Bringing about significant change in a company isn’t easy. I know this from having recently left Hewlett-Packard, where I led an ambitious, new program starting in late 2009 to help drive the giant technology company’s social media activity across its Enterprise operations.
It was an interesting ride. I managed a team of editors and project managers, and was lucky enough to work with bloggers and social media managers across the organization and test-drive dozens of ideas. Given the challenges, I was surprised at how much progress we made.
But still, I came away with the same question that has nagged me for five years of working with companies like Cisco and Sprint on social media programs: Why is it so hard to drive change in these companies? Why do they struggle with social media?
Most big companies admit they’re still coming up short on using social media. Only 12% in one survey say they’re using it effectively; another 43% admit they’re using it ineffectively.
Another sign is that corporate blogs (particularly B2B) are still light years behind independent bloggers in quality of content, engagement, and every other measure. How much buzz do you see being generated by your favorite corporate blog?
So I began rethinking social media earlier this year. One idea eventually dawned on me. Maybe we’re trying to do too much at once (“boiling the ocean”). We still need to walk before we start running in most companies.
Changing the Corporate DNA
Real change—like “socializing” a company’s communications—takes enormous time and effort. As GigaOm’s Om Malik points out in a wonderful post, companies develop habits, processes, and work environments that eventually come to define the company. They are like deeply ingrained “instructions” or “corporate DNA.” Changing this is no easy feat.
Rather than delude yourself into thinking you’re going to change an entire company, be smart. Start with focused, achievable goals and programs. Think small.
You can practice “being small” in many ways:
1.) Identify one strong, motivated group or organization for a carefully planned pilot program (blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) rather than launching across an entire company. Assemble a focused team. Plan, strategize, execute. Document metrics, proof points, and best practices. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
2.) Don’t force everyone to blog. Most corporate employees don’t have the time or inclination, so don’t waste your time on massive education programs. The key is to identify a few motivated enthusiasts—and support them with targeted personalized editorial resources, such as market intelligence, editorial tips and strategies, story angles, and related subject blogs. Then get out of the way.
3.) Cultivate senior management support, one at a time. Even fewer senior execs have time to blog, so you need to identify the one mostly likely to work with you and meet with their team, starting with their communications manager (if they have one). Support them with personalized research, story angles, messaging, and an outline or rough draft. Social media purists will scream about anything that smacks of ghosting, but it’s not that much different than any other executive communications support. (Do you really think Steve Jobs writes his own speeches?) The CEO owns the final post. They may still resist, so start with one guest blog post on a friendly industry or partner site. Think small.
4.) Find a friend in sales. Social media and sales are uneasy bed partners. Most salespeople are skeptical that it helps beyond the awareness stage of the sales cycle, and they aren’t even sure about that. Don’t worry about converting all of sales into believers. Find one hip sales team or person, and develop a social media pilot that will help you map out social media across the entire sales cycle, while providing the ammunition (proof points, metrics, best practices) you need to prove it works and broaden your program.
No Easy Ride
Small steps will eventually pave the way for bigger, more ambitious programs, but don’t expect an easy ride. Resources and employees are stretched, the workload is brutal, and social media is still unproven (particularly in the B2B space). Then there are the intangibles. So much of succeeding inside a corporation revolves around relationships, priorities, politics, and perceptions. Social media is no different.
I remember one of Cisco’s smaller partners challenging me during a training on the value of blogging: “If I’m not selling, I’m losing money. The rest is just noise.”
But it’s that “noise” (channeled correctly) that represents the future; it’s your customers, investors, competitors, employees.
I still believe we’ll get to the Digital Promise Land, where social media practices are accepted as the norm across the organization. But that will be in a few years. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to dream big and focus on what I do best, while keeping my attention on the “little picture.”
You should too.