Tag Archives: telecommunications

Your Next Director Should Be a Geek

Imagine that you were a major investor in a leading company, and its board of directors had no members with independent, world-class financial expertise. Who would look after your interests? You could probably coach the directors to ask good questions, but they would lack the competence to judge the answers. The board would not be able to engage management in robust conversations about the complexities of capital structure, mergers and acquisitions, financial accounting, reporting, regulatory compliance or risk management. Most investors and regulators would deem such a board unfit to carry out its fiduciary guidance and governance responsibilities.

Yet that’s precisely where many companies are when it comes to information technology. Digitally driven change is becoming as critical an issue to most companies as finance. Companies are being called on to reimagine and reconstruct every aspect of their business; customers, suppliers and markets expect no less. Consider the rapidly expanding use of mobile phones in retail and banking. Or the changes foreseen in the transportation industry due to car-hailing algorithms and driverless vehicles. Already, one MIT study has found that digitally adept companies are, on average, as much as 26% more profitable than their competitors. And that advantage is only likely to increase.

The boards of many large companies are ill-equipped for these shifts. That was the conclusion of our 2015 study of more than 1,000 nonexecutive and executive directors at 112 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. and Europe. By analyzing company filings and public information, we found that all too many boards lacked the expertise needed to understand how technology informs strategy and affects execution. In Europe, for example, 95% of the companies we assessed, excluding technology and telecommunications companies, still had no non-executive directors with deep technology fluency. In the U.S., almost half of the surveyed companies had no technology expertise on their boards. These included major financial-services, insurance, industrial and consumer products companies. Yet each of those industries is grappling with complex strategic questions that hinge on technology.

See Also: How Leadership Will Look in 20 Years

Even boards with world-class technology expertise can have blind spots in areas of strategic importance; these include analytics, cybersecurity and digital fabrication. And even experts who keep up with particular technologies may miss the general effects of rapid technologically driven change on core products, business models and customer preferences.

Many board members are aware of these deficiencies. They know that their companies will either embrace technological change and claim the markets of the future or be put out of business. In 2015, a PwC global survey of large-company directors found that 85% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the way their companies were “anticipating the competitive advantages enabled by technology.” Almost as many, 79%, said their boards did not sufficiently understand technology.

The pervasiveness of the problem is troubling for anyone who cares about these companies — but it also represents an enormous opportunity. At the board level, there is a need for knowledgeable, incisive “geeks”: independent directors with experience and perspective in putting technology to use. In the past, many boards have compensated by relying on management or external consultants for strategic advice. But the stakes are now too high to take that approach.

Boards can no longer duck the responsibility for the company’s digital transformation. They must take real ownership by ensuring that they are equipped to fully understand this part of the board agenda. Otherwise, how can they adequately oversee their company’s strategy, investments and expense base? How can they guide profitability, manage risk, assess management performance and ensure proper talent supply? Below are three critical steps you can take to better prepare your company for these challenges.

1. Hold out for sufficiently broad and deep expertise. Although company leaders agree on the need to attract technology-fluent directors, they often approach the undertaking as an exercise in diversity. They “check the box” by bringing in one person to stand for the full technological field, rather than seeking multiple directors with relevant experience and insight.

To assess the severity of this deficiency in the companies we studied, we analyzed the resumes of their nonexecutive directors on four distinct aspects of technology: pure-play disruptive digital business, enterprise-level IT, cybersecurity and the digital transformation of Fortune 500–sized enterprises. Each is critical to boards’ oversight responsibilities, and fluency in each requires a distinct body of knowledge and experience. Few experts in enterprise-level value-chain IT could offer expert guidance on building disruptive digital business, and vice versa. We found that more than 90% of the companies, including technology and telecommunications firms, lacked expertise in one or more of these critical technology areas. Our research revealed only two companies that addressed all areas: Google and Wells Fargo.

To address the gap, you must open multiple board seats for people with technological experience. Just as having only one woman on a board has proven to be insufficient, having just one IT-savvy member is problematic. To fill these seats, you may have to reach beyond the traditional search targets of former CEOs and CFOs. Tap into recent CIOs, CTOs and other C-level leaders at successful information-intensive companies; retired military officers with large information-technology commands; and senior consulting and private equity partners with deep cross-industry expertise in enterprise technology transformations. Resist the urge to rely solely on Silicon Valley experience. Start-up experience is valuable, but addresses just a small part of the large enterprise technology challenge. Likewise, the “move fast and break things” attitude in Silicon Valley often does not translate well to other industries.

