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.
“Don’t just be a “me too” – other companies’ strategies won’t work for you.”
“Your company isn’t Zappo’s. Why are you trying to do the stuff that they do?”
Do you know any corporate execs who would stand up and say that they’d like to be followers? That they’re too scared to try anything that hasn’t been tried before? There aren’t many – even though corporate boardrooms are still full of folks that are looking for “best practices.” If it’s a best practice, that means it’s been done before. And to be honest with you, I think that differentiation and carving out your own path as a company is incredibly important. It’s especially important in social media, which is about being able to form authentic relationships and collaborative platforms – you can’t fake that or do it as someone else.
However, as with each of the truisms we’ve explored thus far in this series, it just ain’t that simple. When you’re dealing with something as new as social media, I generally think that it’s not a bad idea to stand on the shoulders of giants … particularly if you’re able to find a giant in a different industry, and adapt their techniques to your own in order to stand out from your competition. That’s why I have no problem with social media practitioners who read Charlene Li, Clay Shirky, Chris Brogan or Joseph Jaffe and think about how to adapt the case studies they present to their own industry. In fact, even if you’re doing it just as an intellectual exercise, it’s a good one to do. (Even) the most innovative people in the world are inspired by SOMETHING – and often it’s the work of other innovators.
“Me too” can also be a powerful incentive to finally get involved in something new, scary and potentially risky like social media. As an example, even though I feel that Humana had a far more sophisticated social media program than any of its health insurance competitors, we were NOT first in terms of providing service to our members through Twitter - CIGNA and Anthem were already out there ahead of us. Interestingly, though, that proved to be a tremendous obstacle-demolisher – nobody likes to be shown up by their competitors. It also allowed us to study what they were doing pretty carefully, and to create a twitter platform that is (in my completely biased opinion) better and more scalable. USAA was (as far as I know) the first bank that offered its members the ability to deposit checks by taking pictures of them with an iPhone app. Does that mean that Chase was wrong to follow in their footsteps several months later? As a Chase customer, I can tell you my answer: “Heck no!” Being a “me too” from time to time may not give you competitive advantage, but it can often at least enable parity.
There’s another reason that I think “me too” can be just fine as a starting point sometimes: When you’re building organizational capability (aka “trying to learn how to do something”) it’s not a bad idea to practice stuff that people already know how to do. When you picked up tennis, did you just grab a racket and start whaling away? Or did you watch someone else play for a little bit? Or maybe even hire an expert to teach you some basics? Same principles apply in social media … if you’re going to really do it in your company, you’ve got to learn the principles yourselves – and learning from those that have gone before can give you the ability, the credibility and the confidence to be able to branch out and innovate on your own – based on the needs of your business. Maybe the best way to get to “next practices” is to adapt and master “best practices” on the way.
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 #4: “Someone else can do it for you”
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.