Open SoSiSocial Signal open sources its social media consulting practice

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Cloak and daggr

It's Social Signal's fourth anniversary. But rather than breaking open the champagne, we're breaking open the vault that contains everything we've learned over the past four years.

We're taking the intellectual property we've generated and gleaned from Social Signal's four years of consulting, strategy and development and making it available for free online, under a Creative Commons license.

Here's why.

We launched Social Signal four years ago because we were thrilled by the advent of Web 2.0 - what we now call "social media". We saw a new medium that supported the best approaches to organizational decision-making and community engagement: approaches that were decentralized, bottom-up, and participatory. And we saw a new set of technologies born from the best of hacker culture: an open source software movement that created code in a way that was, yes, decentralized, bottom-up, and participatory.

Four years of experience with social media have only deepened our belief in its transformative potential for businesses, communities and individuals. In that time, we've helped to create more than 25 online communities and social media sites across the web, from NetSquared to Tyze and most recently, Be a Superhero! and Power the Games. Working with clients who shared our excitement about the social web, we've seen how engaging with social media helped them extend their reach, deepen their relationships and maximize their impact.

We've learned a lot in those four years. About what it takes for organizations to commit to a medium that demands transparency and authenticity, about what it takes to build a community and bring it to life, and about what it takes to build a sustainable and profitable social media agency.

While we were building our own knowledge and practice, we also saw the field of social media take shape… slowly.

Sure, people now (mostly) know what social media is -- and we can't overstate how helpful that has been to the challenge of explaining why social media is worth doing. But it's still very unclear what constitutes a social media professional (thus the backlash against social media "experts"), where social media should sit within organizations, or how to buy social media services. Every social media creator, department and agency is inventing their own definition of how to "do" social media -- just as marketers, h.r. professionals and management consultants had to define their fields a generation or two ago.

We created Social Signal to have an impact -- a big one. But the way we've gone about it - building individual communities, coaching our clients, and sharing high-level insights on our blog - can only take our impact so far, so quickly.

To have the impact we want - to build a field, and not just a business - we're shifting our focus away from implementing specific social media projects. That work has always included a big chunk of capacity building; now we're going to put capacity building at the centre so we can support many more professionals and organizations through trainings, workshops, speeches, and writing on social media.

But we don't want to limit ourselves to the people we can reach through thoseOpen SoSi Me! Follow @socialsignal for updates vehicles. So we're going to share what we know with the entire field of communicators, leaders and social media professionals. We're going to share it with every organization building a social media team, every communicator honing their social media skills, and every agency now offering social media services. We're going to share it with you.

We're starting today with the ingredients for the Concept Jam: the participatory workshop-centered process that we use to help clients generate innovative, effective concepts for social media initiatives.

This is uncharted territory. Like most consultants out there, we've built our business partly around the competitive edge of keeping our know-how to ourselves. While we've seen that developers can succeed while sharing their code, we don't know for sure if that same principle extends to strategic advice and core methodologies. And the actual effort of putting this stuff online is a bit daunting: much of our content needs to be reorganized and reformatted so that it will make sense to other people, and so that it protects our clients' confidentiality.

To get past the terror, we're going to treat the next 30 days as both an experiment and a challenge. How much of our work can we share, how quickly can we share it, and how will that sharing transform both what we do and how we do it? We've got a few hunches, so over the next 30 days, we'll also share some additional news about how we're reorganizing the business to build on an open source consulting model and refocus on capacity-building.

We truly believe that social media holds the potential to transform businesses seeking resilience in the face of volatility; to transform communities in the face of isolation; to bring people on the path to sustainability. We hope that sharing what we've learned will help all of us realize that potential.

How to to be part of Open SoSi


To stay up-to-date on our Open SoSi releases:

To join the Open SoSi discussion:


Walter Schwabe (@fusedlogic) says

October 15, 2009 - 8:51am

Alex, you guys are about to push boundaries and here's what I love about your idea. Those folks who have little to offer in this space will be scared of this approach.  Exposing limited depth of real world knowledge of the social web from the client and citizen perspectives.

We've launched several projects focused on open "citizen participation."  We've seen success in enabling people and yet there is still considerable work to do.  So we continue to study "citizen action triggers" which might be of service to some of your work.