When recruiting these board members, be wary of candidates without fresh experience; in fast-moving fields such as cybersecurity or disruptive digital technology, people who are no longer active don’t always keep up with the latest trends. If executives in the business sector are scarce, look elsewhere; other sectors may be surprisingly relevant. In financial services, for example, understanding sophisticated process control is increasingly important. The best prospective board member may come from the logistics industry — from, say, FedEx or UPS.

2. Support robust discussions of technology with the right kinds of practices and management structures. There are two possible mechanisms for accomplishing suitably robust discussions. The first is to establish a formal technology-focused subcommittee of the full board, on par with other oversight functions such as audit or compensation. This can be helpful in raising critical issues and promoting deep discussion of complex topics. It also creates a mechanism for engaging external advisers.

Alternatively, set up a technology advisory committee that meets regularly with top management and periodically reports to the board. AT&T does this. It may be easier, with such a committee, to attract best-in-class expertise, given that the time commitment is low and there are no full fiduciary responsibilities. Typically, advisory committees can also rotate members more frequently than a board can. It must be remembered, however, that an advisory committee reports to management, not the board. This will color its advice.

Whatever the structure, it is important for this group to address topics that go beyond technology strategy and IT governance. The most important priority may be enterprise strategy and the ways in which technology makes new value propositions possible. FedEx, which is as much a technology company as a transportation icon, has used such a board to great effect for many years.

3. Set the right context. Alan Kay, one of the foremost pioneers in personal computer conception and design, once said, “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.” The context with which your board of directors views technology is a critical element for enterprise success. They must collectively understand the 10 to 15 drivers of technology that have taken quantum leaps in the past decade — for example, big data and analytics, cloud computing, mobile technology, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and autonomous transportation — and the potential implications each has for the company.

They must also have a clear view of their own company’s IT landscape: their existing hardware and software, including estimates of redundancy, age, robustness, any risk of obsolescence and costs. For example, how many marketing systems, customer databases and human resource systems does the company have? How interoperable are those systems? The need to ask these types of questions about a factory or back-office footprint would be obvious, but boards have generally neglected such inquiries regarding technology. The board must also understand risks related to technology, the defenses currently in play and any weaknesses in those defenses. Most important, the board must understand how the company’s IT systems relate to the company’s overall strategy, and what capabilities are needed to support it.

It falls to the board to ensure that the company has a multiyear plan to address technology needs while reducing costs and risk. Boards need not grant a license to spend. On the contrary, the hallmark of computers and networks is that they continually get faster, better and cheaper. These benefits accrue only to those with modern gear, however, so frequent upgrades are essential.

Finally, the board must incorporate its expanded technology context into larger deliberations. Talent recruiting and leadership development should be designed to fill gaps in technological fields. The criticality of IT should inform the review of proposed mergers and acquisitions. A close link to the audit committee is important because technology affects regulatory compliance and ethical issues. And the relationship to full board strategy discussions is critical.

Of course, placing someone with world-class technology expertise on a board does not guarantee success. Many technically proficient companies have lost to upstarts with a better product or service. But without this expertise, boards cannot play their most important role: intervening with substantive conversations about strategic decisions early enough to make a difference. And without these focused conversations about technological investments and decisions, boards cannot fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.

Today, every board of directors has a once-in-a-generation chance to leapfrog the competition through technology competency. The opportunity is great because the task is difficult, and there is no large pool of talent waiting to be recruited. Those companies that meet this challenge successfully will capture the markets of the future.

A version of this article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of strategy+business.

Obamacare: Where Do We Stand Today?

The healthcare industry is changing – same old headline. Since we’ve been in the industry, the “unsustainable” cost increases have been the talk every year, yet somehow we have not reached a tipping point. So what’s different now? How has ACA affected the healthcare industry, and more specifically the insurance companies?

The drafters of ACA set up a perfect adverse-selection scenario: Come one, come all, with no questions asked. First objective met: 20 million individuals now have coverage.

Next objective: Provide accurate pricing for these newly insured.

Insurance companies have teams of individuals who assess risk, so they can establish an appropriate price for the insurance protection. We experience this underwriting process with every type of insurance – home, life, auto. In fact, we see this process with every financial institution, like banks, mortgage companies and credit card companies. If a financial institution is to serve (and an insurance company is a financial entity), it has to manage risks, e.g., lend money to people who can repay the loan. Without the ability to assess the risk of the 20 million individuals, should we be surprised that one national insurance carrier lost $475 million in 2015, while another lost $657 million on ACA-compliant plans?

