E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez


What’s Your Purpose?

Gran Canaria in the Winter

Apparently, ‘two thirds of digital transformation projects fail’. I know that headline may well be both a bit too provocative and rather pessimistic at best, but I guess we can’t deny there are far too many reasons out there as to why that may be happening, as Dion Hinchcliffe himself wrote, quite nicely, over 6 years ago, in a rather insightful article titled: ’14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail’. Even today. When looking into it with a bit more detail though, one can find that perhaps, right at the heart of the matter, one of the most powerful reasons as to why that happens is because most organisations haven’t been able to answer properly the one question that matters: ‘What’s your purpose?’

When talking about Social Business Adaptation (not the same as Adoption, by the way), there are 5 different pillars, over the years, I have considered essential for any successful Digital Transformation programme (not a project either, by the way); and since I mentioned earlier on, in another blog post, that I’d start sharing plenty of the methodologies, strategies, processes and tools I use for my work as an independent adviser, I thought I would get things started with the one single question that, to me, triggers those transformation efforts: figure out the why first, before you dive in to the how.

Throughout all of these years of having been involved in Social Business Adaptation (both while at IBM and nowadays as a freelancer) I have been exposed to a good number of different purposes as to why both people AND organisations embark on that so-called Digital Transformation journey. And time and time again there have been a number of them that typically fall sort of the expectations towards the second year that they have been put in place. Three of them in particular come to the top of the list and I thought I would share them over here in the hopes that, if you bump into them, you may have an early warning, and some pointers, on what you may need to do to shift things a fair bit in a different direction perhaps. On the other hand, there are also plenty of other great purposes for which people/organisations have pretty much nailed their efforts into becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise. So we will talk about those other three as well in a few minutes (Yes, I know, I like to see things in threes and multiples of threes :-D).

Why Digital Transformation Projects Fail?

I am pretty sure that, by now, your head may be spinning around a fair bit coming up with a good number of different reasons as to why you think Digital Transformation programmes keep failing over and over again over the last few years. To me, it’s all down to figuring out what your purpose is. Why do you want to do what you are about to do? What is it that you expect to happen, once you get started with the Social Business journey? And what are, potentially, some of the expectations you would want to meet up at some point in time?

Now, this is not, at all, at this point in time, about trying to figure out the ROI of Social Business. We already had that conversation a while ago and it didn’t take us anywhere. Total waste of time, really. In fact, if you look around, today, you would hardly see anyone trying to question the return on investment from your digital transformation efforts anymore. It’s just not happening. It’s 2015, it’s considered a given. Why? Well, mainly, because we no longer have a choice (never had, actually!). I mean, look at the alternative(s) of not diving in to the Digital Transformation journey. It’s ugly and it will become uglier over the course of time even more so if we keep ignoring the inevitable: change. 

With all of that said, you may be wondering what are the main three purposes I bump into, every now and then, that are bound to create more trouble than help out with those transformation efforts. I am sure you all have your own favourites and I would love to read about them in the comments, but, for me, here are the Top 3 Reasons as to why digital transformation programmes fail, based on what their main purpose may well be: 

  • Cost savings: Bean counters, and everyone else, dealing with the financials of your organisation would love you lots if this is the main purpose of why you would want to start the Social Business journey. Yet, the reality would be quite different. Justifying the existence of a Digital Transformation programme within your organisation as an opportunity to cut / save costs and become more efficient as a result is bound to fail on the second year of life of the initiative. Why? Well, mainly, because there will always be something out there that would help you cut costs, specially, in the technology space, and that means the moment you find something else to help you cut costs there goes your Social Business effort. Down the drain. To no avail. Efficiency has never been a good friend of Change and Transformation programmes. What you are after is effectiveness. Big difference. 
  • Competitors driving your agenda: ‘My competitors are all going through this Digital Transformation programme already. We are late into the game!’. That’s typically another popular reason as to why people figure their purpose is just to play catch up with their competition. Don’t worry, you are already late, if you are just getting started now. Why worry then? What you may want to do is shake off that strong feeling that your competitors are driving your agenda, whatever that may will be, and perhaps re-focus on what you really want to do as a business, which, last time around we checked was no other endeavour than delighting your clients through an excelling employee experience. Focus on that. You will be much better off, believe me.

    Take a look, for instance, into IT vendors, specially, in the Social Software / Collaboration space. There are plenty of them that will always tell you that they are doing much much better than the competition, so they will flood you with all sorts of information, brochures and marketing speak on features and capabilities on a certain product, etc. etc., almost as if it were a whitewash of sorts, to then match themselves against their competitors for you to see how good they are, when, eventually, they keep failing on meeting up with a clear premise: what business problems are they trying to solve for you? Then there are other vendors that just focus on helping the competitioncompeting accordingly, and they are doing just fine, because that’s their main focus, both the employee AND the customer. Seriously, if the products you are trying to sell your customers are wonderful and meet their needs, you don’t need to worry about the competition. There isn’t any. Go the extra mile. 

  • Change for the sake of changing: It’s not a good idea. It’s never been. On the contrary, it would just show that you are not ready for the change itself, nor the (digital) transformation process. Whether we like it or not, we just can’t change organisations, nor can we change people, for that matter; we can only provide the (right) conditions for knowledge workers to be self-empowered to come forward and change themselves leaving it all up to them. So thinking that we need to change because we don’t have a choice anymore will only create even more trouble. If only, it would work out as adding another layer of (social) tools and think we have changed. When we have only put but more lipstick on the pig. Still a pig. 

    Yes, I can see the urge from most organisations to want to hang out with the cool kids who have already gotten started with their own transformation journey. I realise how plenty of businesses would want to jump the shark and join those very same cool kids on the open Social Web, interacting with their customers, business partners, even their competitors, but then again still operating, pretty much, as v1.0 on the inside. Frankly, to be 2.0 on the outside, requires that you may well be 2.0 on the inside, because otherwise you are off to a massive wake-up call when things go messy. And they will. 

The Journey of Becoming a Socially Integrated Enterprise 

Like I said earlier on, I am pretty sure there are tons of other reasons as to why organisations have decided to embark on the so-called Digital Transformation journey, that may well not have worked out as planned, while trying to answer as well the key question ’What’s your purpose?’ I bet you all know, or have, quite a few and I would certainly love to hear them in the comments, if you would have a minute to share them with the rest of us, but for now, let’s go ahead and focus on the Top 3 Reasons as to why digital transformation programmes are a wonderful success within (some) organisations: 

  • Transform how the entire organisation works: Through a co-creative process, where no-one and everyone owns it, the social business and digital transformation journey is mostly focused on transforming how the entire business works. The focus moves on from being on either technology and business processes and, instead, it’s all about the people, about self-empowering them to become more accountable and responsible for what they do, how they work, connect, collaborate, share their knowledge more in the open, transparently, and, eventually, get work done in a much more democratic, egalitarian, wirearchical, engaged manner. The change process begins when the organisation realises they need to relinquish control, become less risk averse, more open and transparent, to then re-gain it back through how they nurture and build healthy networks and communities as the new operating model. The wake-up call? That these conditions of operating through social networks are not going to go away any time soon, so we better adapt to them and act accordingly. Or we are in trouble. Big trouble.
  • Address business pain points: Perhaps the toughest of reasons. I mean, no-one wants to air out, even internally, what doesn’t work, whether it’s related to technology, processes or people. We all want to keep drinking the kool-aid, to control the message, to continue distrusting our peers, because, after all, we never did, so why start now, right? Alas, it doesn’t work out that well in reality, so if you take those business pain points and turn them into business opportunities through both some bravery and courage admitting not all things are working all right, there is a great chance you will find the right purpose to correct your due course.

    And if you are brave, again, one more time, to involve your entire workforce to help you not only surface what doesn’t work, but also try to provide different solutions to each and everyone of those issues, there is a great chance that you will be on the mend sooner than you think. Both the change and transformation processes will kick off by themselves, without even needing to have a certain strategy. Biggest leap of faith to come across? Understand we are not the experts we all think we are; we are all weak, vulnerable, constantly making mistakes (and learning from them!), and it’s our relying on building those strong networks across the organisation that will only help us, collectively, address those pain points and venture to suggest some potential solutions. And initiate that process of self-healing that’s so very much needed in each and every single business today, in each and every single individual knowledge (Web) worker. 

