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Social Media Reality Check: Four Mental Shifts Leaders Need to Make
Posted on March 26th 2014
I have previously written about the 5 Main Barriers to Digital Engagement by organizations, their leaders, and other senior professionals. These barriers include lack of knowledge and understanding of social and digital technologies, framing that leads to risk aversion, poor/no roadmaps, and inadequate resource allocation. A related issue involves concerns over the ROI of social media initiatives.
To help break down these barriers, particularly when it comes to social media, organizational leaders need to make four key mental shifts to accept new realities and move forward. These shifts include recognizing changes in the balance of power, accepting loss of control, developing new perspectives on productivity, and viewing social technology integration as mandatory rather than optional.
Recognizing Changes in the Balance of Power
Social Media Reality Check: There is plenty of evidence that the balance of power between organizations and their external stakeholders has shifted in significant ways due to social media. Many tech-savvy consumers have learned that social media is often the fastest and most effective way to get an organization’s attention to address and resolve a product or service issue (see, for example, this piece about the role of social media in the communications related to GM’s recent recall). In response, many consumer-oriented organizations, like Comcast and the Discover, have embraced this shift in power and have learned to leverage social media to enhance the service experience for their customers. There are now dozens of tools and platforms for monitoring social media activity to determine how an organization’s brand(s) are being discussed in cyberspace, and many larger enterprises have “social media command centers” with dedicated staff to assess and respond to issues and concerns raised via digital channels.
Since most consumers are also employees, it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to recognize that increased personal empowerment is likely to lead to expectations of increased professional empowerment. As people experience more equal relationships with the organizations they support financially, they will come to expect similar equality with the organizations they support through their labor. From an employment perspective, this could become a competitive differentiator. Employers who abide by Oz-ian principles that tip the scales strongly in favor of their own omniscience and omnipotence will be increasingly less attractive to talented employees who want to be treated as valued partners. Though plenty of organizations and their leaders may lament the loss of power brought about by social media, the economic and social benefits resulting from the shift will be significant. For example:
- Greater accountability, communication, and collaboration will lead to improved products and services.
- Increased transparency and access to information will enhance competition, providing better goods/services at better prices.
- Open dialogue and transparency, combined with more public accountability, should promote ethical behavior.
Those organizations that adapt best to the new operational requirements social media creates should reap the greatest rewards.
Recommendation: Organizational leaders should recognize that it’s in their own best interests to embrace the egalitarian ideals that underlie social technologies and leverage them to form stronger partnerships with their customers and employees, open up the lines of communication, develop and promote their business and employment brands, improve their human capital practices, and attract and retain the most talented individuals.
Accepting (and Embracing) Loss of Control
Social Media Reality Check: Although many consumer-oriented businesses and other organizations have adapted to – and even embraced – social media’s realities, some organizational leaders are still hesitant to leverage social media due to concerns that they will lose control of their brand and/or their message. What these leaders don’t realize, it seems, is that they don’t really get a vote about that – their brand and messages will be addressed on social media channels with or without their permission, in both ad hoc and organized ways.Turkey’s recent experiences with the government’s failed attempts to ban Twitter (see this and this for details) are a great case in point.
Leaders in organizations of all types – even those that have adopted social media for external purposes – are still generally hesitant to apply social media principles to internal communication and collaboration, particularly when it comes to sensitive subjects like employment policies. Even advocates of open communication sometimes find it hard to let go of the desire for control. But limiting conversations through official forums doesn’t stop the conversations – it just causes people to take them somewhere else. And when the conversations happen through unofficial channels, they’re much more likely to create and perpetuate inaccuracies, misperceptions, and misunderstandings.
Recommendation: Though organizational leaders cannot control the conversations taking place on social platforms (both external and internal), the wise move is to not only allow those conversations, but to encourage them – and to respond in appropriate ways. The loss of control is a bit of a paradox, because it actually creates the opportunity for more control - maybe not of the conversation, but of the subject of the conversation itself, which is far more important. Especially when the conversation is negative, the experience may not be pleasant, but the opportunity to learn important lessons, share key information, and create needed changes is invaluable.