If you’re running a business and a specific line has losses, your choices are pretty clear – either clean it up or get out.

See Also: Healthcare Quality and How to Define It

Risk selection is complex. When you add this complexity to the dynamics of network contracting tied to membership scale, there is a reason why numerous companies have decided to get out of health insurance. In 1975, there were more than 2,000 companies selling true health insurance plans, and now there are far fewer selling true health insurance to the commercial population. Among the ones that got out were some big names – MetLife, Prudential, Travelers, NYLife, Equitable, Mutual of Omaha, etc. And now we’re about to be down to a few national carriers, which is consistent with other industries – airline, telecommunications, banking, etc.

Let’s play this one out for the 20 million newly covered individuals. The insurance companies have significant losses on ACA-compliant plans. Their next step – assess the enrolled risk and determine if they can cover the expected costs. For those carriers that decide to continue offering ACA-compliant plans, they will adjust the premiums accordingly. While the first-year enrollees are lulled into the relief of coverage, they then get hit with either a large increase or a notice to find another carrier. In some markets, the newly insured may be down to only one carrier option. The reason most individuals do not opt for medical coverage is that they can’t afford it. If premiums increase 15% or more, how many of the 20 million have to drop coverage because premiums are too expensive? Do we start the uninsured cycle all over again?

Net net, ACA has enabled more people to have health insurance, but at prices that are even less sustainable than before. ACA offers a web of subsidies to low-income people, which simply means each of us, including businesses, will be paying for part or all of their premium through taxes. As companies compete globally, this additional tax burden will affect the cost of services being sold. As our individual taxes increases, we reduce our spending. While ACA has the right intention of expanded coverage, the unintended consequences of the additional cost burden on businesses and individuals will have an impact on job growth.

While it’s hard for anyone to dispute the benefits of insurance for everyone, we first need to address the drivers behind the high cost of healthcare, so we can get the health insurance prices more affordable. Unfortunately, ACA steered us further in the wrong direction. Self-insured employers are the key to lead the way in true reform of the cost and quality of healthcare.

Is Insurance Ready for Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR) is no longer a technology reserved for the gaming industry. The applications are manifold in industries such as education, engineering, healthcare, insurance, sports and telecommunications. But, unlike other technology disruptions such as telematics, IoT, mobile, digital and cloud, which I have outlined in a previous blog, VR is yet to catch up in terms of adoption by insurers.

However, there are some applications from which the early adopters of this technology have started benefiting and others from which they could soon start benefiting.

Current Enterprise Applications

The Applications: VR simulation of car crashes – Insurers better understand what happens in a car crash for a safety demonstration

The Benefits: Improvement of driving behavior by creating awareness on safety and reducing accident claims

The Early Adopters: Australian insurer NRMA Insurance built a car crash simulation in collaboration with an ad agency and a film production studio and provided the experience to customers through an Oculus Rift headset in a crashed car showroom exhibit.


The Applications: Training – Safety experts and workers in manufacturing plants and warehouses are trained on safety practices and risk handling by creating a virtual world with various scenarios

The Benefits: Immersive and effective training experiences

The Early Adopters: Travelers insurance is working with AppliedVR in developing a VR mobile application aiming at industrial safety


The Applications: Advertising – Ad campaigns in VR gaming and on other platforms

The Benefits: Connecting better with the tech-savvy audience

The Early Adopters: Axa partnered with Google Niantic Lab Ingress to protect the gamers in a virtual real world using Axa Shield.


Ideas Insurers Can Explore

The Applications: Risk Assessment – Underwriters can look at all the possible risk hazards in a building without actually visiting the building.

The Benefits: Cost saving on travel and hiring

The Early Adopters: Insurers can steal ideas from the travel industry and see how they can customize VR for their needs. Marriott Hotels “teleports” guests to places like Hawaiian beaches and downtown London with sensory experiences.


The Applications: Analytics – Data scientists can analyze and visualize large dynamic datasets in VR, and executives can interact with the dashboards and take decisions

The Benefits: Quick and informed decision-making, scenario analysis

The Early Adopters: Insurance industry can draw inspiration from solutions developed for power, oil and gas and logistics industries. Space-Time Insight has recently demonstrated the capability of big data analytics and VR for power substation maintenance using Oculus Rift.


