Corporations are built of very distinct pieces. People understand their jobs, their duties, and how they will be measured. This very thinking is industrial in nature. It fits well in 1900’s-era thinking. If you are a machinist, your job is to turn out perfect gears. If you are a painter, your job is to paint your parts expertly and waste less paint. But in an age where pretty much everything about humanity is a mash-up (we do “work” in cafes; we build businesses by giving away products for free; we let our customers decide our designs), thinking of our organizations as specific piece parts might be the death of companies in the next few years.
A Complex Interaction With Spillover
My thoughts keep coming back to Rachel Happe from IDC who said that the main benefit and value of social networks (and social media, by extension) is to capture unstructured information that otherwise rushes past without a “bucket” to connect it to the “memory” of an organization. Meaning this: there’s lots of useful information that comes from making social media and using social networks that benefits more than just one “department” at a business.
Let’s illustrate this with an example:
- Ravi posts on his blog that he just bought the Garglesoft Bookreader, and it’s not really all that great for what he wants it to do. He’s mad that it won’t let him download books from other sites that aren’t Garglesoft.
- Natasha in Garglesoft customer relations sees this post in her “listening” RSS feed, and bookmarks it with del.icio.us, such that her colleagues in other departments will get the post in THEIR “listening” feeds.
- Sonya in Garglesoft engineering sees what Ravi’s posted, and realizes that it’s not that the Bookreader can’t do it, but that the feature just isn’t as obvious as it seemed to internal engineers. Sonya Clipmarks the part of Ravi’s post she wants to highlight, drops it into an internal wiki, and then notates for the next release of the app how this might work differently. She twitters (or whatever the enterprise version of Twitter will eventually be) this update to her product management colleagues.
- Sonya then blogs on the Garglesoft Bookreader project blog (an external blog) showing Ravi’s post, and/or posting a screencast step-by-step explanation on how to do what Ravi wants to do. She concludes with a promise to review the feature for the next release of the Bookreader.
- Meanwhile, Ramesh in HR notes that Ravi has lots of great ideas in his previous blog posts, and passes on Ravi’s LinkedIN profile to the software engineering team, to consider Ravi for a future project.
In this example, social networks and social media were used by customer relations, engineering, and HR. We could’ve layered in marketing (perhaps pointing to a collection of helpful how-to videoblog posts, etc), and some other departments, but you get the point, right? It’s more than one department using these tools in concert.
Is It Worth It?
Taking this kind of approach with social networks and social media will eat into the time spent working on products. That’s a reasonable opinion. I can see senior leadership worrying about that, and they’d be right, if their people were off biting chumps on Facebook and not actually interacting with people with an interest in their products and services.
But what better way to stay plugged into the world of your customers than to try and be where they are?
Oh, but this raises another whole point. What if your business is B2B? What if your business is totally offline? What if your business has nothing in common with the Internet’s demographics.
There are still ways to participate with social media. For instance, there are some great B2B blogs out there. There are some great podcasts that give you information on how people approach things in the offline world. You’ve got to look for them, but they’re out there. And besides, if you’re reading the Social Media 100, it’s pretty likely that your customer base is online, or that you’ve already figured out how to approach the offline world with what you learn here.
Playing the Chessboard, not the Piece
Learning to play chess means understanding how all the pieces work in concert. It means understanding how other players might focus on one piece, but neglect others. It means understanding that things set up early in the game might execute later for a more full impact. The same is true with implementing social media practices at an enterprise.
Look at your organization’s informational needs. Don’t start by pushing social media tools down people’s throats, but instead, look for the problems different parts of the organization might need to solve. In my example above, I had Ramesh in Human Resources scanning blogs for potential suitable employees. Can you imagine your organization finding talented people by the media they make online? I know folks who’ve picked up their job from what they’ve put on their blog. (Um, me, for instance).
How does your organization pass information around internally with regards to projects? Could you see them benefitting form reading external sources of information? Do you know which tools would work best for them to aggregate all they’ve learned?
Use Simple Pieces
Would your organization benefit from making media themselves? Why not start them with simple tools like Utterz (which works on any cell phone), and video tools like Magnify or Seesmic , which let you record video straight from your browser using Flash? Just like learning chess, organizations probably should learn simpler tools before moving into something larger. (Although as a side note: thinking about training and then re-training might make one consider their toolset longer before rolling something half-baked out into the world).
How Would YOUR Corporation Integrate Social Media?
Could you see your company building social media and social networking tools into their practices? What would the barriers be? Where would they stumble? Have you tried? What were the results? What was the push back?
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
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Photo credit, dbking