What We’re Missing re: Social Media

I enjoy watching the conversations about Social Media: who should be in charge of it, what it should be used for, whether it’s a good or bad thing, if it’s a trend that’s going away (some hope), etc. The hand-wringing is endless and misses a major point: social media used as a new play in your 20-year old communications playbook is bound to fail.

For Social Media to accomplish the promised results in productivity, connectivity, and progress it has to be paralleled by a (r)evolution within the organization.

  • Social interactions on the net are blind to internal silos. Companies that are using social media effectively aren’t worried about a negative tweet arriving at the wrong department. They recognize that the audience doesn’t care that there’s a complaints department for that. Whoever is monitoring that feed is empowered to get it fixed. Now. Irrespective of which department is supposed to be in charge of that sort of thing.
  • Social Media doesn’t care about your carefully crafted message. It doesn’t care about your talking points, or your planed roll-out strategy. It will tell you immediately if your plan isn’t working and you’d better be able to adjust immediately.
  • Social Media is indifferent to hierarchy. Your title is completely irrelevant to the conversation if you don’t have something authentic to say. You can go ahead and assume that your authority voice isn’t going to work here. Also, your guy in the field who is out there tweeting about how things really are has a lot more credibility than you do.
  • Social Media values authenticity and honesty. If you’re glossing over the truth, you will be found out and discredited.

Is your organization ready to genuinely remove its silos? Flatten the hierarchy? Admit when its wrong and genuinely do everything you can to fix it, immediately? Can your leaders set aside their egos and listen to genuine feedback from customers who are unimpressed by titles? Are you willing to write a new communications playbook and live with the knowledge that all battle plans get thrown out with first contact?

In my experience, unless you can answer yes to all of the above, Social Media is not going to live up to expectations. You can use it as another venue to push out your carefully crafted message and live with your message being ignored. You can wade in and be surprised when people say things you don’t want to hear (and have more credibility than you). Or you can embrace it in parallel with some revolutionary changes to your internal culture.

It’s scary stuff. I fully understand. But there are far-reaching rewards to be had: greater employee engagement and productivity, a high-touch connection to your constituents and customers, unparalleled ability to respond to the market, and the relief that comes with laying down the burden of pretending that you’re infallible.

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