As an array of companies such as Google, Facebook, Samsung and Sony beef up their investments in VR and the number of enterprise applications spread across industries, the technology will soon prove to be disruptive for the insurance industry. Though customer experience, product demos and employee engagement are the key applications for the insurance industry, the ideas could be limitless as the technology matures. The day when we will compare the insurance product, take a driving test, purchase by interacting with an agent and talk to the customer care executive for claims, all through VR, is not too far away.

Data Breach Law Could Hurt Consumers

With each passing brand name mega-breach—Home Depot, Target, JPMorgan Chase, Anthem—it becomes ever more urgent for government and industry to get on the same page about how to protect consumers.

Sadly, not all laws are created equal, and there are few better examples of this homespun truth than a would-be federal law currently wending its way through Congress. The Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015, in its current form, has a long way to go before it should become the law of the land.

The Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015 says it “aims to tackle the nation’s growing data security threats and challenges.” So far, that sounds pretty good to me. The bill was written by Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), making it a bipartisan effort. The goal: to implement “a comprehensive plan to help safeguard sensitive consumer information and shield Americans from the harmful consequences of cyber attacks.”

I’ve written elsewhere about the need for a federal breach notification law, so in theory I’m on board. A strong federal law that requires businesses and government entities to inform people that their personal information has been compromised in a data breach can absolutely be a good thing…if it’s done right.

The problem with this proposal is that there are far more effective laws already on the books in several states, and they could be preempted were the bill to pass. If that weren’t bad enough, the proposed bill could also supersede stronger rules already put in play by the FCC with regard to telephone, broadband Internet, cable and satellite user information.

The undermining of better laws is bad, but worse is the way the Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015 underscores a continuing failure of our leaders to fully understand the nature of the problems we face in the mare’s nest that is consumer privacy and data security. In a widely publicized survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, “91% of adults in the survey ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.” Data breaches, and the identity theft that flows from them, have become the third certainty in life. We need a strong federal law, but as I argued in my op-ed about the Data Breach Disclosure Box, any proposed bill that threatens to weaken existing laws has to be challenged, quickly and without equivocation.

Why It’s an Issue

Senior Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute Laura Moy eloquently outlined the problems this bill could create in her testimony before the House of Representatives.

In a wide-ranging discussion of the major concerns raised by the bill, Moy pointed out some of the laws that could be preempted. One was California’s Song-Beverly Credit Card Act, which made it illegal to record a credit card holder’s personal identification information during a transaction. Another law in Connecticut outlawing the public posting of any individual’s Social Security number was also named. Both state laws represent solid advances in the realm of data security, and both might be preempted were the bill moving through Congress to succeed.

And here’s the really bad news: they would be two of the less alarming casualties.

The problem with the bill hinges on the way that it tries to separate privacy from data security, but they are inextricably intertwined. This could weaken or even eliminate protections for the many kinds of information – like your email address, for one — that fall outside the bill’s narrow definition of the personal data that is covered. That’s why this matters so much.

As Moy argued during her testimony, “Many laws that protect consumers’ personal information [can] be thought of simultaneously in terms of both privacy and security.” I will go one step further and say that I do not believe it is possible to discuss data security until we have a worst-case scenario definition of what constitutes personally identifiable information in the eyes of an identity thief.

To give an example of the kinds of preemption that are possible here, Florida’s privacy law includes email and a consumer’s username-password combination in its definition of personal information, the logic being that consumers use the same combination for many different login pages, including financial accounts. Eight other states currently mandate the same standard—California, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and, as of July 1, Hawaii and Wyoming. Under the currently proposed bill, a business would not have to notify you if your email and username-password combination were involved in a breach. Meanwhile, the above kinds of information continue to be highly exploitable data points in an identity thief’s toolkit.

In addition to the exemption of breaches that “only” include email addresses or user login details, the bill is unclear about personal information related to telecommunications, cable and satellite customers, which hinge on a trigger of “authorized access,” and Moy believes it may supersede important protections created by the Communications Act. Most alarming is the prospect of less robust notifications regarding compromised customer proprietary network information (CPNI) – that includes texts, phone calls, every location where you were when you made this or that phone call, your location when you didn’t make a phone call and the location of all your network-connected devices. All this information could be breached, and this proposed law in Congress says you don’t need to know about it. The same goes for what you watch on television, including any items you may have purchased on pay-per-view. All of it could, hypothetically, be out there open to public perusal. Every site you ever visited on line. Every call. Every text.

