But I Don’t WANNA Change!

How many of us have thought (or said) those words? Whether we like it or not, social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with other people. For some that change has been exciting for others it has been exhausting, but for anyone engaged in social media, they have already accomplished one thing – they have changed their behavior.

Clay Shirky has an excellent quote in this short video, where he says, “A revolution doesn’t happen when a society adopts new tools, it happens when a society adopts new behaviors.” This has become a sort of mantra for me – it’s about changing behaviors, it is not about getting people to use a wiki/blog/social networking site, etc.

I recently gave a presentation to a regional International Association of Business Communicators’ (IABC) conference in Philadelphia. The subject was using change management methods to encourage social media adoption within organizations. I was excited to share my ideas about something that I felt way too many social media enthusiasts overlook – the fact that if you expect people to adopt new tools, what you are asking them to do is to fundamentally change their behavior. To do that effectively within an organization you need to use change management.

Dr. John Kotter wrote a revolutionary book in the 1990s called Leading Change. The principles of that book can be found on his website, and what I like about them is that they are universal truths. This isn’t some convoluted graphic model that shows 47 change management processes running in parallel. (Can you tell I hate those?) These are basic principles about human and organizational behavior. It doesn’t matter if you sell shoes, computers, or services, these truths can help your organization transform.

For the IABC presentation, I took Kotter’s principles and applied them to encouraging social media adoption within organizations. During my presentation there were two key questions that really brought home the specific challenges people are facing.

“How do I get my boss to understand that we can use these tools to find new customers?”

Like any good consultant I answered the question with a question. I asked, ‘do you know what social media tools your potential customers are using?’ The answer was no. My advice to this person was – do some research. Don’t just tell your boss, hey, there are people out there using social media and we can sell products to them. Do your research and prove it.

Before you can complain that your company won’t engage in social media, you have to clarify to your boss that there is something tangible to be gained by doing it. Remember, engaging customers is good, but increasing customer loyalty, selling more products, improving customer service – these are ideas any company can get behind.

“My company launched a wiki, but no one uses it. How can I help get people to understand the value of it?”

This is a sad, true statistic – 68% of IT implementations fail. I asked a few follow-up questions, but the gist of the issue was this – IT built it, the communications team wrote an internal memo about it, and that was it. They expected people to just start using this new tool. Of course there were some early adopters (there always are) so the initial results were encouraging, but after a few months usage was way down and no one could understand why.

The answer was simple – you asked people to change the way they behave without giving them a reason to. You didn’t you answer the question “What’s in it for me?” but you also didn’t use change management. Expecting people to change their behavior without understanding the reason for the change or the tangible benefits to them is not realistic.

Here are some key principles to change management, derived from Kotter’s eight common mistakes:

Develop a shared understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve – remember urgency lives where problems exist

  • For social media the key is making sure you are addressing a fundamental business need. Is the goal to train employees, improve morale, or communicate more effectively to a global workforce? Determine the business need and get everyone to agree on it and then you can start talking about solutions.

Gather senior executives, middle management, and junior staff to be the guiding coalition

  • This cannot be a ‘top down’ approach. Gather support from each of the tiers within your organization by helping them understand how this solution will help them. Talk to them about the things that matter to each of them – don’t think one message will work for three different audiences!

Get the naysayers to participate in building the strategy

  • Be sure to engage the traditional naysayers (IT, Legal, etc.) and the late adopters in your organization early and often to address their concerns. You may just make them believers, but at the least you will understand their concerns and reduce their negative influence

Develop a concise and clear change vision – 5 minutes or less!

  • Employees at all levels have to understand what the change is, why it’s happening, and what the goal is. If your boss can’t communicate all of that in 5 minutes, how can he or she expect the employees to talk to each other about it?

Communicate the change vision over and over and over…

  • Consistency is everything – this is no different than any communications strategy. Analyze your audience, develop your messages, and deliver them in multiple ways consistently to build awareness.

Set small, achievable goals to gather momentum

  • Don’t try and do everything at once. Launch one component, get feedback, make improvements, and add functionality. This will show employees that you are listening and building this platform to meet their needs.

Understand this is evolutionary, there is no touchdown dance, just achievement of milestones

  • As you begin to get good news about early adoption, it is easy to sit back and relax on messaging, on rolling out the next feature, etc. DON’T – that is a sure way for the effort to ultimately fail.

Make the change part of the fabric of the organization

  • A key to the success of these enterprise 2.0 solutions is to embed them in the culture. Use the discussion forum to launch initiatives, use profiles to staff projects, use document storage as the only place to find materials. Make the site indispensable to your employees to ultimately have long-term successful adoption.

Remember this key fact – changing behavior is hard. How many times have you tried to lose a few pounds, quit smoking, or stop working on the weekends? Change is difficult for people, so you have to help them understand why changing their behavior will be a good idea for them. Make it about the individual and the organization – do that and you have a chance to really make a difference!

Michael Murray is an Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has helped clients use social media to engage people around the world and in the office across the hall.

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About michael.murray

An Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, I am passionate about helping our clients succeed. I am also keenly aware of what social media can (and cannot) do for my clients, which have included the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Labor. My background in change management, social media, and strategic communications allows me to look at the behavioral side of the social media spectrum in order to encourage the adoption of these tools. My experience includes engaging stakeholders through social networks, wikis, blogs, micro-blogs, websites, intranets, and discussion forums. To encourage adoption of these technologies I implement change management best practices such as developing a shared understanding of the problem and creating a guiding coalition to champion the change.

View all posts by michael.murray

9 Responses to “But I Don’t WANNA Change!”

  1. Shelley Says:

    Very meaningful perspective. Thanks for sharing this, Michael.

    • Michael Murray Says:

      Thanks for the read and comment Shelley!

      This is an area too often overlooked by us social media enthusiasts. We get frustrated about the lack of adoption without asking why the effort isn’t succeeding, and determining how we might be able to help others understand the value of social media in terms they can relate to and that have meaning to them!

  2. Justin M Says:

    This is cool, thanks for the post!

  3. Martijn Linssen Says:

    Michael, good post!Change is wrong though, you give the examples: “lose a few pounds, quit smoking, or stop working on the weekends?” -> those are all negative ways that end something, whereas you should look for positive ways to start somethingIt is the very difference between change and growth, where failure meets success: Growth flows naturally from the inside

    • Michael Murray Says:


      Thanks for the read and comment! You bring up an interesting point on the difference between change and growth. I would agree with you that it is certainly more than a semantic difference. Unfortunately as a consultant we are often put in the position of having to make ‘changes’ to client’s operations, when a more strategic ‘growth’ plan would have made our (now) necessary changes totally unnecessary.

      In your blog you talk about “Company 2.0” and I really like that concept, although I don’t think you can use it as an argument against the size of organizations. Companies, governments, non-profits, etc. will all continue to become larger and more complex; the key is to (as you say) help them ‘grow’ and not change. I like that concept a lot and will be thinking about it more – thank you for making me think! 🙂

  4. Geoff Talbot Says:

    One of the things I think worth considering here is “rate of change” especially with new technology.

    Only a few early adopters can fall in love with a new piece of technology immediately, much like the real relationships, our relationship with new technology takes time, we need to be wooed.

    I think this is the essence of any new communication strategy (that is essential to have) as you undergo internal technology implementation. This is especially so with social Intranets.

    The technology has to also be attractive to the end user (much like a date)… One company that does a good job of allowing organizations to brand their SharePoint Intranet is Emgage… They have a styling tool that allows you to brand in a couple of hours what would normally take a few months.

    Best SharePoint Intranet

    Attraction is the first critical part of engagement


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