  • Finally, identify new business opportunities: Indeed, create new markets. I know, I know, easier said than done, but what’s stopping us? What’s stopping us from thinking we can, collectively, change the (business) world for the better? The realisation that it’s going to be impossible? Or perhaps the itch that we can’t attempt to realise the impossible, because, you know, it’s the impossible, after all. How could we? That’s exactly why we need to venture into creating those new markets. New frontiers and I’m not necessarily just talking about technology in general. Think about the world we would all want to live in, say, 15 to 30 years from now. 2030 and 2045. What’s the world going to look like? Most importantly, what’s your dent in this universe for which you would want to be remembered when you are gone. How would you like your offspring to remember you? As those folks who had the chance to change the world and failed because they were not courageous enough to explore and create new markets? Or those folks who didn’t have a clue about what they wanted to do down the line, but there was a very clear premise in the air: leave behind a better (business) world than they themselves experienced throughout their (working) lifetime. And perhaps start working towards achieving that goal. Why not?

My goodness! Talking about having a meaningful and rather impactful purpose for us all! How does that sound to you folks in the long run? Please do tell me you are, with me, in the second group. Please do tell me that, when you are pondering to embark on this so-called Digital Transformation journey within your own business you are thinking about potentially answering ‘What’s your purpose’ with this particular mindset: what kind of world do I want to leave behind me / us when we are all long gone? Something tells me that if we shift focus on that short term purpose, gains, and think more into the near future, into the long run, we would all be so much better of, collectively. Not just for our own mere survival, but for all of those who come after us pushing harder, stronger, higher than whatever we all attempted to do in the past.

Yes, exactly, ‘What’s Your Purpose?’ starts with you asking yourself every single morning, when you come to work, what you would want to achieve that day to make this world a better place. After all, it’s our chance to make a dent in this universe while we change and transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live our lives. Not just for ourselves, but for them, whomever they may well be …

Signing off, sincerely, your #hippie2.0.

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The Trials and Tribulations of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the Winter

Ever since I went independent, nearly two years ago, a recurring theme has been coming up in plenty of conversations I have been having, whether offline or online, with a good number of people going from former colleagues, to family members and friends, to several acquaintances. It’s a topic I have been interested in myself for a good while, although I never thought I would be experiencing it first hand, but, since I have been doing it for a while, I guess it’s time to start talking, more in length, about freelance work and how it is shaping up the nature of today’s work. After all, you know, people keep claiming it’s the future of work itself.


After having worked at IBM for over 17 years, and deciding it was time to move on into the next big adventure, whatever that may well be, little did I know I would end up doing what I am currently working on today. Like with everyone else, potentially, it crossed my mind a few times to become a freelancer, why not, right?, but I was never too sure. I guess that was the toll I had to pay for having an extensive corporate life, according to today’s standards. I gave it a lot of thought though whether I wanted to work for another major corporation, or just stick around with a small, nationwide business (even within the IT industry), or perhaps even work at a startup (You are never too old for that, right?). I, eventually, decided to go from one extreme to the other and see what it would feel like. See whether I would be able to make it in the long run. Or not.

After all, switching from the largest, most complex, IT firm in the world to running your own business as an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation can be quite something and, now that I am nearly two years down the road with it, I can surely confirm that it can be a lifetime changing experience. For the better, of course. And since I keep getting asked about it time and time again I guess it’s now a good time to start blogging about it and share some first hand experiences on what it is like having a new single boss to respond to: your customers.

I know, and fully realise, that this new series of blog posts I am kicking off today perhaps doesn’t have much to do with the usual themes and topics I have blogged over here for nearly 10 years, but I suppose I’m also getting a bit weary of having to answer the very same questions from multiple people over and over again with the same information, so I figured it may actually work out all right. We shall see. Either way, if you, faithful reader, feel like the time for you to move on has arrived, as I introduce this new series of articles around freelance work, please do go ahead and do so. No hard feelings. Life changes, constantly, and so do we, whether we like it or not. Best we can do is to adapt accordingly and where possible. The choice is ours. Always has and it will always be. Thank you for spending your precious time sticking around for that long… 

This is also part of the reason why I decided to open up this new series of blog entries around what it is like the trials and tribulations of a freelancer, more than anything else in the hope that some of those experiences, insights, know-how, hints & tips and practical advice may help out other freelancers, as well as others who may have already started hearing the internal voice that their time in big corporate life is now, finally, coming to an end (hopefully, a happy one, too!) and it’s time to move on to something else, whatever it may well be. 

Oh, in case you are wondering, this doesn’t necessarily mean I will stop writing over here about subjects that are pretty dear to my heart, like Social / Open Business, Digital Transformation, Knowledge Management, Online Communities, Learning, Productivity, social networks, social networking and social software in general. Quite the contrary. I am hoping to be able to add further up into each and everyone of those not only from that corporate point of view of 17 years at IBM having worked with hundreds of customers over time, but also add on a fresh new perspective of what it is like being an Open / Social Business as a freelancer and describe in full length how work has shifted into networks and (online) communities to a point of no return any time soon.

It’s a fascinating journey, it already has been for certain, seeing how there are plenty of differences, but also lots of similarities, in terms of how we, knowledge (Web) workers, operate whether working as salaried employees or just by ourselves, going solo. The thing I am hoping will be an immediate outcome from this new series as well, and that may also benefit others, is how I’ll keep walking the talk on what I have preached for a good number of years now about the many benefits from working out loud, even as a freelancer, as I plan to write about how I work by exposing plenty of my work routines, tools and processes I use, etc. etc. 

It’s bound to be good fun altogether, I am sure, as, if anything, it will help me get my act together as well on something that’s been in my mind for a good while now on whether one can thrive at work as an independent knowledge (Web) worker and still have a life. Yes!, work / life integration is also going to be one of the main topics I will be talking about in terms of being able to rediscover something I may have thought I lost at one point in time: productivity, or better said, effectiveness, without having to clock in 80+ hours per week. I think I may have just had enough pretending to be a workaholic. Why should we? There must be a better way out there, don’t you think? I suppose it’s time to explore, learn and co-create together, play and iterate accordingly, and where appropriate, and keep moving on…

All in all, and to wrap up this blog post, I thought I would put together over here a list of topics I will be covering over the course of time in terms of what it is like doing freelance work and whether it is worth while doing or not through sharing plenty of first hand experiences. Here it goes: 

  • Why freelance work? What’s in it for me?
  • Practical hints & tips on how to get started, what to watch out for, initial first steps, etc.
  • What social / productivity / business tools may well be a must-have for freelancers (according to my own experience)
  • What are my daily work routines and business processes? How does client prospecting work out?
  • How do the finances of a freelancer work eventually? How to cope best with the uncertainty creeping in every now and then?
  • Is freelance work the panacea of the so-called future of work?  Why or why not?
  • What role do social networks and communities play in helping freelancers thrive? Are we really all alone by ourselves?
  • What other additional resources do I have available to freelancers we should all be aware of?
  • And, finally, work / life integration: do freelancers have a life, after all? 

I am pretty sure there are tons of other topics that will come up over time I may be able to include over here as well, accordingly, but, for now, I think this will do. I’ll be counting on you all as well to share in the comments, and your own blog posts!, what it is like for you being a freelancer or having worked with a freelancer (why not?). I am not sure about you, but I am excited about the opportunity to start writing about what it is like both life & work from the other side of the fence, and to explore together whether freelancing really is the future of work, or perhaps a new fancy, hyped, buzzword we have been told it will save us all from our current miseries (and there are far too many!), if at all.

Ready for this new, exciting journey? I surely am! 

Let’s go! Let’s do it!

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Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes (Playa del Inglés)

When I first got things started with #elsuahackstwitter, the experiment where I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead move on to using, exclusively, Public Lists, I knew, right from the start, that I’d have a bit of a challenge in terms of not necessarily grouping people together, but what names would I pick up for each of those lists, so that a) they’d be rather representative and meaningful, and b) would not offend the people included in them (for whatever the reason). It wasn’t easy. It took me, eventually, a good few days to figure it out what I would go for in the long run. I knew I didn’t want to pick something vague, overhyped or just simply buzzwords du jour along the lines of gurus, ninjas, #SocBiz experts, influencers, future-of-work, digital-transformation, etc. etc. So I decided to look deeper, in retrospect, and try to define for myself the kinds of relationships I have built over the years with the people who I used to follow on Twitter and see how I would be able to group them accordingly. Finally, after a good few days of tinkering Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From were born. 

Ever since I was first exposed to Twitter Lists a good few years back, I knew they were going to be something rather special. It’s, by far, my favourite feature from Twitter from all along. An opportunity for the end-user to be, at long last, in full control of the flow of tweets going by, according to your own criteria in terms of people added to them, timelines (no longer a limit in there!), conversations, insights shared, etc. etc. vs. having to rely on the system to do it for you. I have been a huge fan of Lists. Currently, I have got 25 of them I, usually, check on a more or less regular basis. All along, though, most of them have always been, and still remain today, private, just for me. And for a good reason: I didn’t want to expose them, nor the folks grouped in each of them. 

