Tag Archives: buy-in

Why Social Media is Scary

As one of my company’s social media leads, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a wide range of people about social media.  From our most senior VPs to senior executives within the government to our summer interns, every group has their own set of questions, concerns, and pre-conceived notions about social media and what it means for them.  Over time though, I’ve realized that they all one thing in common.  They could all agree on one thing.

Social media is scary.

Let me tell you why.  Businesses and our government are structured in a very hierarchical way – everyone is part of an org chart, everyone has a boss, and everyone is working to get to the next level.  Why?  Because inevitably, the next level brings more pay, more power, more respect, and more influence.  In the current organizational structure, everyone’s role is nicely identified on the org chart and with that, there is a structured way to act.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever said or have been told something like, “you can’t contact him directly – get in touch with your manager first,” or “draft an email for me to send to him,” or even better, “talk to “Public Affairs and Legal to get that approved before sending it out.”

The problem with this structure is that social media renders these traditional roles and responsibilities obsolete.  It introduces unpredictability and opportunity, unauthorized emails and tremendous insights, inappropriate language and humor.  Social media gives everyone a voice, whether they want it or not.

That’s a scary concept.

  • For junior employees – “Yeah, that’s great that I can start a blog that everyone in the organization can read, but what will I say?  What if my grammar is wrong or I spell something wrong – will people think I can’t write?  What if I disagree with something that my manager says?  What if I write too much and my boss wonders why I wasn’t working?  I don’t know – I’ll have to really think about it.”
  • For developers, programmers and other IT staff – “Ummm, I became an IT programmer because I hate people.  I don’t like speaking out, and really enjoy just coding and sticking to myself.  Now, you’re making me blog about my work?  I have to post my code to a wiki?  But, I can’t – it’s not ready for prime time yet.  I can’t just post draft content out there – let me get my manager to review this first.”
  • For managers – “So, how much time is my staff going to be spending blogging/reading blogs rather than doing actual work?  If my staff have questions about their project, their career, or their work environment, I want them coming to me, not blogging about it for the whole world to see.  I’ve got an MBA and have been with the organization for five years – why would I put my work out there for people to change and mess up?”
  • For senior leadership – “What happens when people start using these platforms to just complain about everything?  Why would I want to give everyone a place to whine about every little thing that’s bothering them?  I can’t possibly keep up with every comment, question, and suggestion that goes up – I don’t have the time to do that!”

At the heart of all these questions is an underlying fear of the unexpected. People now have a voice, a freedom to say what they want and talk to whomever they want.

In the traditional business culture of org charts, everyone is relegated to their role and everyone lives by that – it is very easy (and fits nicely onto a PowerPoint slide).  Before we had social media at my organization, if we got an email from someone we didn’t know, all we had to go on was their directory listing – “ohhh, I just got an email from one of our Principals – I’ll have to ask my manager if it’s ok to respond directly to them or not.”  Now, I can click on anyone’s name and see not only their entire bio and a picture, but also their entire history of contributed intellectual capital(IC).  I can see their blog postings, their wiki edits, their bookmarks, and their skillset.  I’ve gotten this a lot lately as people within my organization have tried to say that they’re social media “experts” yet I can click on their name and find out they haven’t blogged, they’ve made one wiki edit, and they’ve only logged into our social media platform once.  Really?  You’re a social media “expert?”  Thanks, but I’ll pass and contact the guy in San Diego who has been editing the wiki like a fiend, adding great IC on social media.

Social media allows people to easily subvert the traditional organizational hierarchy.  Whereas that title or degree that followed your name used to be all the authority you needed, you’re now being judged by what, if anything, you’ve contributed.  I’ve run into quite a few senior PhDs who turned out to be brilliant and just as many who left me asking how they got through undergrad – I now have more information at my disposal to make my own determination before I ever even meet them.  This transparency scares people because they’re now forced to show their skills and demonstrate their expertise.

Social media gives employees an unprecedented ability to use their voice to gain credibility, influence, and power within the organization – for better or for worse.  Junior employees can quickly become valued and respected or suspended and reprimanded members of the organization because they now have a voice.  Middle managers can lose their power and credibility if they don’t use their voice.  Senior leaders can lose total control of their organization if they don’t listen to these voices.

No matter what level you’re at, social media can be very scary.  On the other hand, it can be an incredible opportunity.  Will you face your fears and take advantage of the opportunity or hide from the fear it instills?