That said, I commend both you and Rob for your brave spirit.  Not everyone will see the genius of this move, but I certainly do.

shepsil says

October 15, 2009 - 8:58am

You guys totally ROCK! For the past 3 years I have found your site to be so helpful to a luddite like myself. You explain things in laymans terms so over 50 somethings like myself can come up to speed. Social Signal makes me feel younger everytime I read a new post.

Well done

Jordan Willms says

October 15, 2009 - 8:59am

Absolutely awesome you two. This is amazing. Not many companies have the chutzpah to let their secrets out of the bag. I commend you.

I am eagerly looking forward to all the Open SoSi posts.


Jordan Willms,

Social Signal creates open source consultancy | MediaStyle says

October 15, 2009 - 9:56am

[...] In a bold move a Vancouver-based company is turning the traditional business model of a consultancy on its’ head. Social Signal CEO Alexandra Samuel explains in her blog post announcing the move: [...]

Roland Tanglao says

October 15, 2009 - 12:36pm


The next logical step would be to put all of your text documents on to a Media Wiki instance (SoSipedia :-) !)  to allow everybody to participate and to show the world your documents as you revise them. Works quite well for, don't see why it wouldn't work for you. And Media Wiki is a defacto standard so converting wiki pages to Word and vice versa is doable for those who have to use "The Man's Word Processor"


Mack Hardy says

October 15, 2009 - 2:38pm

We just love you soooooo much!   Great work, thanks for continuing to lead us all forward in the evolution of business and the internet.

-the affinitybridge posse

Jason Lin (@talentbasket) says

October 15, 2009 - 3:53pm

I think it's a cool idea. Although by nature, social media agency is pretty open about its ideas, methodologies and insights through blogs and other content channels, in part to support its overall marketing.

But Alex, your "open source" concept can initiate a positive ecosystem for the entire industry globally (much needed at this point).

I am excited to think of it like the free software foundation vision where everyone can build on top of the Open SoSi knowledge base, free to edit, customize, and extend, the social media source contents. It can create an ecosystem where consultants from different disciplines can come in and collaborate. Eventually there will be vertically focused social media "plug-ins" for every industry, company size and languages across the globe. It would then be possible to easily understand the social media in China, Brazil, India, Japan, etc.....

If the effort can be coordinated around global social media practitioners, a positive standard can be created around Open SoSi. I think we will see the next wave of social media innovation.

Alexandra Samuel says

October 15, 2009 - 10:13pm

Thanks to all of you -- and our tweeps!! -- for the incredible reception to our news. It's incredibly encouraging to hear that folks not only like the idea of open sourcing, but also feel like our work has something useful and potentially remixable.

Walter, love the idea of "citizen action triggers". I'd be very curious to learn more about your experience with that approach; it sounds like there could well be intersections.

Shepsil, you've anticipated our upcoming release of our secret twitter-enabled anti-aging formula. Now you understand why our most reluctantly-discarded tagline possibility was, "Young enough to understand social media. Old enough to explain it to you."

Ian, thanks so much for your blog post! It was incredibly kind, and as ever we really appreciate what a great colleague and twitter buddy you have been to us all this time!

Jordan, Roland and Mack -- half of what we've learned is because we get to work with folks like you. Each of your teams has been enormously helpful and inspiring in thinking about online community design, learning how to get great communities built, and in seeing how successful a company can be within the open source space. Your enthusiasm is much appreciated, and we know all of you will continue to help us figure out how this should unfold.

One more note to Roland, which is that we have been mulling the wiki process...and after a day or so of really obsessing over the right tools and community approach, decided to prioritize getting it out there over finding our ideal collaboration environment. Not sure that the wiki approach makes sense for the particular kinds of documents we're releasing...I suspect we're looking at more forking and multiple iterations than at convergence, largely because there is a such a variety of styles and needs out there. But then again, maybe there'd be more convergence if it was easy to collaborate. All in all, a really great conversation to open here and continue over this process. which vein, Jason, I am interested in the FSF analogy and whether we could help develop some kind of knowledge repository. It's a funny thing: there have been a number of sites launched for social media pros specifically, but of course that's tough to do b/c in a field full of community builders everyone wants to build their own version of the field's community! But it would be great to see others releasing their materials, and as that happens, having some way to pull them together or at least find them.

