Social media allowed the social to scale beyond anything that we've ever seen before. To succeed in leveraging social media and the inevitable invasion of the social in everything we do, we need some new management thinking.
Let me illustrate my point by using the example of three companies who are trying to sense and respond to what's being said about them in the social media space.
Company A (all three companies are real Fortune 200 companies) has a head of social media who has a sophisticated social media monitoring solution. The last time I spoke with him he was ready to toss out the whole system. The reason? Even though they had developed sophisticated workflow processes to ensure that the right department would respond to the online chatter, he felt like the system was not working. They were monitoring what was being said about them, but they were not engaging. Interestingly enough, a few weeks later I ran into an employee from that same company who was in sales support for one of the product-lines and he had developed his own Yahoo! pipes to filter chatter about his product - he didn't want to use the corporate system.
Company B is fairly happy with its engagement in social media. They too have a sophisticated social media monitoring solution with a process-heavy workflow system in the background. The reason that they feel good about what they are doing is because they have a dedicated team of people who engage with customers, prospects and detractors in various social media circles. Their biggest frustration? That they cannot manage to create a coordinated company response when something bubbles up - it always ends up being an uncoordinated response by a number of individuals.
Company C developed a very simple monitoring tool that can easily be configured by individuals. It has no workflow system in the background and does not produce the sophisticated reports that you can bring to your staff meeting every week. They encourage all employees to download the little app, monitor what they think is important and engage where appropriate and without embarrassing the company. Their program is hugely successful and the company is very happy with the results. They embraced the messy side of the social and harnessed the power of emergence that comes with it.
When faced with leveraging the social in business we need new management thinking. In large distributed companies, people in the trenches don't trust that corporate knows what they should be listening for, and they will not spend any of their own social capital to respond to things that they don't feel is response-worthy. They feel like they know their business and customers better than anybody else and want to do it themselves. Unfortunately not everyone can configure their own Yahoo! pipes and so much of the sensing goes unanswered when controlled from the top down. The other thing to realize is that from a customer or prospect point of view, they could care less about coordinated corporate responses - they like to hear from people. What's wrong if three people try to help you when you have a problem? You feel special - much more so than if you get a corporate-speak laden anonymous response from a faceless organization.
Lesson learned: Embrace social messiness, leverage the power of emergence, and let go of top down processes. Let people connect with people.
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