“Change occurs when an organisation’s core assets and activities are both threatened with obsolescence, and knowledge and brand capital erode along with the customer and supplier relationships. It is most commonly caused by the introduction of new technologies or regulations, or by changing consumer preferences.” Wood, et al., 2009
In some ways the manager whose responsibility it is to introduce social media into the organisation has their path already partly cleared. Today’s organisations must be able to react quickly and correctly to external change, whilst managing internal change effectively, otherwise they risk becoming uncompetitive, either within the marketplace or as an employer of choice.
Of course, reacting to external forces is easier to do; changing the underlying values that drive organisational behaviour can take a long time, even years, to achieve.
But the type of change that Wood and his colleagues talked about above is vision-led, so it is clear that the manager introducing social media has to be visionary about social media’s potential for positive change. To this extent, if the manager is not themselves an evangelist for social media then they need to surround themselves and interact with evangelists, so that they can be better informed and become ignited with the spark. A spark-less manager will not inspire confidence in senior management, in peers nor in employees, that’s for sure.
Pathways to effective cultural change
There is a recommended approach to culture change. Gagliardi[ii] suggests the following be adopted:
1. Educate stakeholders as to why change is necessary;
2. Communicate the new culture that is desired;
3. Use value statements to embed the new cultural requirements;
4. Give people the skills, knowledge and capabilities they will need to work differently;
5. Create processes, systems and ways of working that enable people to put the new values into practice; and
6. Use performance management and rewards to enforce desired behaviours.
Let’s break that down to how it can be utilised by the manager charged with introducing social media into the organisation’s communication mix.
Educate stakeholders as to why change is necessary
There has been a fundamental shift in how consumers talk to each other and how organisations can communicate with them. Sometimes this shift can be felt at the highest level of the company; sometimes it needs to be pointed out to senior management that ‘old’ methods still have their relevance, only less so than before, and that interruption methods of communicating at consumers are becoming increasingly cost-ineffective.
Communicate the new culture that is desired
Using case studies of similar organisations that have successfully undergone social media implementation is a useful tactic to employ here. Case studies abound on the internet – just Google ‘social media case studies’ and you will find plenty of examples, including at the excellent site casestudiesonline.com.
Use value statements to embed the new cultural requirements
Social media introduces a fundamental change in communication strategy; no longer can communication pieces be pumped out at mass markets and those markets expected to just ‘sit there and take it’. Markets are becoming ever-more micro-niched (the reader would do well to devour a copy of Greg Verdino’s superb ‘Micromarketing: get big results by thinking and acting small’) and blast communications are no longer acceptable to an increasingly vocal and disloyal audience.
Today’s marketplace demands personal interaction with members of the organisation, not just the opportunity to leave a comment in an impersonal ‘contact us’ form on the corporate website. Therefore, the culture of truth, trust, transparency and accountability, as well as engagement and interaction, which exists outside of the corporation needs to exist inside of it as well.
Value statements that encourage openness, truth, trust, transparency and accountability and external (and internal) engagement at all levels of the organisation should become an integral part of how the organisation talks to itself about itself. Posters, regular value statement messages from the leadership, statements positioned on the intranet and system login screens… all these places and more are opportunities to help the organisation transition to the location that the new communication landscape demands.
Give people the skills, knowledge and capabilities they will need to work differently
Whether it’s just a small team that will be initially working on your social media initiatives, or whether you are rolling out a social media technology across the entire organisation (such as the internal Twitter-like application called Yammer; a wiki; videos; blogs; or podcasts), you will need to train all of the employees in not just the workings of the tools, but also answer the ‘why’ questions they will have. You will need to run them through a training program that explains to them their rights and responsibilities as spokespeople for the organisation, as well as give them guidelines (via your social media policy) as to how to engage with the marketplace.
In addition, they will need to know that the organisation will support them in their endeavours and thus, for example, make subject matter experts available if technical questions are asked, or perhaps quickly give them approval for an action if it is seen as a valuable customer-retention/goodwill gesture. They will need to be assured that their activities in the social domain will not be seen as a career limiting move should a customer prove particularly troublesome and hard to handle.
Concurrent with the training of the employees in the tools and technologies there should run an ‘Expectations Management’ program for senior executives and leaders. Social media is not a magic bullet, as has been explained, nor can it solve every communication challenge; the organisation’s leadership needs to have their expectations of what social media can and cannot deliver carefully managed in case something goes wrong at the employee-customer interface and the CEO or Chairman decides that the employee should be sacked and all social media initiatives scrapped. Nothing could do more harm to employee relations than a leadership not standing by an employee just because things got a little ‘tough’ and someone vociferously negative could not be persuaded to change their mind. Dissidents won’t go away just because the organisation is now engaging with them via social media; but the dissidents have all of the tools they need to create online ‘heat’ for the organisation – better that the organisation also be online and being a part of the conversations taking place so that it can present its own case and correct any factual errors and disinformation.
Create processes, systems and ways of working that enable people to put the new values into practice
Voters are demanding it of their elected representatives in government; pressure groups are demanding it of organisations of all sizes. Truth, trust, transparency and accountability. If an organisation is to transition to one that is taking on board the ‘3Ts and an A’ (four ethos of Truth, Trust, Transparency and Accountability) then it sensibly either engages its HR and Communications departments to create change messages and processes, including middle-management and supervisor-level change programs if required, or it brings in external consultants to do so.
Either way, if middle managers and supervisors are struggling to find ways to enact the required values into the practices of their departments and teams then they will require help.
However, if it is only a team that is changing its processes in order to support that team’s sole social media outreach for the organisation, then the same need applies. Processes need to be examined, roles reconfigured where necessary, seating arrangements reviewed in order to best place the organisation’s social mediarists so that they can do their job and access the people and material they need.
Other departments and personnel in the organisation should be made aware of the social media team, what its function is, why it exists and what its aims are. Most importantly, and alongside the above, the personnel from other departments and teams need to be made aware of the need to supply requested information to the social media team as soon as possible, because the social media team are the ‘front line’ of engagement with the online public which, as numerous examples can attest, can be vociferous and unruly if not given what they want, or at a minimum feel as they are not being listened to.
 Wood, J., Zeffane, R., Fromholtz, M., Wiesner, R., Creed, A., Schermerhorn, J., Hunt, J., & Osborn, R. 2009. Organisational Behaviour: Core concepts and applications. Wiley; Milton, Qld; p. 524
[ii] Gagliardi, P. 1986. The creation and change of organizational cultures: a conceptual framework. Organisation Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 117-134