Aligning Social Business and Organizational Culture

One can login to Twitter, YouTube, Mashable or any number of social networking sites and receive advice on how to use social media tools to improve customer outreach, loyalty and employee engagement.  Some of these posts are mediocre, while others are quite good and provide sound guidance and case studies.  But, they all start with an assumption that social media or social business is an imperative and that all organizations should evolve to this state.   Is this premise correct?

My concern is that in our impatience to encourage organizations to develop social media strategies with appropriate goals and metrics, we have failed to give sufficient focus to the obstacles that they might face.   We do not live in a one size fits all world and yet we sometimes dispense advice as if this was the case.

At a cloud computing conference I recently attended, I heard several speakers promote the value of private clouds and talk about how control was shifting back to the end-users.  They postulated that the role of the IT department was evolving into negotiating services rather than supplying them.   Amidst the facts and figures about money to be saved and speed of delivery, the question arose to the obstacles cloud computing faces.  Without hesitation, the speakers all agreed that organizational culture was the biggest hurdle; it is not the technology that is hard to install, it is the people and culture that are difficult to change.  This same argument has also been given for why some social networks and collaborative implementations work and others don’t.

So what is organizational culture and why is it so difficult to change?  Organizational culture encompasses things that are typically taken for granted by those who exist within that culture.  They include underlying assumptions and norms, expectations, and collective stories or memories.   Cultures may be personified by logos and mission statements and are even reflected in the design of buildings or office campuses.  They convey a sense of identity and provide unwritten guidelines about how things get done.  In many cases people are not truly aware of their distinct culture until it is challenged or they experience a culture that is quite different.

Although organizational culture may be difficult to change, it can be classified and measured.   One widely used organizational cultural framework states that there are 4 archetypes of organizational culture.  Each is typified by different leadership styles, values and beliefs about effectiveness.   They are:

  1.  Internally focused hierarchical/control based cultures
  2.  Internally focused collaborative or clan cultures
  3.  Externally focused competitive or market cultures
  4.  Externally focused innovation based cultures.

While there are two internally focused cultures, a hierarchical culture is concerned with control systems and coordination while a collaborative culture places the emphasis on interpersonal relationships.  The externally focused market culture puts a priority on managing customer service and competitiveness, while the innovative culture is more concerned about the future and managing discovery and innovation.  Each will react very differently to the imposition of social business programs.

While there is no question that social is the way business will be done in the future, there is clearly a need to understand the culture into which it will be driven.   It is important to assess one’s starting point.  Culture change is possible, but it has to be thoughtful, tailored and it will not happen overnight.  Furthermore, this change will require a leadership vision that enables the organization to move from where it is, to where it needs to be.  And depending on the current culture, this might be a short distance or a very long road!

Modified from a blog originally posted by the author in

Surviving the Future: How to Build a 21st Century Organization

We currently live in a hyper connected world characterized by 24/7 access to global communications, with social networks providing ability to self publish and be heard.  We carry more compute power on smart phones than early computers and possess access to information previous generations could not imagine.  Yet, for many organizations, culture and business processes have not kept up.  While business causal has replaced suits and digital has replaced paper, it is not clear that today’s organizations know how to accommodate the more open, collaborative processes that the Internet has fostered and new cohorts of employees expect.

Many companies came of age with hierarchical structures and command and control leadership.   Boundaries were clear and roles rigid.  Yet, despite vast technological change and shifts in how work gets done, many organizational designs  put in place in the last century are still with us.

What should you do?  The following are some steps HR, Marketing and business leaders should take to change culture and processes and, ultimately, enable their businesses to remain competitive.  Social media and social business are transforming the world of work and the only organizations that will thrive are those that have figured out how to use new technologies to their advantage.

  1.  Devise a plan to intelligently implement virtual work and virtual teams.  Despite the recent controversy, they are not going away!  Co-location is necessary for certain jobs, but many knowledge based workers can work virtually with existing technology.    Virtual workers also have a smaller carbon footprint, organizations save money on infrastructure costs and older workers or those with work/life demands can be accommodated.
  2.  Redesign jobs to be modular and allow workers to utilize skills on projects anywhere in the organization.  This  makes good use of human capital, solves skill shortages and can lead to greater productivity and satisfaction among employees.
  3. Redefine the role of leaders.  Encourage leaders to find ways of engaging and not just be seen as ensconced in their offices behind traditional gatekeepers.
  4. Empower employee collaboration.  Provide employees a seat at the table, get their feedback and listen to their suggestions.  They can provide valuable insights and intelligence about trends, competitors and emerging needs.
  5. Train all employees on new technologies.   Many older adults have embraced social networks.  Don’t assume only the  millennials will get it.
  6. Provide guidelines on social media.  Make sure the rules are clear and consequences for bad behavior spelled out.  Your firm’s reputation and brand may depend on this.
  7. Include clients in networks and make innovations more  collaborative.   Social networks are about relationships and collaboration.   Clients’ voices should be heard. They can help articulate their needs and shape new offerings.

