On January 18th I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Philadelphia Chapter of The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) to discuss social media from an inside out perspective.
In preparing my slides, I recalled a time when I was trying to implement social media and the process I used to do so. It was about 2006 and to my surprise, I received full management and legal support for a blog-a challenge for most even today. Looking back, I was lucky that our CMO had foresight and that our management and legal teams trusted me enough to do something that most Fortune 500 companies were not doing at the time (I handled our PR, too, which probably had something to do with it).
I was worried about a change of mindset as the word of a blog spread, so I dove in as quickly as I could. I had the blog set up (with the CMO's help), wrote a bunch of posts (legal and marketing approved, of course), and tapped into our industry thought leaders (who were all for it) for on-going content. With all of that work, you would my efforts would have been a success, right? Nope. The content was ready, but the blog sat empty. While I understood the cultural limitations of a large company and I knew the goals of our management team, I did not account for some internal resistance or the final gatekeepers who put the brakes on my hopes for being social with our customers. A big lesson learned.
Do you see what went wrong? I had assumed that all I needed was management, legal and thought leader support. I looked up, not around.
Getting Started with Internal Social Media
Being successful at social media internally takes more than appropriate approvals, especially if you want to be successful long-term. It takes internal business, communication and political skills as well as all sorts of "-logical" skills (sociological, psychological, anthropological, ethnological, etc.). You may think "it's just a blog," but to others it might be a threat, a challenge, a narcissism vehicle, a new experience, a window into their department, etc.
To get started with social media, it would benefit organizations to implement it internally first in order to get comfortable with the concepts of authenticity, transparency (or translucency), knowledge transfer, and being openly social with each other and across departments.
Corporate Culture Assessment
To determine if you organization is ready for social media; you first need to determine what the culture is like. Many people (including the media) herald companies like Dell and Zappos for their social media successes, but you have to realize, being social was forced on Dell and Zappos was built on a culture that serves the customer first. Here are a few things to consider:
- What's the internal chemistry like? Rivalry or Rapport?
- Are customers (internal and external) the number one focus? Or is it one's agenda?
- Who controls the budget?
- What's the political scene?
- Are employees social?
- What's the level of collaboration?
- Do you work for a social organization?
- Do you have management support?
- Do you have gatekeeper support?
- Do you know your customers?
- What's the level of risk?
I am a huge fan of Ranjay Gulati, author of "Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business" and Harvard University Professor. He pushes organizations to understand why being customer-centric can reap them many rewards including meeting ever-changing customer needs, bridging internal silos, and increasing revenues in a down economy. Other than great examples of customer-centric organizations, "Reorganize for Resilience" provides five key levers that help create a resilient organization. Not only are these levers key for employee-customer relations, but also for internal employee relations (from Dr. Gulati's site):
- Coordination: connect, eradicate, or restructure silos to enable swift responses
- Cooperation: align all employees around the shared goals of customer solutions
- Clout: redistribute power to "bridge builders" and customer champions
- Capability: develop employees' skills at tackling changing customer needs
- Connection: blend your offerings with partners to provide unique customer solutions
Effective Social Media Practices
There are social media practices that work not only effectively externally, but also internally. It is important for the team implementing social media to understand that social media is not about control, but effective practices that help to create a social culture. Developing this culture will create a platform of success when the organization is ready for external two-way communications. Consider the following:
- Brand promise
- Building relationships
- Collaboration and knowledge transfer
- Two-way communications
- Actually being social
- Embracing feedback
- Real-time engagement
- Preparation for the unknown
Agility is not something most organizations are comfortable with, let alone have experience in practicing. Internal social media is a great way to build and flex communication muscles. But, there are a few things to understand.
- Spray and pray is passé
- Your customers are tired of being bombarded
- Get outside of yourself
- Find your brand evangelists (yes, they are out there!)
- Learn how to adapt (your customers will thank you)
- Find and seize opportunities
- Plan, plan, plan, but...
- Be flexible
- Develop a policy (but not one that strangles your efforts)
Social skills, when honed internally, will make any organization successful with their external social media efforts.
What would you add? What have you experienced?