The whole thing changed though, when I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter, and somehow I started to feel the urge of exposing, openly, where I usually spend my time on nowadays while tweeting away. Somehow I felt I needed to show the world a little bit of my Twitter world. The time of hiding is over and while the private lists are there I decided not to pay much attention to them anymore and instead focus on the public ones I created a few weeks back. Those new lists would become my new timeline(s) and, contrary to what was happening before, they are now exposed to everyone out there who may be interested, since they are publicly listed and people can subscribe to them, if they so wish to.

In a way, it’s some kind of brutal exercise around working out loud and openness, because, all of a sudden, everyone can now peek into my daily flows of tweets going back and forth and get a glimpse of what I’m exposed to, without having to even ask me, if they would want to. Yes, it’s both exciting and rather intriguing not knowing anymore what may well happen next, because one of the unexpected highlights from having run this experiment was that even though the lists are my lists some people have decided to subscribe to them as well. So, all of a sudden, I have transformed into a curator of connections, relationships, triangles to close, and good, relevant content on what matters to me. And share it with the world. 

You may be wondering by now then why did I pick up those names for my main three public lists, right? CollaboratorsCooperators and People I Learn From. Well, initially, there is the reason of proximity, just like when I blogged back in the day how I work through Google Plus’ Circles with One50, Two50 and TheRest. However, that proximity nowadays is mostly down to how I view people I used to follow on Twitter in terms of working together or learning together. Long time ago I decided to stop following people just for the sake of following if it meant I didn’t learn anything in the first place. Life is just too short to have a cluttered timeline, I am afraid.

Working together, for me, can be seen in terms of two different types of interactions: collaboration and / or cooperation. My good friend, Harold Jarche, put together, just recently, as he has been blogging about this very same topic for a good while now, a new superb article explaining the main differences between one and the other. ‘Cooperation for the network era’ is a highly recommended read, for certain, as it will make you think twice about the kinds of business relationships, contacts and networks each and everyone of us has been nurturing over time. At the end of the day though, to me, it’s also all about commitment, what differentiates one from the other, that is. 

When you collaborate (closely) with someone (or a group of people), there is a commitment to get something done in a timely manner, to get a deliverable out the door, finish off that task, activity or a project and move on the next one. The proximity and closeness is a notch tighter than when you cooperate with someone, which seems to be a lot less about commitment and more about sharing, connecting and learning. To quote Harold from that same article shared above: 

Cooperation is a foundational behaviour for effectively working in networks, and it’s in networks where most of us, and our children, will be working. Cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate.

To then finish up with this other really nice quote that clearly differentiates what collaboration and cooperation are, and what they are not: 

Cooperation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary. Teams, groups, and markets collaborate. Online social networks and communities of practice cooperate. Working cooperatively requires a different mindset than merely collaborating on a defined project.

Organizations need to extend the notion of work beyond collaboration, beyond teams, and beyond the corporate fire wall. They need to make social networks, communities of practice, and narrative part of the work

Here’s something that Harold mentions on the last quote shared above that I think is rather interesting and pretty much nails it for me: ‘[…] they are complimentary […]’. Indeed, in the rather polarised world we currently live in, where it looks like we can only have a winner, a one single choice, a simple choice, yet, time and time again, reality tells us otherwise. Why can’t we have both? – I keep wondering about. Why can’t we have, in a work environment, where both collaboration and cooperation are working together nicely to achieve a certain goal, i.e. getting work done on their own terms (versus ruthlessly competing with one another)? What’s stopping us from doing that? The company firewall and bureaucratic business practices? A business and management system that haven’t changed much fundamentally in the last 150 years or perhaps even more so our very own mindset and behaviours and our inability to change even more so, if for the better?

This is, exactly, what I wanted to do in the first place when I put together these two Twitter Lists, to see if I could combine both collaboration, cooperation and mix them a bit to the point where they would become blurry and, eventually, perhaps a porous, intertwined duality. And then see what would happen next. As a result, and rather unexpectedly, I came up with a third one for another very specific activity altogether: learning. And this is how these public lists came along: 

  • Collaborators: The original description I used for this list was the following one: ’[Some] People I’ve collaborated with in the past, the present & hopefully in the near future as well’. Remember, this list was built up from the list of people I used to follow on Twitter, not the hundreds of people I have collaborated with over last couple of decades, and the criteria was essentially to figure out who would I be able to move over here and feel comfortable about it when talking about collaboration: some of the folks I have collaborated with in the past, or now in the present, or have the gut feeling I will be in the near future. That was the exercise to be done. How close did I feel to those folks in order to collaborate with them all, where needed and accordingly, in a heartbeat. It’s my primary list, the one I check every single day and read every single tweet from and the one where I progressively move people away on to from the other lists to keep it growing over time with folks I do committed work with. 

  • Cooperators: Again, reusing Harold’s definition for cooperation, this is the list of folks I cooperate with at times in different initiatives, and where the commitment may well be there some times, or not. This was the original description I used for it: ‘[Some] People I’ve cooperated with in the past, the present & hopefully in the near future as well’. Again, following pretty much the same flow as Collaborators, except that for this one the proximity is not as close as the one for collaborators. In a way, it’s like my second tier of interactions, the networks, the communities of practice, the weak ties that sooner or later I know I will eventually be doing work together with. It’s also the list I check and read every single tweet from daily as an opportunity to help build my social capital skills with them so I can provoke committed work with at some point in time. I’ll wait for when I feel things are ready.  
  • People I Learn From: While both Collaborators and Cooperators make my primary network of contacts and business relationships (and, of course, friendships!), all along I knew there would be a third one coming, one with people I keep learning from on a daily basis from our mutual tweet exchange and that, sooner or later, I know they will all end up being either in Collaborators or Cooperators. It’s the largest of all three lists and by a large margin. It’s also the one where most of my learning happens, although it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t learn much from the other two. I still do, it’s just on a different level (i.e. I know them relatively well already…). The People I Learn From is essentially the list where I curate, nurture and foster relationships that I will then move on to one of the other two lists and become more involved with over the course of time. Mind you, I still get to read every single tweet that gets shared across. I use each and everyone of them as an opportunity to evaluate whether we are both ready to be moved up and, if so, make the move and carry on with the conversation on a higher level of involvement and intent. 

And from there onwards, I rely entirely on the magic of serendipity, that always seems to know more and way better than yours truly, to do its thing and keep redefining each and everyone of those lists. Helping me as well shaping them up accordingly over time by constantly building a trustworthy personal learning network where not only will I be able to continue learning from in the multiple areas we are all really passionate about, but also work with, whether collaboratively or cooperatively, or both!

It’s all about building the commitment, the intent, the context, and the ability to transform our daily work routines into the networked economy, because, for as long as social networks, communities and teams exist out there, we are no longer talking about the future of work, but the present of work. The continuous today. The one we can all collectively influence each and every time, because, after all, it still is our choice.

It always has been.

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Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Winter

Over three years ago I wrote a blog entry over here about Twitter under the provocative heading: ‘Twitter is where conversations go to die’. It was a cathartic article I needed to get out of my system in order to re-find my love with that social networking tool. I wasn’t enjoying it much back in those days. Three years later, here I am again, writing about it, once more, but this time around with a different twist. I still love Twitter, as I wrote just recently. I use it every single day of the week, it’s my favourite personal learning network by far, but I am starting to question the value of connections over there. Why? Well, no-one seems to care anymore, apparently.

I have been on Twitter since early 2007 and I keep remembering fondly the time when people would eagerly connect with one another; when they would share lots of interesting tidbits just for the sake of adding further value into the network(s) and the overall conversation; when they would converse with one another and learn from each other (even from total strangers); when people didn’t have double agendas nor were just they tooting their own horn by blasting out marketing messages whole day long repeatedly. Over and over again, all over the place and time, because, you know, you need to get your message out, or so we are told. Essentially, yes, I am still missing the days when Twitter was The Pulse of the Planet: The Global Conversation. The place to be.

Still is today, in my opinion, but all of the things we cherished and loved about Twitter seemed to have been long gone and lost, and, probably, not returning back any time soon. Unless we do something about it. Twitter, on its own, it’s just one of the many hundreds of different digital tools within the Social Web. It’s our smart use of the tool that makes the difference, like in pretty much anything technology related. Always. So when you know it is no longer working out for you there are a few things you can do:

  1. Let inertia run its course and stick around just because everyone else is still in there anyway and continue on the path to get bored to death over time.
  2. Move on to the next shiny object where you think everyone else is hanging out usually (Nowadays, it’s Facebook, apparently #Meh)
  3. Or do something about it, break the chain, challenge the status quo and redefine a completely new user experience. See if it works and, if it does, stick around with it. Move on. 

