone is to oppress them".

"In other words, by saying that people are broken and need fixing - and you are the person to fix them - you keep people in their broken state.  It gives power to the fixer and the person being fixed knows this.  The same rule applies to online conversations.  By wading in with the right answer to every situation you risk killing any feelings of community stone dead."

It is with such advice that Semple's book performs a real service; this is not a guide to what media to use, nor a series of case studies to emulate. He has actually written a passionate treatise on what it means to be social in our world of corporate communications. That's where the real prizes lie -  or as Semple puts it:

"Stop reading case studies and become one yourself."


Catch Euan Semple on simply-tv, Wednesday, February 1st at 1pm UK time.


Organisations don’t tweet, people do, a manager’s guide to the social web - Euan Semple

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