And what about your protected health information (PHI)? Critics note the bill doesn’t mention it, which at first blush seems like a four-alarm-fire level of non-comprehension. However, whether the product of partisan warfare or common sense, it’s actually a bit of good news. Because it has been entirely carved out here, most forms of PHI actually would still be covered by the notification requirements of the HIPPA/HITECH Act — with a few notable preemptions of existing state law affecting over-the-counter purchases and other health-related items.

Defining Harm

According to the narrow logic of the proposed legislation, a breach of any of the above information will not result in financial damage, which is the reason it isn’t covered. It’s a position easily brushed aside with one mind-blowing word of refutation: extortion. Scam artists have countless tricks up their sleeves, and the onus to anticipate the adaptive nature of crime falls on legislators. A single text or rented video could potentially ruin a person’s life, and fraudsters know that. If the wrong person has access to the above data points—and any of those bytes contain information that might harm you professionally or personally—they most certainly could be used against you for financial gain.

A recent Science study showed that with just a few data points (Instagram posts and tweets) it was possible to re-identify anonymized data about credit card purchases with the unique consumer who made them. While it may seem off the beaten path, the proposed bill, with its narrow definition of what should be covered, would not cover a glitch in Instagram’s code that revealed protected accounts to the public. For the end user unaware that their private posts were viewable, and that those posts could be used to re-identify data that is publicly available, the above hypothetical scenario featuring a “financially harmless” compromise (that revealed every purchase made on an individual’s credit card) could be a life changer—and not for the better.

What we really need in the federal government is someone in a position of authority with the expertise and knowledge to make sure anyone exposed in a breach knows about it, and is informed about the potential fallout as far as current intel permits as quickly as possible. Call this person a Breach Tzar, if you will. Since data-related crimes are often quite ingenious, isn’t it best to err on the side of caution? The fact is that any federal law aimed at protecting consumers from the danger of identity-related crime needs to be best-in-class, and far better than all the existing state laws combined, and, while it should go without saying, it must not supersede stronger existing protections afforded by non-state agencies.

There is still a yawning gulf between what’s been done so far and what needs to happen in the realm of cyber legislation. The protections we deserve are a work in progress, one that the entire constellation of consumer advocates and data-security experts must solve in concert. In the same way that data-related crimes are constantly evolving, we need to get into the habit of responding to the very biggest picture we can imagine.

Should Social Media Have a Place?

This is a question that seems to pop up a lot: Is there a place for social media in a “boring” business like insurance, plumbing or trucking?

While I do believe nearly any business can benefit from some social media presence, we do need to take a rational look as to whether it should really be a priority in the marketing mix for a “boring” business.

Are you a conversational business?

Let’s re-frame this word “boring” and put it this way: “Do people normally talk about you over the dinner table or at a party?” If the answer is “yes,” then social media should probably be a top priority for you. If it’s no … well, look at your budget options carefully to see where social media might fit in.

There have been a number of studies out there about the “conversationability” of a business and the connection to social media success. Not surprisingly, there is a hierarchy of conversationability – more remarkable products like sports teams and Hollywood movies are talked about twice as much as less remarkable brands like banks and over-the-counter medicine.

In a study of organic Facebook reach conducted by AgoraPulse, the company found that, across 8,000 companies, there was definitely a pecking order of conversationability. Organic reach is the content that is naturally connecting to customers without any promotion. Here is a list of the industry categories with the highest organic reach:

Amateur sports teams

Farming/agriculture

Fashion designer

Professional athletes

Music industry

Building products

Professional sports teams

Photographers

Zoos and animal-related businesses

Television programs

And here are the industries with the lowest Facebook organic reach:

Appliances

Books

Telecommunications

Household supplies

Tools and equipment

Phone/tablet

Chef

Musical instruments

Industrials

Transportation and freight

There is an implicit hierarchy of conversation popularity across industries. If you are in sports, entertainment or any of the other industries in the first list, there is an implied, fervent fascination with your content. There is something that people find naturally remarkable about you that gets rewarded with content transmission. If you’re in the second list or somewhere in between, you have less of an organic opportunity for social sharing … not necessarily because of the job you’re doing with your content, but because your products just aren’t naturally conversational.

Are you conversational … or could you be?