About a month and a half ago I decided to go for #3 and see whether it would work or not. Indeed, over 6 weeks ago I decided to run #elsuahackstwitter. An experiment where I’d be challenging not only how I make good use of Twitter, but those around me as well. I decided to unfollow everyone. Yes, everyone. No exceptions. From one day to another. And instead of relying on a combination of Twitter Lists and my home timeline, which is what I have been doing for years already, I decided to be brave enough and see whether I could survive just with Twitter Lists and following zero people and witness, first hand, whether the conversations moved elsewhere. Or not. Eventually, I wanted to see how disruptive such bold move would be like on how we use Twitter today.

Why Did I Do It Then?

Essentially, I wanted to challenge our basic perception of how we use Twitter nowadays and whether it would make sense without it or not. Everyone has got followers and their own following, but what happens when your following is no longer there? When you decide to stop following everyone and question the purpose of that connection in the first place? Is it still worth it, is it just a vanity metric, is it an influence metric you can make good use of? Why do we follow people on Twitter in the first place? To show off anticipating reciprocation, perhaps because of what they share across or maybe because of the conversations they host? I had to run the experiment and see what the fuss was all about.

What if Twitter decided to drop off the count of both followers and following? Would you still make use of it, like you are doing today? Imagine if Twitter decided get rid of that vanity metric, so that we would focus more on the conversations themselves, i.e. on topics, hashtags, events, etc., etc., do you think you would still be making use of Twitter and enjoy the overall experience as much as you are doing nowadays? Or maybe not much really. That’s exactly what I wanted to try out, whether I could live without that ego centric metric we all seem to be very keen on nurturing to prove and validate our own so-called influence and take my Twitter experience on to a different level. That’s how #elsuahackstwitter got started over a month and a half ago and I must confess, after a few weeks have gone by, I am quite enjoying the results and the overall experience. Although not too sure about what everyone else would think for that matter!

What Has Actually Happened?

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, I can tell you. An emotional journey of sorts, testing how far I could tame my own ego, that one of others, my reactions, their reactions, our two-way conversations and see whether after all that I would still be able to survive and not want to come back to the old model of following and be followed.

Six weeks later things are back to normal. In fact, after the initial frenzy of interactions with a bunch of folks who wanted to know why I was doing such thing the craze started to fade away to the point where I am back to where I was before, but with zero following. Perhaps vast majority of people who still follow me on Twitter didn’t even notice a single bit the crack I tried to provoke in the system 😉 as plenty of people keep saying, you know, that no-one reads Twitter anymore anyway. It’s just the place where we go to broadcast our messages and toot our very own horn without hearing others’ opinions, thoughts and experiences, so why bother, right?

The thing is that, on its own, it’s transformed entirely the way not only I see Twitter as my own personal learning network, but also how I use it on a regular basis and, although I can’t tell for others, it’s helped me find a new way of making it more personal, more conversational, more topic driven (while still keeping in touch with people), in short, overall more engaging and much less stressful altogether. And that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve with this experiment of #elsuahackstwitter.

In order for me to be able to conduct this experiment successfully though I had to continue running a parallel one I eventually got started with a while ago already and with some very good results altogether. I had to open my Twitter Direct Messages to everyone. Yes, that is right, if I was going to stop following everyone sending a direct message without opening them up first would have been a challenge. So before I got things started with that I opened DMs to everyone and played with it over the course of a few weeks to see whether I would be constantly abused by this new capability with lots of spam from whoever.

And the results from that other bold move have been, if anything, rather surprising, because contrary to the perception from everyone else out there, I haven’t been spammed to the point where I’d be needing to turn it off. Currently, I am getting about 1 DM per week unsolicited from anyone whom I typically don’t even know. Very doable, if you ask me. And now that we no longer have the 140 character limitation for those DMs even all the better! I can now send DMs to folks without having to use multiple 1/N messages to get the overall message across. And it’s also working very well. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t even come close to the 10k character we are allowed to share across in a direct message on Twitter so far, and I doubt I’d ever come close to it. 

What Have I Learned?

So, with all of that said, let’s do a quick recap of the overall experiment I have been running with #elsuahackstwitter:

  1. I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead rely on three Public Twitter Lists (I will blog about them in a follow-up entry to explain what they are and why I picked up the names for them that I did)
  2. I opened up my Twitter Direct Messages, so everyone of the potential 300+ million Twitter users could send me a DM, if they so wish to.
  3. I love the now expanded 10k limit for direct messages and for a good simple reason: I am still doing #noemail every single day, I deleted my Facebook account over 5 years ago, I deleted my LinkedIn profile nearly 18 months ago, I am currently going through a hate relationship with Google Plus (As I have recently talked about), so I was running out of options to exchange messages longer than 140 characters. Yes, I know, I am weird, but who isn’t, right? heh

Anyway, over the course of the first few weeks, I took plenty of copious notes (on the side) about what I was learning along the way with this experiment. I have shared a good number of them already under the hashtag #elsuahackstwitter on Twitter itself. 45 in total, as of the last count, and there may well be some more coming up to round up on 50. We shall see. Since I am not too sure how long they would be there anyway, that is, on Twitter, I thought I would add them all to this blog entry as well. Each and everyone of them, why not? More than anything else to remind me of not only what I learned about it, but also how I (and others) felt about it as well.

I will probably just share a single one-liner, or two, hopefully, not too long, for each of them and, where needed, and for very specific reasons, I may be able to pick up some of them and expand them further in upcoming blog posts over the course of time to explain some more about them and why I wrote what I wrote in the moment.

So without much further ado, here is what I learned, over six weeks ago, from having unfollowed the 1220 people I was following on Twitter back in the day:

