Unpacking Social Media Truisms – “The Champion”

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on July 12, 2010

Social media in the enterprise is still in its infancy. As with any significant change in the way business is done, it’s filled with brilliance, innovation, exploration and “next practices.” But it’s also filled with red herrings, misunderstood causes and correlations, and snake oil salesmen. In this series, I’m taking a look at a series of social media “truisms” – the conventional wisdom of the day – and asking some questions about how universally true they really are.

Truism number one: The Champion.

“In order to succeed, you need to have at least one champion at the highest level of the company.”

Have you ever heard that one before?  I bet so – it’s a really prevalent piece of conventional wisdom – and for good reason.  The large corporation of today tends to run on the principles of command and control. The word Governance is a pretty important one, and top-down hierarchies still rule the day.  Introducing social media concepts – which are all about community and collaboration – can create tension inside those big companies.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just something to be aware of when your mission is to change the way a big company works.

Ask the average person inside a big company what it takes to make change happen, and they’ll tell you: “Get the CEO on board.  If she wants it to happen, it’ll happen.”  And that is often true.  Priorities are established at the top – and big companies have succeeded for years because they’ve been able to establish a clear vision and mobilize thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands – of employees to make it happen.

So part of that truism IS true … when you have a senior-level sponsor to any initiative, it’s going to have an easier time going through (unless your organization is wildly dysfunctional politically, in which case you have bigger problems!).

But this truism can also be a crutch.  You’ll find plenty of folks who are willing to sigh, shrug their shoulders, and speak to the inevitability of failure due to the lack of executive sponsorship.  But it doesn’t take much imagination to see through the real reasoning … doing things differently requires a change to existing mindsets, processes and workflows.  And that, almost inevitably, means extra work … so it becomes a lot easier just to say, “no,” no matter what the request is, or what the excuse is.

So consider another possibility – that a lack of executive sponsorship doesn’t automatically consign your project to the corporate rubbish bin.  Consider the possibility that a lack of executive resistance may be enough to get it off the ground.  If you can find a few like-minded people – especially in other departments (executives love to be able to talk about how their team is cooperating cross-functionally), your force of will can be enough to raise some smaller social media experiments off the ground.  And getting something going can be incredibly important, for 3 reasons:

  • You give yourself the possibility for a credibility-building “quick win”
  • There are a lot of social media experiments that can be carried out with a relatively low cost – and low risk.  If you don’t give them a reason to say no, they’re a lot more likely to say, “whatever” – and that’s as good as “yes.”
  • You build understanding, confidence and capability in your organization – that’ll prepare you to take on something bigger – and riskier – in the future.
So if you’re trying to get an initiative off the ground, and you can’t seem to capture the executive champion you’re sure is necessary for success, think about repositioning your initiative as something that doesn’t need support … it just needs the lack of will to kill it.  It may not be enough to take you over the goal line, but it’s almost always enough to get you started.

Has this worked for you?  Has it failed?  Do you have questions about how to make it work in reality?  The comments belong to you – I’d love to hear from you.

And don’t forget to tune in next time for Trusim #2: “You’ve got to have a well-defined strategy, objective and goal before you get started.”

To learn more about the inspiration for this series, check out the case study on Humana’s successful social media model, “The Town Square” or this webinar from the RacePoint Group on Organizing for Social Media – where I was honored to present alongside Larry Weber and Steven Goldbach of the Monitor Group

Superhero Photo by Merlijn Hoek

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

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3 Responses

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  1. Greg – great post!

    I would come in with a similar view point. In hospitals if you want a program/initiative to go anywhere the CEO DOES have to lead it. But I think if you can become the expert and get a few quick wins, like you are saying, you can convince the CEO and other senior leaders that you know what you are doing and this does make sense for the organization.

    But many do have to see the end result to connect the dots.

    – Reed

  2. Jason Yang said

    Thanks for th epost Greg. My $0.02. The “will” comes from a few key people that are often in different business areas and at lower levels of the company. The resources and prioritization come from having the Big Guy on top bless your endeavor. Without both, it’s very tough.

  3. That is a great point, Jason … one of the things I’ve found that passion outweighs positional authority in terms of making things happen – but at some point you definitely hit the wall if you can’t access more resources. The good part is that if you get enough passionate junior people working towards a goal, they usually can show the kind of results that bring resources over the long term. I know that’s what I saw; am guessing that your story is not to dissimilar!

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