A tag like #opensosi seemed like an easy place to start (after all these years, still love those tags!) since in theory people could use it for any materials they want to share back to the social media pro community. It's less than ideal b/c it is so SoSi-branded, and it would be more effective to have something neutral. However the only short, twitterable alternative that we really liked was #ipfreely and we decided to pretend to be grown-ups. Would still love to see an #ipfreely movement!

David Gratton says

October 15, 2009 - 11:00pm

There you go. Just as I always thought. You two are just plain crazy.

Go have fun with your crazy friends, live in your crazy home, wearing your crazy clothes with your crazy hair (or lack there of), driving your crazy car to your crazy office, with your crazy business models.


Smooches! :)

josegee says

October 21, 2009 - 2:06pm

Can't say enough about you two.  Great work!!!  Thanks again for sharing.


sb says

October 30, 2009 - 1:17am

this is living what we all believe good things ought to come out of that



Brent MacKinnon says

December 9, 2009 - 8:23pm

Hi Alex and the Open SoSi crew,

I am full of excitement and relief after going through all your Open SoSi Concept Jam documents. What a read! I so enjoyed your personal story of Social Signal and how you got to this juncture in your work.

First off, I laud your integrity and sense of adventure for letting it all go and heading in a new direction. Your journey as a leading social media company and the learning path you have being on these past years has no doubt brought you to this new level of insight about yourselves and your work.

I first met you (Alex) at STT 2008 in Toronto. Since that time, I left my 20 plus years managing community based programs and have dived in as a consultant in the social media arena. My first big contract is underway. My partner and I have launched their web site however we still have a photovoice module and collaboration platform (Open Atrium) to officially launch. I'm about to launch the social media, strategy-making component with our client, the York Region Alliance to End Homelessness. Their cause involves numerous stakeholders and we hope our work with them will help us grow our business with the many non profits that are looking for an affordable open source web site that can employ social media strategies and accompanying tools.

I've tons of material from many social media leaders and presenters but I've being bouncing from pillar to post as far as finding a "make sense" entry point to get the strategy/thinking in place. Our client has agreed to using a blog and a collaboration platform within the web site so we have “surface buy” in. Now the challenge is to begin the work of thinking through the implications of engaging people and communities with social media.

Now here is why I am excited and relieved. The SoSi Concept has given me an entry point to  confidently facilitate a social media workshop with my client and with many other groups in my community. From my perspective, with the SoSi Concept Jam, I’ve taken a quantum leap in my own learning. I am now in a place where I can see the larger capacity building process unfolding. Your sharing of the the SoSi Concept Jam material gives me a well traveled map and a wealth of knowledge and experience to help me navigate the waters ahead.

Thank you for your great work and sharing your treasures.

Brent MacKinnon

Rob Cottingham says

December 10, 2009 - 12:32pm

Brent, I can't tell you what reading this today meant to us.

Open-sourcing the Concept Jam was a leap of faith. Business-wise, it's turned out wonderfully (as Alex tells Gillian Shaw in today's Vancouver Sun!)... but the goal was always much larger. We wanted to the tools and knowledge we've built up over the past four years to start supporting anyone who wants to use social media to make a difference.

Thanks so much for telling us about this... and please let us know how things develop with your client's crucial work.

Brent MacKinnon says

December 12, 2009 - 8:22pm

Thanks for your kind response Rob. I'm sure that the material, learnings and insights you have released into the wild will multiply many times over. Your decision to open source your work is a stand-a-lone message in itself. I'll be sure to send you an update on how our client's work unfolds in the coming weeks.

Azley Jones says

July 29, 2010 - 8:58am

We live in a world where people are so guarded by competition that they fail to see the good and benefit that comes from collaberation. Not only will this prove your status as a force in the social media community, you will accomplish what social media is all about. Sharing the Conversation with your participants, in turn developing a relationship and strengthening your brand equity. I tell my clients to Be a Monarch in the field that they are in. You guys are proving that you do that!



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