  1. People I used to follow back in the day started to follow me back again once I unfollowed them. I haven’t followed them back again, of course, so they are still in one of the three public lists I put together. I guess it highlights the power of sending signals across as social gestures :-)
  2. Number of reciprocal unfollows was rather significant in the first three weeks (About 10% of those 1220 folks). Ouch! My ego hurt and a lot! Oh, yes!, it was also part of the experiment to figure out how my own ego will react from being brutally unfollowed the moment I did as well. Very emotional at first, but, lucky enough, it’s now dead, for good.
  3. Originally, I decided to create a Public List with all of those 1220 folks. In doing so I knew it would be sending out a notification (another social gesture), where I’d be pointing to a tweet which explained what I was doing. The unexpected result: A few folks (about 25) subscribed to the Public List itself. It felt weird.
  4. I knew I could unfollow everyone with a single click using a Chrome plugin, but, instead, I decided to unfollow everyone manually, one by one. Soon enough I was immersed on a superb trip down the memory lane of the folks I used to follow from over the years (I can highly recommend it, for sure!), and whom I am still in touch with, but also others where the contact was no more. I guess it was time to unfollow for good, I suppose. Life goes on, for all of us :-)
  5. As mentioned above in #3, by creating that public list of those folks I used to follow, I was exposing my own timeline and making it public to everyone for the first time. Before, it was just too cumbersome to do so. Now people could take a sneak peek into what I am getting exposed to myself daily. And that is still happening today with the three public lists I created and that I will be talking about in a new blog entry.
  6. Ever since I started with this experiment, lots of reactions & intriguing conversations have come through. Plenty of folks seem to be rather interested in the experiment itself, what I may have learned and whether it will work, or not. That’s why during the first three weeks the engagement in Twitter was just phenomenal, till things settled back in on the fourth week and we are now, once more, back to normal.
  7. Apparently, adding people to Public Lists allows them to automate a response back to you. Who knew? Oh, yes, that deserves an Unfollow for good! That was my first reaction AND action. Pretty much like when you generate an auto DM response if I would start following someone. No, thanks! Not interested in interacting with bots, but with humans.
  8. Was it something I said? :)’ eventually came about with a smiley at the end. I knew, from other folks doing similar experiments that this reaction would come along. I was ready for it :) Like I said, folks, it’s never been personal. At least, from me. It’s about finding a way to redefine how I use certain social tools. Nothing more, nothing less. And this time around Twitter was the chosen one. Not you, as individuals. 
  9. This is perhaps one of my favourite highlights from the whole experiment, the fact that I got exposed to a whole bunch of great memories while going through each unfollow manually. Remembering the when, the how, the why, the what for, the good fun. It’s amazing what 8 years of building your networks through Twitter can do to your brain. A highly recommended exercise for real!
  10. Apart from the initial rush of reactions from different people, there were a whole bunch of other folks who decided to use other social gestures to acknowledge what I was doing. Indeed, lots of those additional responses came by as Favourites from the original tweet to share a gesture of awareness, perhaps, even consent to the experiment. I surely loved the succinct method of engagement, as it confirmed the signal ‘Hi there, I know what you are doing, go ahead and enjoy it. It sounds interesting…’
  11. The word ‘friend’ also came up. And it was coming from a good friend of mine, too! ‘Yeah, you know, but we were friends all along, right? Right?’ Oh dear. No exceptions! 😀 (Yes, we will still be friends, as I know plenty of other places, whether offline and online, where I can find you, don’t worry!)
  12. First issue I bumped into, I still haven’t figured out just yet, is how to handle Private Twitter handles as Lists can’t follow their tweets :-( Apparently, you need to follow them, they need to approve your request and off you go, but with lists following people with private accounts is a dead end. So long, folks! Sad. Very sad, indeed. But, like I said, this was an exercise of no exceptions. Unfollow everyone.
  13. Something interesting I learned about setting up the right expectations, so things wouldn’t come up as a surprise: Creating a Public List to alert folks was a hit! A keeper! People were informed ahead of time of what I was about to start and became aware what was going on, without having to get asked multiple times what was going on …
  14. Some folks indicated they didn’t like being ‘an experiment’, after all. This was probably triggered by the name of the initial Public List I used: ‘Unfollowing Experiment‘. Lesson learned for next time around: avoid using the word ‘experiment‘ at all costs!
  15. Another favourite highlight and key learning is how, all along, it’s been a rather emotional experience for me, but also for some of the folks I used to follow. Somehow it feels like detaching one self from something, or someone. Will it come back after a while? I don’t know, but, originally, this was part of the experiment in terms of finding out for myself how much of my own ego was driving those Twitter interactions in the first place vs. everything else. It felt like being an orphan at first, for real! But then again you get to shake off that ego and move on to better things, i.e. the conversations. And I can now confirm that six weeks later, that emotional detach is no longer there. 
  16. Your Twitter home timeline becomes, all of a sudden, a weird thing on its own where only your own tweets will show along with recommendations to follow people who are already following you to entice you to build the network, again. One sided, really. Twitter needs to start getting their act together on Lists as it’s perhaps its most powerful, yet often ignored, capability. There is just so much potential that we haven’t discovered just yet about Lists…
  17. To my surprise and pure delight, there are already a number of people who are already doing exactly this very same thing of working with Twitter lists and zero following: Stephen Downes, a.k.a. @downes (See https://twitter.com/Downes/status/628575174309318656), Simon Calder, a.k.a. @simoncalder, as examples, etc., confirming that nowadays it’s very hard to be the very first one at doing something you think it’s new. There will always be someone way ahead of you, no matter what. And you know what is the best part? Well, it looks like for those folks it’s working out really well. Who knew?
  18. At the beginning, I was worried that several other systems I use on a regular basis to make the most out of Twitter would break, but so far I haven’t noticed any real impact from Nuzzle, Twitter’s email digest and bunch of other Twitter Tools, as they are based on my followers and not my following, apparently. Good news! Phew!
  19. If you are wondering about the number of new followers and whether it has started to decrease a little bit or not, I can definitely confirm your new followers count will drop off dramatically. As an example, overall, in the last six weeks I have had 236 new followers and 269 unfollows. It looks like if people notice you are not following anyone, you are not interested in conversing with anyone anymore and therefore only care about tooting your horn. Beep, wrong assumption. A quick check of the timeline, the Mentions and conversation threads will confirm whether you’re there for the broadcast or the engaging dialogue and overall conversation. I am much more interested in the latter, even if I decide not to follow anyone for that matter. The conversations will still flow along, if you care to dive in, that is… It just requires nowadays a bit more effort. That’s all. 
  20. An unintended (social) gesture I am re-discovering due to the experiment: using Favourites much more discretionarily as an opportunity to highlight ‘I’m here, listening, I haven’t gone away that far’. Eventually, showing I still care about what you tweet, no matter whether I’m following you or not. See where breaking off the mold was coming from? Who knew that Favourites could be used for that?
  21. Interestingly enough, plenty of people view Following as a personal touch, as a ‘connection’, even if they have never exchanged a single tweet with you! How weird is that? Seriously. When did it happen we all became just numbers in a counter?!?! Really sorry, but that’s not what, to me, makes up for a ‘connection’, if we have never exchanged a single tweet! Conversations are the new connections, I am afraid. That simple.
  22. Here is something that I wasn’t expecting either, and that I am finding fascinating to no end: those folks I know & have followed for a long long time haven’t said a single thing throughout all of these weeks about this experiment. Silence = consent? I don’t know. We are still conversing as much as we used to, although they all probably think I’m weirder than originally thought! Bless them for sticking around all along! :)
  23. Oh, and the so-called ‘Celebrities’ (those people with thousands of followers and following), as usual, will still keep ignoring you, just as ever, whether you follow them or not. It’s not their game. Their game is to keep bloating away their followers and following numbers even if they cannot longer even grasp what’s going on around them. But here is a little secret: they will never admit to it, but, they, too, make heavy use of Twitter Lists. It’s how they keep ignoring vast majority of what goes around while they focus on rather small niches. Off they go … Pretending is their currency, apparently. Not ours. 
  24. In case you are wondering what Twitter tools I am using to handle my Lists, so far the one that rules them all, at least, for me, is Tweetbot (On the Mac) or Tweetbot v2 & v3 (on my iPad & iPhone, respectively). You can make a single list your new home timeline and then work with the others as additional ‘sections / columns’ with the overall UI and quite like that approach, specially, when travelling on my iPhone. It’s like, all of a sudden, I have gone from a single timeline to three of them: one for each public list. I have said this many many times in the past, but it’s worth repeating: I love fragmentation. Helps me make better sense of the world around me, including Twitter, for that matter.
  25. It’s probably hard to believe, but using Public Lists makes conversations more organised and focused, therefore much more productive, and effective and overall much more engaging. To the point where two or three weeks into the experiment I started to question why go back then? One of the biggest issues with Twitter’s Following timeline is that it’s got a limit, imposed by the system, whereas with lists I am the one who sets the limit, helping me decide what goes and what doesn’t, what I read and what I don’t. Finally, the Personal Learning Network is defined by the end-user, not by the system.
  26. Roughly on the 4th day, after a few hectic days of full throttle, non stop, conversations, peace and quiet, finally, came back. Very much needed and appreciated, so I could catch up my breath and come back to business as usual :) Here is the thing though, if you are going to start doing something similar, set aside plenty of time, because you will be spending that time having plenty of conversations to explain, and somehow justify, why you are doing that and what you expect to get out of it. Get ready! Be prepared for the adrenaline rush and constant beeps.
  27. Oh, remember the good old days when we used to blog on a more or less regular basis and we didn’t care much about vanity metrics, but about conversations and ideas we shared across? That’s what I want back. After all, Twitter is all about microblogging, right? It was never framed as micro-following (or be followed), so why keep bothering with it eventually?
  28. By focusing so much more on conversations nowadays, it means I have to get my own act together and become more effective in terms of what content I get to share. It’s no longer oversharing for the sake of oversharing, but sharing with intent, with a purpose, that one of starting a conversation, of sparking an idea through dialogue, not just sharing across to demonstrate my presence. It’s the main reason why I never cared about being on Twitter constantly, or automating my interactions, or just simply pretending I was constantly living there. Back then, I wasn’t, and I am not going to start now either!
  29. Another intriguing highlight from this experiment so far is how it is making me question more and more by the day whether I’m valued because of what I know and share across through conversations and interesting links or who I am: one more number in a follower / following list? Somehow, I keep wanting to fight the notion I am just another number. No, I am not. I am a human being with an eagerness to learn through dialogue, through conversation. Curiosity will never be replaced by a number. Not today, not ever.
  30. For the record, and perhaps I’m writing this down once and for all, emotional blackmail will never work on yours truly. Ever. The ‘Why did you unfollow me after all of this time we have been together? I would have never done that to you’ is never going to work, specially, if a couple of days later you end up being the one unfollowing me as punishment. I’d rather prefer to quit Twitter altogether (or whatever other social tool) and move on. Please, please, don’t play that game. It never ends well. That is not how you should build your social capital and your networks, regardless of the digital tool you make use of. 
  31. Moving on to the next highlight, but still, perhaps, somewhat related: What’s more valuable eventually from our ‘relationship’? A conversation where we both learn something new, or, at least, give it try, or my following you? If the latter, really? I mean, seriously? Convince me otherwise, please. Again, we are not numbers, we are people, human beings, thriving in dialogue and always keen on wanting to learn more and more by the day. 
  32. It’s been, if anything, a liberating experience altogether, because of tweets like this one:
  33. Or this other one: 

