Category Archives: Books

I Gogoled: Social Communities and the Russian Classics


I didn’t google, but I Gogoled a bit. This post is not dead serious, it’s a product of my odd association – consider yourself warned.

I have always loved the Russian classics, especially novels by Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Mikhail Bulgakov. Many experience these as too heavy and melancholy, but not me. Ha, I’m a daughter of a librarian.

I am lucky to have a great people around me, many very vibrant ‘souls’, both people that are close to me in real life and also lovely personalities I’ve met in the social communities, especially Twitter. And from the vibrant, living souls my thought wandered to Gogol’s Dead Souls.

I picked up three out of my favorite Russian novels and paired them with a fitting phenomenon we’ve all seen in the social communities and in business. Here you are:

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

In the novel a character by name Chichikov collects dead souls. For Mr. Chichikov the number of dead souls manifests as property, and with large number of those, him being a wealthy man.

Diagnose: Number of Followers Mania

Aren’t the followers which do not share anything common with you a bit like dead souls? For example, in Twitter I am followed by a restaurant owner on the another side of the globe, several real estate agents running their local businesses far away from where I live, and so forth. I must be nothing but a dead soul for them. No harm done, I don’t mind, but I am afraid my SaaS, Cloud and Enterprise 2.0 tweets are pure noise to them.

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard is a story about an aristocratic Russian family who wishes to maintain the status of their present life and of the entire environment they are living, 100% unchanged, refusing to see any need for changing it.

Diagnose: Everything is Just Fine & I Don’t Need to Change Syndrome

Isn’t this family just like an organization (and its management) that wishes status quo to remain, in form of their existing strategy, position and competitive edge? An organization that refuse to embrace the emergence of social and mobile in their business environments?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina describes the social issues on the 19th century, especially from perspectives of marriage, class, and from the different kinds of relationships between individuals.  With numerous interrelated plots unfolding on the way, on all levels.

Diagnose: Virtual Relationships & Drama Disorder

The wonderful, rich scene of relationships and the powerful characters forming counter parts, reminds me of the social community sphere: with all its beautiful interactions, valuable knowledge flows, its benefits and with its weaknesses. Altogether forming a sphere where there is room for all kinds of relationships, both growing ones, and yes, some unsuccessful ones. Or even some drama.

There are many other examples in the literature, but I’ll leave room for your imagination.

One more thing, here’s a classic quote by Leo Tolstoy from Anna Karenina’s Chapter 1. For some reason I’ve always liked it:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Luckily social communities don’t have to be like a happy family all the time: there’s room for all emotions, diversity, different opinions. Let us continue to build and develop vibrant communities, with respect towards each other, and focus on learning and value creation!

It is All About Relationships!

My friends Christina Forsgård and Juha Frey have written an interesting book about social media, and how it is inevitably changing the leadership/management, marketing and communication. I’ve discussed this book in Finnish, here are few points I translated into English. The name of the book is SUHDE, which means Relationship in Finnish.

First, a confession: I am somewhat biased in the topic of social media. I do already believe that we’re in the middle of the paradigm shift when it comes to communication and the way we work. Christina’s & Juha’s book have a strong message to C-level, “this is something you have to understand as it affects on your entire organization”.

The book describes and crystallizes the on-going change:

This is not a social media tool exercise; this is about a fundamental change in the way we communicate and work.

Unfortunately the public discussion in Finland has reduced social media into Facebook only. This reminds me of my favorite quotes from Sirkku Peltola’s play (my translation):

Poor you, carefully watching the tiny candle on the table while the entire mansion is burning behind your back!

I very much like the clarity by which Christina and Juha have identified the key areas of change, and managed to draw the big picture for the leaders – including the threats. Ignoring social media is a big risk, your mansion will burn, (and your bonuses too).

It’s Management Responsibility. The power of social media will be realized only if the management is active part of the game. The success requires new kind of leadership and a supporting organizational structure. In ‘Silo Organizations’ with high power distance between the management and personnel, acting in a collaborative, social way is not familiar inside the organization, and therefore double as hard if not impossible, outside of it. Collaborative, social way of working is not a responsibility of the communication or marketing department, but the management’s!

All the Moomins in the Valley? In the cosy launch event of the book Juha Frey compared collaborative, social way of working to the Moomin Valley and its lovely inhabitants. If the personnel of the organization acts impersonally and by too strict rules when communicating with its various stakeholders (blogging, tweeting and discussing) – it will be experienced as not genuine but fake. Successful utilization of social media requires personalities, or at least a personal touch!

Companies should build their social media presence as a joint effort, with passion and authenticity. In case where social media activities are mechanic and not interactive, or the activities are outsourced to an external Social Media Guru – there’s no way to become ‘digi-mature’ (Juha’s word referring to organization’s maturity with social media), not even ‘digi-teenager’.

Marketing Communication Professionals must unite. Juha’s and Christina’s message to every communication and marketing professional is clear: stop complaining and defending your responsibility area, start the work to find suitable roles, and finally explore your own attitude towards the new way of working:

  • Customers and partners are not passive targets for your activities but active players in the same equation.
  • Social media is primarily not sales and marketing channel, but a channel and tool for the new kind of PR/work on the relationships.
  • It’s time to leave the illusion of control. The discussion about your brand is no longer possible to control – but you can, and you should, participate in that discussion.

The book very vividly describes how the mechanisms of influence have changed, and further how good social media strategy and activities, and relationships based on trust, lead to a more stable and long-lived customer and partner relationships. It’s all about the relationships!

One of the wisest moves the writers have made is to leave the tools discussion out of the scope: various tool set instructions get old at the moment they are written. I would like to call SUHDE book as “A Handbook of Understanding the Collaborative, Social Way of Working”. There are many important themes in the book, which I did not touched now. I will certainly come back to these later on. A recommended read (if you can Finnish).

Move your focus away from the tiny candle – it does not warm up for a long time.

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