The Secret to Successful 2.0 Evangelism is found in Social Intelligence

I was invited to speak at one of our executive client briefings last week.  The theme of the “Executive Perspective” was examining the “Core/Edge Dynamic.”  nGenera defines the “core” as the collection of processes, systems and infrastructures that have evolved over many years and effectively run today’s large enterprise.  The “edge” is the emerging suite of Internet-based capabilities that promise a huge competitive advantage in the form of increased innovation, productivity and agility.  My role, specifically, was to demonstrate how an “Edgling*” leverages social networking and web applications for personal productivity and innovative gains for the enterprise.

Part of the agenda included a talk by Gregory Berns, the Distinguished Chair of Neuroeconomics at Emory University.  Berns’ soon to be published book, “Iconoclast” outlines how and why iconoclasts essentially think and behave differently than non-iconoclasts.  In 2.0 evangelism, very similar to the role of an iconoclast, we’re attempting to change people’s behavior which Berns admits is difficult and uncomfortable.   As a part of the lecture, we were given advance copies of Berns’ book.  I was particularly drawn to his chapter on “Brain Circuits for Social Networking.”   This chapter explains that in order for an iconoclast to be successful and sell a new idea, he or she must leverage two variables key to social intelligence: reputation and familiarity.

In my talk, although I was chartered to expose our clients to a “new way of web-working,” I found I was not connecting with the audience.  For starters, as this was the first time I was before this particular set of clients, they had no idea who I was or what level of authority or credibility I had to present my ideas.  Although my nGenera colleagues did a great job of introducing me and how I work, the clients had no firsthand experience with me, so they therefore (especially given the content of my presentation) met my ideas with skepticism.  So I failed on the first variable, reputation, to sway my audience to consider a new way of working.

Secondly, the matter of familiarity delivered the final death knell to my chances of converting any new prospects to my scary 2.0 religion.  For the most part, what we (edglings) immerse ourselves in daily on the social web is wholly alien to the way large enterprise management works.  Many of our clients are not even in front of a computer most of the day.  It’s a series of back-to-back management meetings and various engagements where they’re reviewing or preparing presentations in order to make decisions on operational issues that keep the company gears running.  The suggestion to stay tethered to a micro-blogging platform was received as eagerly as if I had asked them to grow antennas out of their heads.

Of course, there is always the unfortunate possibility that I was just an awful presenter and that is the reason why the session did not go over well.  (We did have a little Skype trouble…)  Yet, I know how to read an audience, and it was obvious to me they just weren’t connecting with what I was trying to show and explain to them.  In Berns’ book, he explains that in order for an iconoclast to effectively sell a new idea he or she must make the audience comfortable with the idea.  In fact, there is neurological evidence that suggests the brain processes unfamiliar things as  “alarming and potentially dangerous.”

I’m publishing this account of my experience to caution other evangelists to explore as many ways as possible to bridge the gap between what the client already knows and the richness of what you are trying to present.  Our eagerness to spread the “good news” of 2.0 will continue to fall on deaf ears if we can’t make the story relevant and compelling in terms the clients can appreciate.  Further, we need to summon our own courage to overcome their innate biological fear of change in order to truly unleash radical innovation.

*”Edgling” was originally coined by Stowe Boyd.

Author: Susan Scrupski

Longtime fan of technology to improve humanity.

  • chris geier

    very good blog, come accross the same issues a few times. how do you relate the terms, and the value and the need to something they already know and make that connection? It is hard

  • It appears that there is a movement to make reputation ‘social networking credit’ … if you don’t have good ‘tweet-cred’ then no one will listen to your ideas/vision. The problem with this is that credit should be given by those that ‘do’ and not those that ‘say’… because one can say anything and get others to follow them (look at Jones Town). Just like in real life … people who talk too much, but have great stories are usually the ones writing about the people who say less, but are actually doing something. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves people.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for this article.

    I’m also doing this exercise from time to time and as far as familarity, the way I pitch it is the following:

    Social media, blogs… is already familiar to most of the people in Corporate organisation. These people are the one that make the 20+M of LinkedIn users and the 150+M of Facebook users, they belong to the 75% of US internet users that regularly read blogs.

    The problem for corporation is therefore not to add something new but to productivise and improve something people already do. The opportunity is in efficiency and cost reduction

    This seems to be something executive tend to be familiar with.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • George Jones

    Susan –

    A couple of observations come to mind, but perhaps the most significant is this question – “can 2.0 and social networking really be evangelized from the top down?” If not, then the issues of reputation and familiarity are not as relevant as we may think. As a past executive and a geek before it was cool, I can tell you that my appreciation for the power of this new way to connect and all that it implies didn’t really start until I stopped hearing and reading about it and actually got hands on and applied it to my own activity.

  • The level of openness and honesty you’ve just displayed in that post, Susan, illustrates the gap between ‘Enterprise 2.0 culture’ and ‘corporate culture’ (generalising, I know). Personally I think trying to sell the idea of some sort of collegiate nirvana to hard-nosed executives is a waste of time. It’s essential to address specific problems. For example, I attended a presentation at Headshift (www.headshift.com) the other day where the focus was on helping KM people in law firms provide ‘current awareness’ information more effectively. I liked the narrow focus.

  • steven healey

    Hi

    Firstly I can empathise with your situation on two counts ..

    2.0 and social networking are topics which just whoosh over corporate heads .. they are driven by achieving and being able to graphically demonstrate those achievemts daily.

    Social networking requires a time commitment and no sign of immediate reward .. a hard sell.

    It is an easy sell to SME’s who can gain great benifit from finding new collaborators.

    As to your audiences immediate reception , if something of what you said strikes a chord after the presentation then mission accomplished.

    Steven

    PS I really enjoyed reading the blog .