  34. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have realised I am now much more conscious and aware of my own use of social gestures, like Likes / Favourites, Add to Lists, Mentions, etc. etc. More engaging altogether. It helps me bring forward, time and time again, a specific purpose of what I want to get out of Twitter by not being in there just for the sake of it, but always try to add some additional value others may as well benefit from, not just myself. That, to me, is where the magic happens.
  35. This is definitely one of my favourite highlights from the whole lot. By having moved my interactions into Lists, Twitter has turned itself to be pretty much like Slack where a List becomes a channel. No vanity metrics, just conversations, just learning, just work. How many people do you follow, or follow you, in Slack? Exactly what I mean! Just perfect!
  36. Earlier on in this blog entry I mentioned what an emotional experience it has been altogether. One other thing I can add though is that it helped me learn, probably the hard way, how to let go of my ego from the vanity metric and think of Twitter as just another collaboration, conversation and learning tool, pretty much like Slack, blogs, face to face, etc. where vanity metrics are just non-existent. After letting my ego go, and be torn down to pieces, I feel I’m, finally, getting the better of me out there as I keep using Twitter more purposefully and with plenty more intent, that one of adding value to the overall dialogue without expecting anything in between. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. Time for me to work harder on it. 
  37. Six weeks have now passed and after having adjusted to that new flow of timelines, to having let go of my ego forgetting about the vanity metrics and, frankly, after enjoying the overall Twitter user experience ever so much more, my initial gut feeling is there is a great chance I’m going to stick around with the exclusive use of Lists, although next step would be to create 3 different public lists and group people in there, so they can see how I see them based on perceptions of our interactions. Six weeks later, those public lists are already up and running, even though it was quite a challenge to come up with names that would be both relevant and non offending at the same time and, judging from the reactions from people, it looks like the choice of words was just right: Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From (In an upcoming blog post I will detail further how each of them is positioned against one another to build up my new Twitter timeline(s)) from scratch.
  38. I am getting close to the end of highlights and key things learned with this experiment and I think I am starting to come to terms with the fact that perhaps what I really wanted to do, all along, was to, eventually, disrupt not just my use of Twitter, but also everyone else’s of those whom I followed and see how we would all react collectively about something we might have never experienced ourselves, and see if it would have something to bring forward on to the table. For instance, a big question that keeps coming up in my mind is the following: imagine if Twitter would not have followers / following and not even show it, would you still use it daily? And if so, what’s stopping us from jumping forward and destroy Twitter’s elitism of super power users that keeps deterring new comers from jumping in and participating further along? We must make an effort in helping democratise the tool again by engaging in conversations and topics of interest vs. being purely driven pretty much by our very own bloated egos than anything else. 
  39. There have been tons of different reactions from folks over the course of last few weeks, so it’d be difficult to try to summarise them all. However, there is one in particular that pretty much nails it for me in terms of what I am trying to do. It comes from my very good friend Anne Marie McEwan (a.k.a. @smartco) who tweeted back in the day: ‘You are just paying attention to people in a different way’. And that is exactly right! Now, how many people can, actually, say that? When was the last time you read your entire timeline of wonderful tweets, insights, thoughts and ideas coming through? Yes, I know, I know, it’s just the river of news and we dip in and out as we may see fit, but, seriously, when was the last time you did that vs. just tooting your own horn and move on to the next thing;-)? And then we still wonder as to why people don’t read our tweets any more. Probably if we would make the effort to read theirs and engage accordingly, we may get some of that back as well… Who knows … 
  40. Here is another key learning that took me a while to digest and make some sense out of it: using Lists forces me to be more human, more conversational, focusing on people and what they share rather than just interactions, transactions, even, of tweets flying by. Somehow, the world of Twitter has stopped for me from pouring away like a firehose, to then re-gain a certain pause where I’m enjoying much more what people share across and have a better way of reacting accordingly adding my two cents worth of value, where I possibly can. Boy, I can assure you, if anything, how the massive quality of the conversation has hit a higher notch of awesomeness. Food for the brain and for the soul altogether! Just brilliant!
  41. Here’s another key insight shared across that describes pretty much the shift some of us have gone through while embarking on this new exciting journey: 

  42. Ohhh, and did I tell you how much people do appreciate being put in Lists whose names AND descriptions mean a whole lot more than just vague concepts, or over hyped buzzwords and lots of mumbo jumbo (i.e. gurus, ninjas, #socbiz, experts, etc. etc. )? Show them how you care and there is a great chance that they will be caring back in return. Just saying … :)
  43. Moving to Lists, if anything, has resulted in helping me focus so much more on Learning by Topic & than Learning by Following XYZ. Learning becomes more intentional and resourceful, as one idea sparks another, then another, and another one, and, before you know it, you are down a wonderfully spiral of no return that may help you achieve something you just didn’t expect all along from the beginning. Oh, yes, the magic wonders of serendipity, in case you are wondering out loud, are still pretty much intact, or, if anything, enhanced tremendously.
  44. Now, with all of this said, there is a bit of uncertainty, a rather mysterious one, but one of wonder and edginess. Why? Well, you no longer know for certain who is following you or not, who adds you into Lists or who isn’t, because people can very well add you to their public lists, or, to their private ones, which makes it even more interesting, as it results in embracing uncertainty by which the focus is the overall learning experience itself: Can I learn something from what you share when we both hit the conversation without knowing each other who is who and how we might be connected? I quite like that unexpected effect of conversations you never know where they will take you till you bump into them and dive right in. 
  45. And, finally, one final insight, which is perhaps the most rewarding so far, from what I can tell. In that exercise of becoming more observant of how people get to use Twitter around you, one can’t but notice, how, with learning by doing, after a short while, people start doing their own thing with lists, sort their following, conference speakers, attendees, folks they usually hang out with, etc. into lists. Proving, if anything, that walking the talk when trying to influence a change of sorts in other folks, actually, works! Each and every single time. How cool is that?!?

And here we are, coming close to the end of a rather long blog post that pretty much tries to explain what I have been up to last 6 weeks of running an experiment on Twitter that has certainly helped me gain new perspectives in terms of how I view certain social networking tools. Perhaps there is just one last question waiting for an answer at this point in time, I bet, from all of you: Will I go back and start following people on Twitter or will I stick around in this brave new world of human relationships and conversations rather than pure metrics and numbers? 

Well, if I judge by how much my own perception of Twitter, and how I make use of it on a daily basis (Remember, it’s still my number #1 social networking tool out there on the Social Web), has shifted for the better since I first got started with this experiment, I guess I can now conclude with these few words to try to answer that question: Yes, the Unfollowing Experiment is no longer an experiment. It’s my new reality. It’s how I plan to continue making use of Twitter from here onwards, more than anything because it helps me, tremendously, to up the game in working out loud, and therefore become more effective at what I do, and even more so than ever before (I will explain what I mean with this in a follow-up post) and, essentially, because it’s helped me understand how social networking is a whole lot more profound and soul feeding than just a meagre, worthless vanity metric. Twitter may well be the place where connections go to die. To me, Twitter is where a bloody good conversation (or two) just begins … 

Want to join me? 

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How Do I Make Sense of Social Networking Tools

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Sunset

In one of my earlier blog posts from last week, I got asked the following question: “So, what we all want to know is what have you been doing and what/where can we find you in the future?” and while I will be answering the first part over the course of time with the various blog entries I’m currently drafting along, I thought for today I’d focus on trying to answer the second part: how do I make sense of social networking tools today? More than anything else because I realise that my heavy use of social tools has shifted over the course of the years, and I guess I’m not the only one having gone through pretty much the same, and even more so since I went independent nearly two years ago. So it’s probably a good time now to revisit where do I get most of my learning nowadays and what digital tools do I rely on, or not, to get my daily work done. 

Every year Jane Hart does this absolutely wonderful exercise of putting together the Top 100 Tools for Learning (here’s the list for 2015 as a highly recommended read), and while I won’t be listing my Top 100 I will definitely try to put together some thoughts as to where I usually hang out nowadays, what I stopped using and why, and what I’m currently working on, specially, a very specific experiment that’s caused quite a stir over a month and a half ago, although that would be the story of the next blog post… 

So, here are my Top Learning Tools (for now), where ‘work is learning, learning is the work’, that my good friend Harold Jarche would say and that he wrote back in the day in a beautiful article. Mind you, it’s not a full list, since, to me, context is what defines what I will use at one point or another, so that very same context is what will define a whole bunch of other digital tools I make use of, often enough, but for very specific reasons. There may well be a time where I’ll write about them, specially, in the mobility scenario when both my iPhone and iPad Air have become my not so new anymore workplace. 

