Entering 2012, leadership teams are hotly debating social media. How should we use it? How might it shape markets? Will we lose control of our brand image? And, what policies should we adopt for its use?
Into this mix, Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald thankfully remind C-Suite leaders that social media “is a means to an end, not the end itself” and that the end can be a really exciting business purpose. Bradley and McDonald are Group Vice Presidents at Gartner Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company. Their new book, “The Social Organization:How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011) is required reading for companies seeking to build competitive advantage by deploying social media strategically.
The authors move quickly beyond the use of social media for marketing communications. Rather, they establish social media as a capability that enables a new way of working by using mass collaboration. In a world of growing fragmentation and specialization that challenge our ability to understand the “whole,” mass collaboration lets organizations tap into the collective genius of customers and employees to address vitally important business challenges and opportunities. Finding the right experts within your large global consultancy or tapping customers about new applications for your technology are but two examples.
To create a mass collaboration capability, you must address the leadership and management challenges social media creates, not just its technical implementation, based on the authors’ case studies. Specifically, management must define the purpose(s) to which mass collaboration will be used and the community that will come together around each purpose, as well as create the social media place where the community engages. The on-line community then self-learns, self-governs and self-directs thereby creating the mass collaboration that fulfills the community’s stated purpose.
CEMEX, a large complex global construction products company is an example of a social organization. It used social media to engage its entire workforce in a discussion on how to execute the corporation’s strategic initiatives. Management was involved keeping its employees focused on valuable purposes and productively linking the work of the community back to the company. The result? Better and faster answers, ones that employees more readily executed because they were involved in their creation. The experience led Miguel Lozano, CEMEX’s Innovation Director, to say, “Now that we’ve done it this way…we’ll never go back to the old way.”
Companies that adopt social media enabled-mass collaboration become social organizations, i.e., “one that strategically applies mass collaboration to address significant business challenges and opportunities.” These organizations are less hierarchical, more open to customer and employee ideas and, as a result, are more astute, innovative and agile – all competitive advantages in today’s turbulent markets. Social media in these forward-looking companies transforms culture and improves performance. “The way a social organization manages, the way it invests, the way its system works, and the way its people think are all different from the way organizations have traditionally worked,” the authors state in reflecting on best-in-class examples of social media adopters.
Coincidentally, I listened today to a CMO Council (Chief Marketing Officer) webinar on the adoption of social media to advance brand success. National Instruments, for example, created an Idea Exchange in which customers provided over 2,400 product ideas upon which tens of thousands of customers among the 99,000+ site visitors voted. HP and AT&T have saved money by using social media, rather than live conversations with customer service reps, to address customer service complaints. (Lithium Tech, a technology platform and consultancy enabling its clients to build a “brand nation,” provided the webinar examples.)
Mass collaboration is not designed to address all questions and needs. According to Bradley and McDonald, purposes that work well with social media-enabled mass collaboration include:
- Capturing the collective intelligence of a community
- Locating experts within a large community
- Gaining insights into how things work in practice by identifying patterns of communication within a community
- Cultivating interest within a community
- Coordinating masses of people for rapid response
- Leveraging relationships within a community
Mass collaboration is not well suited to situations in which
- Deep analysis is needed
- Needed expertise rests with a small group of people whose conversation shapes each others’ opinions
- Information is sensitive
- Conflicting information makes it challenging to separate fact from fiction.
Unfortunately, this early in its adoption cycle, “most efforts to create social media-enabled mass collaboration fail to produce anything of value.” Companies fail according to the authors because:
- They do not define a purpose for mass collaboration that attracts participation and provides organizational value
- Executives withhold support
- Social media is seen as an IT project, versus an important business initiative
- Culture stifles collaboration, with policies or management exerting too much control. This precludes the participation, sharing, transparency, independence, persistence and unimpeded development required for mass collaboration success.
- Communities remain isolated, not linked back to creating value for the corporation overall
Bradley and McDonald offer an insightful “how to” guide to building a competitive advantage in the information age. The experienced authors will help you create a vision, strategy and worthy purposes for social media-enabled mass collaboration. With “The Social Organization” as your guide, you’ll effectively execute and adapt to this new way of working.