*Image Courtesy of Flickr user Ack Ook*

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Justifying Social Media to the Big Wigs

More and more, I’m being contacted by one of my colleagues who is looking to “sell their client on Web 2.0.”  These requests more often than not, come from people who don’t know a blog from a wiki and are worded roughly along the lines of “my client asked me to come up with some recommendations for getting into Web 2.0 – can you send me the slides that you use to get them on-board with it?”


First, realize that there are no “magic bullet” slides that I can give you – there are numerous resources available, from CommonCraft’s excellent “in plain English” series of videos to the numerous 101-style sites out there.  Depending on the client, any one of them might meet your needs.  However, no matter how fantastic your material is, you’re not going to get far with any senior leader unless you have an understanding of these tools yourself.  You might as well be explaining quantum physics to your client.

In addition to directing them to the above resources and offering to meet with their client directly, I’m also going to start pointing them to this post by Jason Falls.

I won’t stop preaching that social media isn’t about the tools. It is a method of communications, a channel not unlike or more or less important than public relations, customer relationship management, advertising, corporate communications and the like. But I am going to start people out on a slightly different path from now on. I’m going to show them how the tools can make a difference in their day.

Jason’s first point above is one that I’ve been harping on with my colleagues since I started our social media practice.  His second point got me me thinking about what I’m going to write about now – in what ways can the government use social media to make a difference in their day, TODAY?  What are those things that they can do with very little effort where they can start see the value in social media?

  • Use social bookmarking to overhaul your media clipping process.  I worked with one team who had been investing a considerable amount of time in scanning the media for coverage related to their client, copying and pasting those articles into an MS Word document, formatting them consistently, uploading that one file to a shared drive, and then emailing their team with the location of the latest media coverage.  I walked them through how to use both RSS feeds and del.icio.us, and showed them how they could use simply tag their relevant media coverage using whatever tags and descriptions made sense to them.  They could then create an RSS feed for those tags that is placed onto their internal Intranet site.  Whenever an article is tagged with say, “November Media,” the link along with the description of the article is now automatically fed to their site.  This simple change in process has made their media clipping process that much more efficient – no more manual scanning of hundreds of websites, no more copying and pasting, no more formatting, and no more manual uploading.
  • Use an open source microblogging service like Yammer or QikCom.  If your organization already uses Instant Messaging, microblogging offers the potential to turn those one-on-one conversations into group collaboration.  Think of it like an IM platform where every IM you send is open to everyone else in the network.  You may say that your IM application offers the ability to create a chatroom – the difference here is that messages are open to everyone, not just the people you choose.  By using a platform instead of a channel, you can take advantage of the knowledge that exists in your organization without needing to have that personal connection with everyone.
  • Add RSS feeds to your website.  Creating RSS feeds are simple, and they’re easily added to an Internet or Intranet site.  This is a cheap and relatively simple way to allow your users to choose how they wish to consume the content on your site.
  • Set up searches on Twitter and Friendfeed for your organization’s name.  As Robert Scoble says, the news is in the noise.  Doing this will allow you to identify, track, and hopefully respond to, potential issues before they become full-scale problems.
  • Use Skype or ooVoo for free video conferencing.  Skype is probably the most popular Internet telephone tool – it allows you to make and receive regular and video calls over your broadband connection.  All you need is a webcam and a microphone.  ooVoo is a little bit more than that – as Jason said, “it’s a video conferencing tool that allows you to call people over the Internet, but also see them, share files with them and even conference in up to five others to have a group chat session.”  Show your client one of these tools – you don’t think they’d be interested in something like this?
  • Add a “Comment here” function to your Intranet site.  Similar to RSS feeds, this should be a fairly simple add for your IT staff too.  You don’t have to change what content you put on your Intranet – just place a “Comment on this article” button at the bottom of your Intranet content.  This supplements, not replaces, the traditional “Contact the Director” email button.  Your users will now be able to send in their questions and comments via email, but they’ll also be able to post their thoughts directly to the article.  This is a great “learn to walk before run” tactic.

There are many more ways in which government leaders can use social media right now to make a difference in their day – these are just a few easy examples where I’ve seen it work successfully.  We’re not talking about enterprise-wide IT systems here, these are relatively simple changes that you can make today and start realizing the benefits of using open platforms as opposed to closed channels.

What other easy ways can government start using social media and realizing benefits today?

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