  • IBM Connections: Even though I left IBM nearly 2 years ago IBM Connections still remains my #1 business tool for work with my clients, specially, when they ask me their data to remain within the European Union borders. And IBM Connections Cloud does that beautifully. You know what some folks say, you need to be able to walk the talk, so if the vast majority of my clients are on IBM Connections at the moment, I better make good use of it as well so we can co-create together some really cool stuff along the way to help out with their own Digital Transformation journey(s).
  • Slack:  For all of the work I get to do with other clients, work groups, project teams, small niche networks on a given topic where I usually hang out on a daily basis, etc. Slack does the trick. And very much so! I truly heart it. In fact, any business tool that aims to improve both the way we communicate AND collaborate AND kill email in the process will always have my full attention. Slack has it. I use it for everything, as a personal knowledge sharing hub, as my operating system, and a whole lot more than just chat. In an upcoming blog entry I will explain plenty more how I make use of it on a daily basis, but for those of you who may be new to it, check out this stunning article put together by my good friend Thomas van der Wal that pretty much explains the nuts and bolts of what it is, what it does and why you would need to pay attention to it pretty soon, if not today already.
  • Twitter: From the Social Web, Twitter still remains my #1 tool for networking, for socialising, for (personal) learning, for getting a good sense of the pulse of the planet and, eventually, my preferred method of meeting up new people (whether online or after face to face conversations) and for social selling. Mostly accessed through Tweetbot (whether on iOS or Mac), is where I spend most of my online time on social networks today, even more so nowadays after nearly 6 weeks of running a rather fascinating experiment that’s certainly helped me challenge the status quo of how we all use it. Next blog post will talk about it in more detail, but here’s the gist of it: imagine no-one follows you on Twitter; now imagine if *you* don’t follow anyone on Twitter either, would you still use it? [Hint: Yes, I surely do!]
  • Google Plus: I wasn’t really sure whether to include G+ on this blog post, or not, initially, even though it’s one of the most powerful social networking tools out there that I have been exposed to in the last few years. However, lately, I am having a bit of a hate relationship with it witnessing, first hand, how it’s started cannibalising itself removing what once were really helpful and nifty features or splitting itself up in multiple parts (Hangouts, Photos, etc.). Some people call it re-focus. I call it, not knowing what to do with it when there isn’t a company directive in place showcasing commitment to it while listening and engaging with the community of practitioners who make it what it is today. So I continue to question its purpose and my overall use of it. I wouldn’t like it, at all, if, after 4 years of regular use, it would fall apart for good. I have gone through that path far too many times with other social tools and it’s never been pretty. One gets to learn, mostly, the hard way and, in this case, I want to do a bit of damage control this time around till things clear themselves a bit more.
  • Instagram: Ok, I confess. I still make use of some Apps from the darker side of the Social Web. In this case, Instagram. I’m totally hooked up with it and while I know and I fully understand I’m playing with the evil Facebook I don’t think I can escape from it any time soon. More than anything else because of something that Jason Fried also described quite nicely on this particularly interesting and refreshing blog post of what the original Open Social Web was supposed to be: ‘The important feel is how it makes *you* feel’… Oh, yes, using IG makes me feel good! Read Jason’s article and you will understand fully what I mean. 
  • Flickr: Despite being described as Zombie Land, it still is the main repository for the vast majority of my pictures shared across online through multiple other venues, including the source of imagery for this very same blog. And the almost daily reminder of what the Social Web was all about back in the day. Openness. Earlier on this year, it marked my 10th year anniversary as a very happy Flickr user, which means it’s the longest running social networking tool I have been using on the Internet and I don’t think I will be abandoning it any time soon. Even if just for nostalgic purposes.
  • WordPress Blog: Yes, I know, it’s not the first time we hear about the death of blogging mostly due to social networking tools, and it probably won’t be the last either, but even then, 21 years on, blogging still is a thing. More alive and kicking than ever before and perhaps still one of the most delightful self-empowering tools to help you build your digital brand over the course of the years that’s available out there, as I have been blogging about for a good while now. Later on, in October, I’ll be celebrating the 10th year anniversary of this blog and towards early December my 13th year overall of blogging since I first started my corporate blog back in 2002. 13 years of self-publishing online can give you tons of opportunities to build your own voice and writing style and eventually the perfect opportunity to keep demonstrating your thought leadership, expertise and abilities day in day out, year after year. That’s the reason why I came back to blogging after this year’s long hiatus. And why I am still in love with this medium.
  • WhatsApp and Telegram (Messaging Apps): Ok, confession #2: I still make use of some Apps from the darker side of the Social Web. In this case, WhatsApp for messaging purposes. I keep using it both for work and for personal use as it helps me keep in touch with some of my clients, business partners, family and loved ones. And when folks don’t want to make use of WhatsApp, because, you know, after all, it’s still Facebook, I basically switch to Telegram, which is an extremely decent substitute doing a really good job at it! If you already have my business mobile number, and don’t want to give me a call, but still get in touch for whatever reason, using either of those Apps will guarantee you a very speedy response from yours truly.
  • Skype / Hangouts (Instant Messaging): These are, currently, the main two options I still keep using, mostly on my desktop, for real-time, online communications. Good old Instant Messaging, and although I still rely somewhat on Skype, slowly, but, steadily, I am moving, mostly, into Hangouts, specially, for audio and video conversations where both quality and performance seem to be way better than Skype’s. So, if you need to get hold of me to check something quickly, and you may not have Twitter readily available to do so, reaching out through Hangouts IM is probably the best option to get hold of me, as I am also starting to use it much more often while I’m on the road on my phone. 
  • YouTube: No, don’t worry, I’m not one of those very talented YouTubers who earns their living making YouTube videos, although you never know. I have been known to do even way crazier things than that! But I still make use of it every now and then. Mostly through Google Hangouts on Air for the #noemail vodcasting series I’m currently co-hosting with the wonderful and rather smart Claire Burge). At the time I’m writing this we already have got 16 different episodes now in the books that we host every two weeks where we are trying to change the world to transition from #toomuchemail to #lessemail to #noemail altogether. Thus if you want to learn further more how to break free from the email yoke, or learn, at the same time, how other 2.0 practitioners (guest speakers), businesses and organisations have finally broken free, go and have a watch. I bet you will enjoy it.
  • Haiku Deck: I know, I know, while most folks are perhaps making heavy use of Slideshare to share their presentations online for whatever the speaking or customer engagement, I’m a rebel at heart, an outlier, so, instead, I use Haiku Deck. And I quite like it! You know, when putting together a presentation, most of the times the words are already there, somewhere inside one’s head, but not necessarily the imagery, so having such a superb tool as Haiku Deck to put images to your words and build your story line makes it a whole lot easier. So, if you want to check out some of the recent public presentations I have done at various events, that’s where you will find them. Not in Slideshare anymore, I am afraid.
  • Reeder: Of course, I still use RSS feeds. Daily. Remember them? Everyone thought that when Google terminated Google Reader that RSS newsfeeds would die a slow and painful death. Not likely! Quite the opposite, most probably. Gosh, while putting together this article, I realise I’m being very nostalgic by making use of social software tools that, in most cases, are considered pretty much dead, but, then again, there they are alive and kicking. RSS newsfeeds is another one to add into that pile. Yet, they are so critically and fundamentally important to curate content stored all over the Web that not only would you want to read, but also re-share over the course of time. That’s how I use my RSS feeds at the moment: for curation purposes. The reading part is mostly done when I’m disconnected, specially, when travelling for a good number of hours on plains, trains, etc. etc. That’s where Reeder kicks in as my preferred Mac App as newsfeed reader.

    Ohhh, and when I am online Twitter becomes my living, rather dynamic, and collaboratively filtered RSS newsfeed.

  • Pocket: And talking about reading content offline, curating it accordingly, and overall enjoy a superb user experience, that’s why I use Pocket and why I’m such a huge fan of it. In an upcoming blog post I will share a productivity tip of how I make use of Twitter (Through Tweetbot) and Pocket to curate an outstanding list of links I then re-share here and there into my Twitter stream over the course of time, once I have processed them. Pocket is like your extended urge to want to read all of the really cool tidbits shared across with you but not have the time right there, right then to do it. Will read it later takes a completely new meaning: Pocket.
  • Trello / Asana: For task management purposes, and where work items don’t usually take place elsewhere there are two options out there, out of perhaps far too many!, that keep dragging me back. Both Trello and Asana are the main social tools I use when I need to get work done with multiple people who may not have chosen a particular tool to keep track of those tasks. Whenever I ask if folks are familiar with either of them, the answer I get back, time and time again, is they are familiar with one or the other, or both, which makes it really easy. Mind you, they are not the only task management tools that I use, but they are definitely the ones I keep using the most in a collaborative manner. Effective Group Task Management, if you wish to call it that way.
  • Spotify: And, finally, one of my all time favourite productivity tools, which I know is going to sound very weird, pun intended, but, hey, you will know what I mean with that after you read this bunch of rather suggestive and thought-provoking articles on the power of music for getting work done, and not just to listen to it leisurely. And, yes, from all of the online / streaming services available out there, Spotify Premium is the one that does the trick for me, whether on my Mac, my iPad Air or my phone (usually, when I’m travelling or working out). 