We live in a global, fast paced, information rich and boundary spanning era.  We need to create organizations that reflect this.  Otherwise, our businesses will go the way of the fax machine and rotary phone.  They still exist, but no longer serve the purpose they once did.

What do you think?  Contact us at or  call us at 914 234 3917 if you need a road map to the future, training or even implementation assistance.  We can help!  We can also be reached on Twitter @digitalcultured.

6 Questions to Answer Before Engaging In Social Media Marketing

With so much hype around social media, many business and marketing executives are rushing to use social media platforms for their organizations.  They are putting up Facebook pages, getting Twitter handles and brushing up their LinkedIn company profiles.  Unfortunately, many of these executives are going straight to executing tactics without putting sufficient effort into creating the right strategy for their businesses.  While these initiatives may succeed, often they miss the mark.   Before engaging in social media marketing, it is a good idea to first address the following questions:

  1. What are your objectives?  Why does your business need to invest in social media?  Do you want to improve your brand, find new customers, gain market insights or simply improve relationships with existing customers?  The choice of platform and tactics wll differs depending on the answers.
  2. Who are your target audiences and how will you attract them?  Even if you build something great, you will need a way to get the right kinds of people to engage.
  3. How do social media initiatives tie in with your other marketing programs?  Social media needs to part of an integrated strategy.  It should complement and reinforce your other communications and branding messages.  It might have a slightly different tone and target audience, but should not fight against other communications.
  4. Do you have the resources or a plan in place to not only create social media vehicles, but to care and feed them and keep them current?  You may need to hire a community manager or assign someone to focus on this.
  5. What metrics are you going to use?  You need to measure whether you are achieving what you are trying to achieve.  You may want to adjust your actions based on what the metrics are showing.   The sooner you can figure out what is working and what is not, the faster you can achieve success.
  6. Have you engaged with your employees and solicited their help?   Remember that whatever you put out there your employees, as well as, your clients will have access to.  Employees can be powerful brand advocates if properly trained and motivated.

Social media can be a powerful tool for your business, but you need to approach it thoughtfully and thoroughly. Having a social media strategy in place, before you act, is usually a very good idea!

10 Tips on How to Handle Social Media Policies

Social media is not just for large companies and can be used  by companies of all sizes to create on-line presence, monitor brands, and improve customer service.  Small companies have found success leveraging Twitter and blogs and others have grown exponentially based on well crafted or viral YouTube videos.

Organizations are also using social media to improve employee engagement, locate hard to find candidates, improve communications, promote virtual work and remove geographic barriers.  There are benefits to having employees participate in social media, but to maximize success and avoid embarassing employee actions, business leaders need to:

1.      Recognize and reinforce the positive role  employees  play in shaping a company’s on-line brand.  They can serve as brand ambassadors, promote core values and new products.

2.      Communicate to employees what is expected and how they should engage in social media.
If employees are not aware of what the company brand stands for, they might inadvertently hurt the brand or alienate current and future customers.

3.      Understand how social media can be misused by employees and develop the appropriate social media guidelines and policies.

4.      Train employees and managers on what the  guidelines mean and the specific actions they should take or not take.

5.      Implement and monitor.  Reward those who comply and punish those that don’t.

If you are writing a policy remember:

6.      If a social media user is not an official company spokesperson they should add a disclaimer and state that the opinions and positions expressed are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of their company.

7.      Social media users need to respect their audience and not use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the workplace.

8.      Guidelines need to address sticky issues such as whether  managers should be allowed to friend their employees and vice versa.

9.      Guidelines should be specific, policies that are too broad can be misinterpreted

10.   Protect your company and brand.  Ensure employees do not disparage employers in public.

What are your  concerns about having employees engage in social media and how have you addressed this?  Please share your comments on Twitter @dccTips or Facebook at dccUpdate.

