Guest Post- Why Cant We Be Friends

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John MeadowsThis guest post comes from John Meadows, an original thinker and podcaster from Canada. I first met John at PodCamp Toronto, I believe, so it’s fitting that his guest post comes a week before the third installation of that event. John asks why we can’t be friends.

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

It is sadly ironic that for so many social media projects, where the focus is supposed to be on communication and conversation, start off with poor communication between business, consultants and IT. Instead of listening to what the other is saying, we tend to listen to our own stereotypes, no matter what role we are playing in a project.

The folks from I.T. look across the table at the Social Media consultants. They see people who not only don’t understand technology, but don’t see the need to understand technology at a nuts and bolts perspective, and look at it with disdain. They see people who consider hands-on work with servers, networks and application code to have a somewhat menial tinge, as compared to the highly strategic, value-add services provided by the consultants.

For their part, the social media consultants, looking back across the table at the I.T. folks, see people who seem to feel their sacred duty in life is to rain on parades. They are the “Knights who say No” and are never happier then when they can point out flaws and dangers in proposals being presented to them. They are lost in the details, with no appreciation for the grand vision, the big picture.

And in the middle of all this is the business customer; watching I.T. and Social Media go at it, each side lobbing acronyms or buzzwords at each other like mortar shells. He or she feels like a witness to trench warfare, standing forgotten between two implacable foes wondering “Why isn’t anyone listening to me?”

It is hard to see a successful project as an outcome of so much bitter contention. While these role-based generalizations are born of experience (and yes there are I.T. folks who delight in saying no, from sheer laziness or fear of change, just as there are consultants who dismissively see I.T. as cyber-janitors to be threatened with off-shoring if they get “uppity”), these negative experiences only become stereotypes when you apply them to everyone.

How can we get past this? Only by stepping out of our respective comfort zones, and learning about each others concerns and accountabilities as stakeholders. I myself come from the I.T. camp, and can fully appreciate its concerns – long after the designers of a program have moved on, it will be up to an I.T. support organization to keep an application running, make sure it can handle whatever load is thrown at it, and make sure it doesn’t pose a threat to the security and stability of the organization’s infrastructure. The I.T. representatives in a project know full that is a project results in disruption of the infrastructure, or a security breach, they will be the ones on the carpet in front on the CEO; not the social media consultant. The knowledge and expertise of the I.T. professional needs to be leveraged, not dismissed, or avoided as inconvenient.

To address these concerns and needs, a successful social media consultant will either develop some enterprise IT skills on their own, or bring along someone who does have those skills, who can speak and understand the language of Information Technology. Someone who can respond to security questions, discuss the choice of platforms and programming languages. Someone who can be an implementation partner instead of just someone who throws an install disk at I.T. and tells the customer if anything goes wrong it must be a problem caused by the I.T. group.

Now of course, this needs to work both ways. Those of us in I.T. must truly internalize the concept that I.T. assets only have value when they serve the needs goals and strategies of the organization. We need to lift our heads above our keyboards and telnet session windows to take a hard look at how what we do can serve our organizations not just today, but in the future. Being conservative with the I.T. family jewels isn’t a bad thing, but we also need to be receptive to new ideas and new business needs, and find a way to help realize them. Just saying NO reflexively does nothing except reinforce the stereotype. If we have a concern with a proposal or project being pitched by a third party consultant, we need to raise the concern using language the business can understand, and frame what we say in a manner that drives a solution-based discussion. “How can we make this work” rather than “This will never work.” We cannot afford to let our own imaginations atrophy, and we should welcome challenge.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with archeology will be familiar with the Rosetta Stone — an ancient stone artifact with a proclamation in three different languages/writing systems, including a hieroglyphic system that scholars had been struggling to translate. The stone brought the three languages together, and thus allowed the scholars to make great strides in unlocking the hieroglyphic system. If we, both as social media experts and I.T. experts work as hard to understand each other’s languages, concerns and needs, together we can similarly unlock a third language, one of customer success, and sustainable innovation.

And oh, what a lovely language that would be.

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