I’m really not sure what to make of Social Media’s future as a force for radical organisational change.
There is no doubt that lots of us are engrossed. Mark Zuckerberg must go home every night amazed that half a billion people spend the majority of their time online at ‘his place’.
And like tightly packed queues of inbound flights over Heathrow, there is a swarm of new social media wannabees circling the flight path as far as the eye can see. For those of you that don’t track this kind of stuff, Foursquare is one of those that many reckon is on track to make a big landing. Watch the promo. If you need to ask what’s the point you are showing your age![youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFXzyJ8mUh4[/youtube]
Social Media Has A Nasty Bite
And of course there is the growing set of cautionary tales to quote and re-quote. Think cloth eared airlines, non green food manufacturers and cavalier oil drillers. All these stories continue to live on in popular culture. Admired for their kryptonite like power to bring mighty brands to their knees. There is now a satisfyingly clear consequence when a social media empowered public gets upset at poor corporate behaviour. Seems the instinct for bear-baiting is as popular today as in medieval times!
But does all this mean that we are actually about to see something really change? Or is the noise of jungle drums simply louder than usual? This next piece was one of the early tracts I bumped into when I was first getting a fix on what social media was and was not. It impressed me.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhPgUcjGQAw[/youtube]
Let me be clear. Many would love to see a new dawn. Myself included. However it seems many are blindly convinced of its inevitability. I came across a classic version recently. A certain UK educational psychologist was in full ‘Welsh preacher’ mode about the iPad and its game changing impact on the future of education. Apparently it was nothing less than the end of Microsoft, the era of desktops and keyboards that they had inflicted on us for so long. The king is dead. Long live the king: la de da de da. This person was clearly intoxicated while in charge of a vision!
I’ve no doubt desktops and keyboards will go in the fullness of time. But here’s the thing. Right now Microsoft own 90%+ of that corporate space. And since their customers know what it took just get where they are now, the mantra for corporate change is evolution not revolution.
Certainly things move fast in consumer markets right now. For instance, the irresistible impact that iphone has had on promoting smartphones as the new standard for our mobile experience shows that sometimes fundamental change happens before the status quo had even woken up.
I’ll Huff & I’ll Puff & Blow Your House Down
But does any of this translate into an equivalent change in the way organisations are willing to re-organise themselves?
It’s possible that social media acts as the final turbo boost to putting the customer at the centre of things. It might contribute to the death of siloed planning because by its very nature, social media demands an integrated response.
What’s the hard evidence for that? Disappointingly, reader responses to Shannon Paul’s worthy article on the topic of integrated social media planning suggests there is much left to be done. Their comments sound strangely familiar to those heard about customer strategy a decade earlier. And even today a genuine customer strategy remains rarer than dragon’s teeth in most organisations.
I also wonder how much real appetite organisations will have for allowing transparent interaction between those inside and those outside organisational walls? If there is one thing that spooks organisations these days it’s the online security threat. And those that are paid to worry have good cause to insist on the tighest levels of granular governance. Identity theft could well become a problem waiting to happen on a grand scale for social network users who lack the security shield provided by organisations.
In fact to satisfy that desire to stay in control, organisational versions of social media channels are being built into acceptable frameworks that can adhere to these core needs. Salesforce has Chatter. Avaya and Cisco are developing solutions as are most of the CIM vendors such RightNow and some pure play Social CRM vendors.
I’ve reluctantly learnt from my consulting experiences that visions are imprecise descriptions of future realities. They maintain purity by tuning out vested interest and inertia. That means they sound good. But nothing is guaranteed to change just because a new tribe in town has vision. A quick re read of old Gartner and Forrester reports show that neither authority, eloquence nor a high price tag is able to second guess actual outcomes.
There are some very smart people working up the ‘new religion’ with an ongoing barrage of statistics, frameworks and finger pointing. Their energy and confidence come from a revolutionary not evolutionary mindset. I just hope they can recalibrate if their salvation train doesn’t show on time.