After having gone through that list, I am pretty certain you may have noticed how there are number of different social software tools out there, some of the bit hitters, to some extent, that I haven’t mentioned above on my list of Top Learning Tools and there is a good reason for that. In fact, multiple reasons, so I thought I would mention a few usual suspects to close off this blog entry with a single liner, or two, as to why I’m no longer using them anymore or why they haven’t had enough traction to make me want to use them in the first place. Hopefully, that will help folks understand why they can’t, and won’t, find me there any time soon… So here we go: 

  • eMail: Yes, for those of you who have known me over the years, this one still is a no brainer. I’m still the #noemail guy. The think #outsidetheinbox lad who nearly 8 years ago decided to ditch email for work once and for all and still going strong at it. I know, it’s been over 18 months since the last blog post I shared across over here on the topic with some updates, but, over time, I’ll be sharing some more details, not to worry. For now, suffice to say that ever since I left my former employer, IBM, where I was averaging 16 emails received per week, and went independent, as a freelance adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation, I’m now down to 5, yes!, I know, FIVE emails received per week, which, to me, that’s pretty much just that: #noemail.
  • Facebook: Apparently, everyone seems to be flocking away from Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and what not, and return back to the borg: Facebook, in this case, because, apparently, that’s where everyone is getting the most engagement at the moment. I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who are eagerly waiting for me to come back to it. It won’t happen. It’s not the kind of Social Web I want to live in and spend my time on and after having deleted my account in there over 5 years ago, it’s one of those decisions I don’t regret a single day. Even if it were the last and only social networking tool out there I still wouldn’t come back to it. Some times, you need to make a stand for what you believe in and somehow both Facebook and myself have got different beliefs at this point in time that are irreconcilable. If you are a frequent user, I’m pretty sure you know which ones at this stage. 
  • LinkedIn: Pretty much the very same thing as what I mentioned for Facebook above. Although it’s been nearly 18 months since I deleted my LinkedIn account, there isn’t a chance I will be coming back to it any time soon. Like I said, some times you need to make a stand in terms of the kind of Social Web you would want to live and thrive in and LI isn’t one of those places for me. And the same would apply to Slideshare, Pulse, and everything else that LI may contaminate over time.
  • Medium: No, thanks! I already have a lovely online publishing home where most of my articles will continue to become available over time, and that’s my personal business blog. No matter how beautiful someone else’s home may well be, your own home will always be special. It’s yours, no one else’s. Whatever happens, it will always remain your unadulterated, open window, your voice, to the world and that matters. A lot.
  • Tumblr: Same thing as for Medium. Just because you have pretty good looks and a good, decent user experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll grant you the pleasure of hosting my own content, just in case, after a while, you decide to shut down, like Posterous did back in the day, for instance. Remember? I think I learned my lessons here.  
  • Ello: I tried it and I failed, for the very same reasons as Medium and Tumblr. 
  • Meerkat & Periscope: Unfortunately, I live in a part of the world where free wifi is everything but pervasive and widely available and my mobile data has got a monthly cap of a ridiculous 2GB at a rather pricey tag, so as long as Europe doesn’t enter the 21st century in terms of pervasive, inexpensive connectivity across the entire region, I’ll be staying away from those two. For my own sanity and wallet. 
  • Snapchat: I am not enough hipster to have an account in there, I have been told, so I am staying away and probably for a good while, since I have never bought into the idea of content disappearing just like that into oblivion for no apparent reason.

I am pretty sure there are tons of other social software tools, apps and services out there I’m missing from including in this blog entry that you think I should have a presence in. Well, I might as well have it already, since I have a tendency to claim my brand name in them early in the game, but perhaps I don’t regularly use it, because I haven’t found a specific reason for it, which was the main purpose of writing this article in the first place: to give you all a glimpse of where I spend most of my online time nowadays when making heavy use of social / digital tools not just to get work done, but also to keep learning, with plenty of sensemaking, along the way. #PKMastery, as Harold Jarche himself blogged about a while ago, as one of the must-have 21st century digital skills.

If you feel there is a social software tool I should be aware of to start making use of it, feel free to comment below your suggestion and perhaps share with us the why as well. Somehow one thing I have learned over time is that I have stopped making use of social tools without having a clear purpose about what to get out of them. Because just using them for the sake of using them not only is it boring, but it won’t take you / us anywhere.

Finding the right purpose (for each!) is where the magic happens. For the rest, life is just too short!

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#Movistar – The Cost of Lying to Your Customers

No Internet ConnectionToday is, officially, my first day at work for 2015 after the Christmas holidays. I am writing officially on purpose, because after 61 days I am still waiting for Movistar (That Queen Between that always wants to get paid, but fails to deliver on customer service big time!) to come by my new place and install both the landline and the ADSL connection, so I can resume my knowledge Web work I have been forced to put into a halt for over 2 months now. Latest news I have from the fire extinguishing community management team at Movister_es on Twitter is that they will finally make an appearance (or so I am hoping!) on January 16th. Yet no-one from the technical team has contacted me to confirm that appointment. Instead, they seem to have mastered the skill of lying to this customer left and right throughout all of that time to the point where, at long last, it will have a price to pay: my loyalty.

Or, perhaps, even worse, my trust. After all, how can I ever possibly trust my local telco / ISP again for helping me carry on with my job as an independent freelancer (autónomo, in Spain), working remotely from his home office, when they have locked me down for all of this time without a single apology or concern about the huge impact they have incurred upon this family where I am the solely source of income at the moment. And, instead, they take the route of lying day in day out as it is their business as usual modus operandi. It’s always been.

From 5 to 20 days to get it all sorted out, initially, to another 5 to 20 days to finally get it done and dealt with, to December 29th, to now January 16th (Perhaps?), all along I have been told they would make it all happen relatively fast. Yet, 61 days later I am still waiting… But that’s not the worst bit of it all, because earlier by mid-November last year I got a phone call (One of the many pointless interactions I have had so far!) from a rather helpful and supportive lady telling me they have acknowledged the request to transfer the phone / ADSL line and that it will be taking place by mid-January.

Yes, MID-JANUARY 2015!! So why bother with all the lying to this loyal, faithful 11 year long customer over the course of weeks through regular Twitter Mentions & DMs, phone calls, SMS messages and what not if right along from the start *you* knew exactly when it will all be addressed and fixed and since it was going to take over 2.5 months of rage, angst, impatience and unsettling unhappiness all around for yours truly I guess it was better to lie to this customer in order to tame the frustration. Bollocks! 

Let me tell you something, my dear Movistar, if you keep claiming you happen to be a people to people business, i.e. a successful Social Business, one who cares about their clients and their needs, about your own employees and their well being, one who aims at changing the landscape of B2C (if there ever was such a thing like that!), one who simply cares, there is one little thing you may want to add to your vocabulary from now onwards: never lie to your customers. Be willing to engage in a two-way, meaningful, open, transparent conversation where you are willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of your already appalling customer service, so that you might be able to spark that sentiment of empathy you now have long lost from yours truly, because you just weren’t ready to face the reality: you are everything BUT a social business. Sad state of things, really, if you can’t handle the simple fundamentals of what it is like being an Open Business through openness, trust and authenticity.

Yes, it’s going to take me about 2.5 months to get back on track and be connected to the Internet, once again, thanks to you, Movistar. In the mean time, I can tell you I have gone through some rather interesting and colourful times that will make me remember you not very fondly for a long while, but, right now, there is just something out there for you to worry about quite a bit more: my trust in you and your services, because if you cared about your customers and keep aiming at building one’s trust in you, I can now confirm you have totally lost mine and it will take you a substantial amount of time AND effort to repair it.

I know for sure though you won’t even think a single time in investing your always lacking resources. Why should you, right? After all, who am I? I am just A customer. One of the many millions you keep saying you are serving to the point of delight, but fail quite remarkably at it time and time again by ignoring their own needs and wants, just because you feel we should be obliged to you for offering the service of being connected to the Internet. According to you, it should be our privilege to be your customer, like we owe it to you, but, alas, you know what?, at this point in time, that trust and loyalty from yours truly you have accumulated over the course of over a decade is now lost and long gone forever to the point where you will now become a primer example of what a so-called social business should not be doing at all. You are the perfect case of the anti-social business mindset. Your weakness? Not the lack of resources, nor the lack of customer service skills and know-how while trying to fix your customers’ problems, but something much more fundamental and key to every single Open Business: never *ever* lie to your customers

You know, they will eventually find out. I just did. 


Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer and People Enabler. A well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.

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