Developing New Perspectives on Productivity
Social Media Reality Check: Many organizations are still grappling with the question of whether it’s necessary and/or appropriate to block employee access to public social media sites via internal networks. The main arguments for doing so are often that social media is a big time waster, and that people will spend too much time on these sites and not get their work done. I don’t necessarily advocate open access to public social media sites through employer IT networks, but I do think these are specious arguments for a several reasons:
- Given how many people have access to these sites via their mobile devices, blocking access using the organization’s IT infrastructure seems rather pointless from a productivity perspective.
- The people who want to waste time don’t need public social media sites to do so. They can just as easily waste time talking on the phone, talking to coworkers, playing computer games, etc.
- There is some empirical evidence to indicate that taking short breaks during the work day to check in on one’s social networks can actually enhance productivity (see this and this, for example).
It’s also important to remember that the lines between work and non-work have become increasingly blurred as technology continues to advance. We are wired (albeit wirelessly) 24/7/365, virtually no matter where we are in the world. Many organizations have capitalized on this by enabling and expecting employees to work beyond the confines of traditional work spaces and work hours. And though employees are generally willing to accommodate those expectations, they expect some reciprocity in terms of being able to meet some of their personal, non-work needs during the traditional work day. They rightfully fail to see the logic or the fairness in limiting access to digital channels and networks while they’re at work – and as they increasingly feel empowered, they’re increasingly likely to assert their rights, either directly or indirectly.
Recommendation: Rather than focusing on what employees should not or cannot do, organizational leaders would be better off focusing on what employees should do. The social aspects of both external and internal social networks can certainly distract people from their jobs, but those distractions can be minimized by good management, strong accountability and robust performance management standards and systems.
Viewing Social Technology Integration as Mandatory rather than Optional
Social Media Reality Check: Though we are slowly emerging from the Great Recession, organizations of all types are still dealing with its ramifications and trying to adapt to new economic realities. Spending and hiring are still down, and organizations are continuing to try to accomplish more things with fewer resources.
The “I/We don’t have time” argument is raised by many individuals and organizations as a reason they have not become more involved with social media. In our “always on” society, it’s hard to imagine how we’re going to add more priorities and activities to our personal and professional lives. But social technology is increasingly becoming an integral aspect of how business is conducted, and the sooner organizations recognize and respond to this inevitability, the sooner they will be able to reap the benefits. It is no longer a question of if but when.
I am regularly reminded that people view social media engagement as an independent initiative, something else that needs to be addressed. With their To Do lists already full, they are delaying action on social media because they haven’t figured out how to allocate the time and attention they think it needs. But for both individuals and organizations, social technologies can and should be integrated into virtually all aspects of work life and organizational functioning as soon as possible. Viewing digital engagement as a separate initiative not only fails to recognize its true value, it’s also costly in the long run. For example, if social technologies are not adequately considered in the early stages of an initiative (e.g., the introduction of a new brand, the creation of a new website, a complex client engagement or other project), performance is likely to be sub-optimal, and people are likely to have to undo and redo some of their work to incorporate those elements later on. Though it may seem like more effort in the short term, addressing the social technology aspects of various initiatives is in the long-term best interests of organizations.
Recommendation: Organizational leaders and other professionals need to identify how social technologies will help them achieve their strategic goals and objectives and should incorporate social media elements into all initiatives that can benefit from them as soon as possible. Laying the foundation for and leveraging social technologies sooner than later can increase revenues and reduce expenses by maximizing efficiency and effectiveness and increasing productivity.
As always, let me know if I’ve missed something or something seems unclear. And please feel free to share your thoughts on other social media reality checks and mental shifts you think organizational leaders need to make to better enable them to move ahead. Thanks!