Sep 28 2009
Why Corporate America Keeps Rejecting Social Media
It seems like every organization in America wrestles with social media adoption (suit image by brennuskrux). The running joke is that more than 60,000 social media experts have sprung up on Twitter to help these companies and nonprofits engage. Yet corporate failure rates have reached astounding rates as high as 70, 80 and even 90 percent, according to analyst firms like Forrester and eMarketer. The first era of corporate social media has been marred by great failure.
When we examine the “Great Social Failure” many leaders like David Armano, Beth Kanter and Charlene Li examine organizational cultures. Some like to blame control, but the depth of antisocial behavior requires a much more in depth look at the cultural structures of today’s corporations and nonprofits to uncover the many pitfalls they face in adapting to the modern media environment.
This roundup surveys many of the common problems leading to the many failures organizations have incurred. Whether it’s overarching strategy, department-by-department interaction and policies, or common general mistakes like message control, there are many seeds that create antisocial organizations.
The Great Social Failure
The general corporate and nonprofit movement towards social media in the past few years has become deafening, yet challenged by sporadic successes (image by D’arcy Norman). It is apparent from online and offline discussion that there are still great challenges to social media adoption. There’s no greater example of this than the enormous challenges the Obama Administration is facing in moving the government into the web 2.0 era.
In many ways the battle to adapt social has little to do with the technologies and two-way communications methods behind them. Instead organizations are confounded by their own industrial structures, manifested by departmental silos and legal policies designed to ensure workflow and protect the organization from getting sued.
The social media change could be classified as part of an overall corporate management shift caused by the information revolution sparked by the Internet. This began with the wide-scale deployment of the World Wide Web and email in the nineties. That revolution has antiquated industrial corporate structures, forcing extended networks of information flow, which in turn has created decentralized workforces, suppliers, and distribution networks.
It only makes logical (and linear) sense that our communications would follow suit with two way interaction as anyone with a cell phone can now publish information on the fly. The communications movement towards social media represents a natural progression of the information age. As such corporate structures are straining to adapt, just as they did in the nineties. For example, consider how human resources departments have had to move towards talent management principles in order to remain relevant in an era of widespread information.
When a new competency is embraced by a larger entity, it is the nature of a corporate organization to turn that group into a department. So corporations have attempted to put social media in a box. The siloization of social media within communications departments and their agencies represents a strategic error. If social is truly the interaction of people, and the exchange of their information and culture, then you can’t put people in a box and expect success. Culture rarely subsists in a container successfully. Integration is the key.
Barriers Part I – Organization-Wide Missteps
These general cultural missteps represent some of the more common errors of organizations (image by rpongsai). If awareness leads to better efforts, then keeping these barriers in mind can help organizations succeed in their particular social media efforts.
Control – While control represents the systematic organizational effort to protect and avoid mistakes, perhaps fear is the right term. Fear of failure, of software viruses, of lawsuits, of looking bad, of losing power, etc. drives the need to control. At the same time, fear manifested as control turns social interactions into silence or over-contrived communications and on the in-bound side, deaf ears and deleted comments.
One thing about people, they don’t like being controlled. And in a world of micromedia – social networks, blogs, wikis – etc., there are so many choices, it’s easy for people to avoid corporate control and, in some cases, lash out against it.
Authenticity – Authenticity still seems to be a big issue online. Consider how many organizations say they are social and care about their customers or volunteers, etc, while in actuality their online conversations rarely (if ever) penetrate the executive suite. Worse, while the social media representative may care, they can’t penetrate the deafening silos in their organization to act on behalf of the enterprise’s extended network.
For an organization to be considered authentic online?and in reality? it needs to walk the talk. That means building modern processes to allow for information and action to flow across the organization.
Self-centered marketing – Most organizations make the mistake of using social media as a strictly self-promotional tool. They publish links and content, talk about themselves and their products. Is it any wonder that they often get little traction?
To be successful means that as a Chief Marketing Officer, a strategist or simply an online community advocate, the social media effort musts top using tools to publish the same old propaganda. Organizations must have the discipline to step back and create a true value proposition (or strategic offering, for people freaking out on semantics) that touches the hearts of their stakeholders. To do that organizations must find, listen and understand the people with whom they want to communicate. Then they have to inspire and compel them to act.
Shiny Object Syndrome – Many organizations engaging in social media start with Shiny Object Syndrome. This causes companies, nonprofits and individuals to adapt the latest social communications tool based on peer pressure, buzz, or a strange desire to be one of the first.
Shiny Object Syndrome usually begins with someone saying, “I read about Twitter today in the N.Y. Times. Why don’t we have an account, Jane?” Of course, Jane creates the Twitter account. Then when she shows it and her six followers to executive X, the response is, “Great, send them links and tell them about our web site!” One month later, Jane still has only six followers, and no new web site traffic: Another victim of Shiny Object Syndrome. Unfortunately, while in the short term placating a need to play with the newest communications toy, Shiny Object Syndrome can create terrific wastes of money. That in turn, can create terrible consequences for organizations.
Personal Brand Conundrums – Small businesses and consultants often feature an individual as the face of the company. But companies and organizations that want to market on the social web for the long term need to deploy teams. Departures with notable personal brands like Robert Scoble and Jeremiah Owyang hurt companies more than they help.
With multiple voices, a corporate social media effort can survive the departure of a personality, focus on its core corporate mission, and not lose a step with its community. Further, teams provide a better demonstration that the entire company is committed to social media, as opposed to “letting Bob experiment with that funny stuff.” This allows them to avoid the pitfalls of a “personal brand” departure and nurture a social media presence built to last.
Barriers Part II – Click here to read “Top Five Organizational Silos Preventing Success.”
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