Profiting from Effective Social Media

I was recently interviewed by Adela Ondruskova, Director Professional Training, marcus evans, in preparation for a  social media training session I am running for them in December.  The questions focused on how to capitalize on ROI driven social media marketing campaigns and the need for effective social media strategies and implementation.  Attached is the interview.

Q: Andrea, can smart social media strategy be considered a powerful source of competitive advantage? How? Are current corporations aware of the potential?

A: Yes, smart social media strategy can definitely be considered a source of competitive advantage.  By allowing companies to effectively and inexpensively reach new markets, create new brand identities, develop and test new products, provide superior customer service and better understand customer and market needs, companies that use social media can definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  I believe many companies are aware of the potential but have let resistance to change or fear hold them back.

Q:  Why do you say that it may now be a requirement?  What has changed?

A:  The stakes have definitely changed.  When television was first introduced, companies transitioned ads from radio to the new medium.  When Internet commerce was first introduced, consumers and organizations discovered a whole new way to buy and sell.  I think social media represents a similar transition.  The old ways will remain, but a new and powerful way of doing business has emerged.  To ignore it will put companies at a disadvantage and may relegate them to failure.

Q: In your opinion, can social media improve your online reputation?

A: Social media has the power to both improve and hurt reputations.  Not being aware of what is being said about one’s company is problematic.  There are many examples of companies who were hurt because they did not know how to effectively counter negative publicity in a world where things can go viral and anyone can publish.  On the other hand, a well crafted campaign that fully utilizes the potential of on-line communities and networks can work wonders for a brand.

Q: What are some of the concerns that companies have as they implement social media solutions?

A:  Unlike traditional forms of marketing where the power resides in the hands of the marketers and their carefully crafted messages or programs, social media shifts the power to those receiving the messages. It is not a passive medium but is about participation and collaboration.  Companies need to be comfortable giving up control.  In addition, organizations need to understand that their employees can be powerful brand ambassadors and that they too are participating in social networks.  Employees need to have training and social media guidelines need to be in place so that employees have an understanding of what appropriate and inappropriate behavior is in this context.

Q: What are the main advantages of the current “digital culture”?

A:  I believe we are entering an era in business where boundaries are being broken and communications are shifting from one-way to two-way.  From a product development perspective it allows for more creativity and collaborative innovation.  For customers, a digital culture allows their voices to be heard and for them to get the kind of service and support that rarely exists anymore.  And for employees, a digital culture provides them with greater participation, access to decision makers and thought leaders and hopefully results in greater satisfaction and loyalty.  A digital culture is the antithesis of the traditional bureaucratic organization where power, information and control are invested in the hands of a few.

Q:  What do see as the “next big thing” in terms of social media? 

A:  I think the whole area of mobile computing and location based services will take social media to the next level.  We have already seen the popularity of sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla and with Facebook getting in the game, it is clear that there will be an explosion in the use of these capabilities for product promotions, contests, etc.  In fact with the exponential growth in smart phone usage, I think phones will soon become the primary way most of us access social media sites.

Q:  Do you see any downside of this explosion in social media and mobile communications?

 A:  Social media is a tool, and like all tools it can be misused.  I think it is important to have privacy limits and make sure that there are not abuses.  There will always be unscrupulous individuals and organizations that do the wrong thing.  I believe we will see governing bodies emerge so that this is monitored and punishments are levied.  The good thing about this medium is that it is open, so when things are not done properly complaints are raised quickly and loudly.  We have seen both Google and Facebook stumble and correct themselves and I am sure there will be many others who attempt do to objectionable things and get quickly chastised.

 Q:  What is your unique perspective on this?

 A:  I have a fairly unique perspective in that I have worked cross-functionally, holding leadership roles in Human Resources, Communications and Marketing.  This has enabled me to understand the complexity of introducing this type of change in organizations.  I have also spent the majority of my career in technology and have worked on cutting edge strategies that have fundamentally shifted the way business gets done and messages are communicated. While, I understand the traditional way marketing, communications and advertising operate; I also recognize the benefit of introducing new capabilities into the mix.  My perspective is holistic, with a focus on integrated marketing and end-to-end organizational strategy.  Finally, while I understand the current environment, my work on future trends has also given me the insight into where things are heading.

 Q: What are the key areas you will cover in the training course? What will be the main takeaways for the training attendees?

A Participants will learn how social media is changing business, communications and marketing and will understand what works, what doesn’t work and why.  They will learn how to improve brand perception and manage online reputations, better target marketing efforts, gain insights into customers and competitors, leverage YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social network channels and understand mobile applications and how they are changing the game.