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Social Media Business Evolution Part 1: Culture

Posted on : 10-03-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media

Tags: , ,


Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Social Business Summit in Austin, TX.  This pre-event for SxSW, which starts on Friday, is being presented by Dachis Group.  Dachis is a great example of a company striving to work in this new transparent environment.  Have you ever checked out the Dachis website?  They strive to be so transparent that they have developed a scroll on their website that shows exactly what they are doing.  For example if a member of the team tweets a message, it will show up.  It will even say when they are emailing someone and the domain they are emailing (not the name or full email address).  I am looking forward to this event, because the topic is fun, culture change within businesses.  I am also looking forward to seeing people like Charlene Li, who I have never met in person.  Her book Open Leadership is about to come out, and I know it will be great.

Anyway, over the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of reading, probably one of the causes for not posting as much as I would like.  I hope to start putting a lot of these pent up thoughts into posts over the next few weeks.  One of the things I have realized is their are a lot of diverse thoughts on all aspects of social media and how companies will incorporate it.  First these varying opinions are great discussion points and will help define this going forward.  At the same time, I believe many are putting the cart before the horse.  People within social media tend to love the speed of information, transparency, personal control, and the ability to see their thoughts take off.  Also those of us in social media tend to see how these benefits can impact the world.  Many see it as an revolutionary transformation, as it has been for themselves.  For businesses though, it still needs to be more of an evolutionary change, otherwise many of the positive benefits will be lost.  This change will take place at different rates of speed, and most likely in different ways based on the organization (and the people that make up that organization, including Customers).

I have read in a number of sources that businesses should not be involved in social media until they have the right culture.  This typically is centered around the free flow of information as well as trust in employees that is required in the space.  I this spirit I should admit I have sometimes been in this camp too.  Here is a funny, true story.  I have spoken to numerous organizations about social media and how I have used the space.  There is only 1 company that I did not help when requested.  The reason for this was before they were willing to chat, they wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement that was very lengthy.  I really did not want to read through the entire thing, and I personally felt if they were requiring that from an unpaid consultant such as myself they probably were not ready for the space.

The more I have learned about social media, I have realized the culture change that people reference is starting to happen, but it does not have to be fully embraced for a company to begin in social media.  First employees, just based on the numbers, are already participating in social media through Facebook, MySpace, blogs, Twitter and so the list goes on.  Don’t kid yourself, they are already representing the brand and generating their own culture change.  They are also taking on more say over the brand due to this.  This is why I sometimes refer to social media as the “disorganized labor movement.”  Customers are within social media discussing your products, how they use them and their thoughts on your business, this is commonly referred to as the Groundswell.  This can be positive or negative, but they are talking (I will have an upcoming post that discusses this).  Customer are also forcing this culture change.

Companies are going to move in different ways to embrace social media.  From my perspective I have seen the first efforts to be within marketing or public relations/communications.  What has happened as companies have done this, they were forced to evolve strategies to effectively meet the demands from Customer and employees.  This has meant a shift to more transparent discussions and more areas of the business being involved, such as Customer Service and senior leadership.  Most of these companies did not have the transparent culture prior to this happening, but it was forced upon them.  So for those that say right culture is required first, should observe these evolutionary patterns and understand that culture change will happen because of social media, but it is not required as a point of entry.

Here is what is really required.  First it requires visionaries that can see benefits within social media.  It really does not matter from which silo it comes from.  This also does not require full support from everyone, but it will require at least one high level supporter.  The reason you need support from one high level person is because as this evolves, some of the old school leaders will be scared and may try to cause the organization to take steps back.  Fear of something new is natural, and the reason some leaders fear it, is because they lose some sense of control.  It will also highlight deficiencies within the organization, and it may even involve their area of expertise.  As time goes on, more and more people within the organization will embrace it.  I always joke that all senior leaders are from Missouri, the “show me” state.  They need to be able to touch and feel things.  I know many have struggled with “metrics” within this space, but that is not the best way to touch and feel things.  The true benefit is you can easily show leaders what is happening in the space, reaction and what, as an organization you are learning.  The fact is they can be shown Twitter search, Google Blogsearch, Facebook search, or other easy to use tools.  They can touch and feel it themselves.

As part of this discussion of culture change, some also say the entire organization must have a strong Customer focus before entering this space.  I disagree with this too.  The reason I disagree, is this space will assist companies on their focus on the Customer.  It is difficult for senior leaders to listen to every call, or view every email, but as I mentioned above they can easily follow the discussion regarding the brand.  As we know this is a space controlled by the Customer, and they will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.  The difference is anyone can easily search this information and learn from it.  I have never met a senior leader who wanted to create a bad experience for a Customer.  Before it is pointed out by others, I do recognize there are sometimes natural conflicts, such as price, but they never wanted anyone to not be helped when help is required.   This space will create the change within any company just by simply listening.

I applaud any company for being involved in social media.  Even if they may not be taking the best direction, I recognize that this space will force their evolution and they will become stronger participants because of it.  So my feedback to the experts in the space, just give it time; your  visions will be recognized by many companies.