Organizing for Social Media

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on June 9, 2010

As companies move beyond the one-off social media campaign, or outsourcing social media altogether, it’s important to think about what it means for the way that they structure their organization and their work.  When you’re simply taking traditional PR campaigns and using some new channels to reach your audience, the organizational impact is pretty limited.  But the most advanced companies today have moved beyond the campaign and the buzz, and are thinking about how to use social methods and tools to collaborate more deeply with all their business stakeholders.

Before you accuse me of speaking in industry buzz, let me unpack that last sentence:

“… using social methods and tools to collaborate more deeply with all their business stakeholders.”

Simply put, the old model of business looks something like this:

  • Company makes product.
  • Company puts product on shelf.
  • Customer buys product.
  • The end.

That model has been completely and forcefully upended in the music, publishing and electronic media industries.  And it’s in the process of being upended everywhere, in every industry.  Rather than trying to resist the consumer revolution (and inevitably, eventually losing), many companies are now trying to leverage the same forces that have been destructive elsewhere, and making them into a competitive advantage in their own organizations.

That means more than just executing a campaign; it means building social/collaborative concepts into all of your key business processes. Depending on your industry and your company, it might look like:

  • Relying more heavily on strategic partnerships to reach more consumers, more quickly
  • Engaging customers in your product development and distribution process
  • Turning your supply chain into partners rather than just vendors
  • Thinking holistically about how your product – AND the way it’s delivered – AND the way it’s serviced – impacts your consumers’ total experience
  • Treating more (if not all) of your employees as innovation agents, product developers, customer service agents, business developers and marketing evangelists

Those transitions introduce all kinds of new tensions into an organization – starting with the most basic tension: Control vs. Groundswell.

Corporations are traditionally structured to behave in a top-down, control-oriented, governance-focused manner.  It’s a paternalistic organization based on the fundamental of deriving efficiency from consistency and control.  And there’s an imbalance of decision-making authority at the top of the org chart.

Social media is all about grass-roots, from-the- ground-up, decentralization and a balance of decision-making authority that’s spread more evenly throughout the company.

If you ask most senior executives how the business runs, they can pull out an org chart, and walk you through it.  But most of them know in their gut that, once you get “off paper and into the real world,” no business runs the way the org chart says it should.  It runs based on networks, relationships, and to some extent processes that can be (but seldom are) mapped, understood and leveraged.

But when companies undergo that process, it means that every department has to start thinking differently about what its work really is …

  • HR needs to think about how to take those informal networks and empower them to be more efficient.  They need to think about how to identify measure and reward collaborative behavior and sharing of power.
  • IT needs to think about new kinds of risks relative to information security and employee access levels – and supporting a toolset that doesn’t just exist inside the firewall.
  • The legal department needs to think about how to manage (not control!) risk in an environment where power and authority is more distributed.  They need to think about how to manage intellectual property in a world of “crowdsourcing.”

And the list goes on.  If you’re reading this, your company is probably trying to figure some of these things out right now.  How is your organization collaborating today?  Does that collaboration go beyond the campaign?  Are your employees deeply engaged with each other and their internal and external stakeholders?

I just participated in a webcast with Larry Weber (W2 Group) and Steven Goldbach (the Monitor Group) on this very topic … you can listen to the archived version here.  My question for you:

How are you organizing for social media?  Would love to hear your answers – or your recommendations for companies who’re doing this really well – in the comments!

By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

Find me on: Twitter
Pre-Commerce Check out W2O Group President Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on! Join the conversation #precommerce.

3 Responses

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  1. Very well said, Greg. A good read for employers, manufacturers, service providers and any company or individual interacting with the public.

  2. This is a great post by Greg. I was on the conference call and thought what he had to say rang true, to today’s social/corporate landscape. as Dir. MarCom for a Device company, I can say entering the social landscape had it’s challenges, and in some ways still does, but I am ok with that, as MedDevices are much later on the curve of social media entrants than some of those DTC companies. The “old” approach Greg mentions of using PR and RSS feeds on social channels is very appropriate for the risk conscious device company. It allows them to at least enter without giving the regulatory folks a heart attack. It is the latter strategy of actually using the Social Community to facilitate and stimulate a conversation about your brand that is elusive to many.

  3. Thanks to Carol and SocialOrtho for your comments! It’s true that companies who are sensitive to risk can have a harder time entering the social space … but in some ways I feel that their more sophisticated understanding of risk can position them ahead of some of their more “adventurous” brothers in DTC.
    I think that that the health industry (even the pieces that think of themselves today as purely B2B) is going to start evolving quickly … and there is a lot of opportunity for smart, risk-conscious companies to lead the way. Thanks again for engaging here!

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