There is another option. If you’re in an industry with relatively low organic reach, can you become remarkable? It doesn’t come easily or cheaply, but it is possible, as evidenced by the series of “Will It Blend?” videos produced by BlendTec blenders. A blender isn’t the most remarkable product, but the brand made it so through its wacky challenge … ripping apart the most unusual things (golf balls, an Apple watch) in its powerful blender.

One of my favorite examples of a company overcoming a low place on the remarkability continuum is the Chipotle restaurant chain, which sells burritos and tacos—nearly commodity products in the food business.

Chipotle began producing two-minute animated mini-movies telling a story of the restaurant as an oasis of natural goodness in an otherwise bleak and dystopian world of processed food. The first episode, a clay animation video with a soundtrack of Willie Nelson singing a Coldplay song, was extraordinarily popular with Chipotle’s youthful audience and garnered nearly 9 million views in a year. The next year, the company went a step further by creating a free smartphone game to go with a new video. It had 4 million views in the first week.

Reality check: All this was created to sell burritos. It wasn’t easy to become a conversational brand. It wasn’t cheap, either. But it worked, and Chipotle’s stock and market share soared. That’s the nice thing about remarkability: You can apply it to almost anything.

The key to finding your remarkability is to think about what makes you surprising, interesting, or novel. In my book Social Media Explained, I suggest that marketing strategy needs to begin by finishing this sentence: “Only we …” That’s a tough task, but it’s the essential path to discovering your remarkability.

In the case of Chipotle, the “only we” was creating a story of health and sustainability, a story far bigger than mere burritos and tacos. They broke a pattern of what people expected from fast food.

But wait…there’s more

At this point, you might be thinking, “My business is boring and unremarkable and I’m not about to be a Blend-Tec or Chipotle. Why would I participate in social media?”

There are a lot of reasons, and here are a few:

Public relations – It’s likely that some aspect of social media has to be incorporated into any plan for media relations, crisis planning, event planning and community relations.

Word-of-mouth advocacy – Social media opens up an entirely new way of identifying and nurturing powerful online advocates for your brand.

Cost savings – Social media represents an extremely cost-effective communication channel. Most research shows that, in terms of many traditional measures, the results are as good, or better, than paid advertising. There are many opportunities to leverage existing content and marketing materials across vast new audiences.

Customer service – You may not have a choice about this really. Social media has become a very popular way to complain about poor products and services. It’s the new 800 number. Are you going to answer the call?

HR and recruiting – Social media, and particularly LinkedIn, has transformed the human resources function. One professional told me that a candidate’s “social media footprint” was more important today than a resume! Whether you are trying to find talent or be found, social media is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Internal process improvement – Tapping into the free tools and information on the web can help unleash employee productivity, collaboration and problem-solving.

Lead generation – Even setting up a simple Twitter search can help you find customers looking for your products and services…even if you’re boring.

Reputation management – The largest brands have social media “war rooms” set up so they can monitor conversations and sentiment about their products and brands in real time, at any spot in the world. Today, you need to be tuned in to the conversations and respond quickly or risk problems going viral.

Research and development – An active customer community can be a gold mine of new ideas and suggestions for products and innovations.

SearchGoogle is now showing tweets more prominently in search results. And you are just as likely to be discovered via your LinkedIn profile, blog post or video as on a website. An entire generation is finding businesses and services through Facebook search.

Social proof – In a world of overwhelming information density, we may look to clues from others to make a decision. How many positive reviews do you have? How many “likes” or followers do you have? It might sound weird, but people make decisions to connect to a company based on these badges of social proof (there is an entire chapter on the connection between social proof and content success in my book The Content Code).

The Trade Show Dilemma – Have you ever had to sit at a booth during a large industry trade show? Why did you do it? Because if we weren’t there, people would think something was wrong. We would be ostentatiously absent. In this day and age, not being on Facebook or Twitter sends the same message. It shows you “don’t get it.”

The Net Generation – Your next pool of employees, customers and competitors prefer to use the social web over any other form of communication. You might enjoy reading a paper copy of the Wall Street Journal each morning, or even looking at an online version of your favorite news site. But nearly half of Americans under the age of 21 cite Facebook as their primary source of news. The social web is where a generation is going to connect, learn and discover. Ignore this at your peril!

So the short answer is “yes.” There is a place for social media, even in a boring business, but your “conversationability” may influence how much effort you put into it. Comments?

This article was first posted on business2community.com