Some more musings on corporate culture and social media

My prior post here has spurred some interesting conversations. Following Jeremiah Owyang’s post, I got a very practical comment from Beth Kanter asking the following:

I’m curious about your points about how to balance top-down mandates and completely grassroots adoption strategies? What works do you think? And, do you have a case study or step-by-step or some tips?

I was about to respond in the comments thread, but figured this warranted a new (albeit quick) post. Balancing top-down mandates and grassroots adoption can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.  Finding the intersection of corporate mandates and employee value can be summed up in one sentence:

Will it (social media project “X”) help employees do the job you are paying them to do more easily?

Companies employ people so they can help them accomplish certain objectives. Employees are paid to help the company reach those stated objective. So there’s inherent alignment of objectives and incentives. Social media should reflect that. If it can help employees do what their companies are paying them to do more easily, you’ve got a home run. Companies should focus on finding the tools that accomplish that.

But there’s a big catch. The employees have to be the ones to determine what makes them more efficient. A few folks in the CIOs office, HR or corporate communications, really aren’t the best arbiters of which tools employees feel will help them do their jobs.

Likewise, if a company’s motivation to adopt social media tools revolves solely around saving money, it’s likely to be met with a dull thud of non-participation. Employees aren’t interested in saving the company money. They are interested in doing their jobs so they can be paid, go home and enjoy their lives.

So, when a company follows that model – listening to employees on what they think will make them more effective at what they are being paid to do, and then enabling them accordingly – it’s a win-win.

All resulting in more time for employees to waste time on Facebook. (did I just say that?)

The Impact of Corporate Culture on Social Media (IBM’s Case Study)

My presentation from the Social Networking Conference in Miami yesterday:


I’ll be brief in this synopsis, since you can peruse through the slides yourself. But here’s the main point: That culture is, in my view, the most overlooked, underestimated factor determining whether social media succeeds or fails in a company. And when corporate culture and social media are pitted against each other, social media will always fail. Always.

Too often, people from company “A” will recognize great success that company “B” is having by doing XYZ with social media. So, logically, they decide to do the same at company A. But the results are dramatically different. Why? Because they didn’t account for the corporate culture variable which is inevitably different between the two companies.

This is also why it is so hard for any third-party vendor to really play a meaningful role in helping a company transform itself to be more collaborative and embrace these technologies. They don’t have that deep understanding of a corporation’s culture.

Now, all that said, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do a lot to influence culture to be more open, more collaborative and more receptive to social media. In fact, I believe that there is a lot that can be done to intentionally create a culture for collaboration. That’s really the heart of the IBM case study in the slides above.

So, to repeat the punchline of the presentation, any company’s use of social media needs to start with 1) the company’s core business model (what are you in the business of doing and with whom?) and 2) corporate culture. And when #2 is an impediment, take the long approach and find ways to stretch the culture to create a more collaborative environment.