An evening with Social Computing – and a stunning view!

Some 40 years ago the BT Tower (the Post Office Tower, as was then) was on the tourist circuit and I took in the revolving view from the observation platform. Then it was bombed, and was permanently closed to the public.

So last evening was the first time since then I’ve had chance to ascend the Tower. The occasion: a BCS Elite meeting, a fascinating and informative evening on Web 2.0. I’ve heard Euan Semple before (I invited him to give a seminar at GSK), so this was an update on his thinking but complemented by two other speakers: Ian Aitchison, Group Communications Officer for the Japanese shipping and logistics company NYK, and Richard Dennison, Intranet & Channel Strategy Manager for BT (who’d never been up the Tower despite working for the company).

Euan tells a compelling story about how he embedded social media into the BBC, which he left a couple of years ago. He used it to introduce the audience to the panoply of services, and to explore the issues which corporates face. Their people are already using the public platforms privately and for business, but the more far-sighted are adopting them to help people work better together – as internal look-alikes or, in some cases, directly on the external platforms.

Ian Aitchison and Richard Dennison both picked up these themes, in their very different enterprises: NYK a worldwide, very scattered, very physically centred organisation, looking to social media to help them realise their strategic vision; and BT, providing virtual products, UK-centric but increasingly global and also widely scattered.

As I wrote a little while ago: human beings are a gregarious species; we communicate. Almost any network technology goes person-to-person. Social computing, in this sense, represents the Internet coming of age as person-to-person services multiply and people explore the potential.

So, in business, senior managers use blogs, RSS or even Twitter to communicate with their teams. The best share openly in discussion: plenty of examples, from all three speakers, showing how risky this actually isn’t. No-one questions the manager’s right to make the decision, but it’s a lot more likely to be accepted and understood, even by dissenters, after this kind of sharing. The BBC’s policy on external blogging by employees was created in a wiki by those most directly concerned, before it was top-and-tailed by HR and Legal – most enterprises still do this the other way round, and require multiple meetings rather than being able to capitalise on ten minutes of someone’s time here, and five of someone else’s there, to evolve to a satisfactory conclusion. And have you seen the movie someone created of the creation of the Wikipedia entry on the London 7 July bombings? That’s a graphic demonstration of the power of the crowd both to create useful information and to rectify damage very quickly.

Euan’s material isn’t postable, though he’s bloggedf already; and I don’t have Ian Aitchison’s. But have a look at Richard Dennison’s blog for a very similar presentation. And, of course, we all then adjourned to the 34th floor for a buffet supper and to enjoy the unparalleled view over London as the sun went down and the city lit its lights.

My slides from International Employee Communications Summit Richard Dennison, blog, 10 Jun 2008
One identity, multiple networks ITasITis, 9 Apr 2008
A Humanizing Influence Euan Semple, The Obvious? (Euan’s blog), 17 Jun 2008, with reference to the event
New Horizon 2010 NYK strategy

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