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January 27, 2009

How to support an organization with social media

Social media is incendiary stuff. For many organizations it's a direct challenge to existing norms and the way things get done, the sort of direct challenge that spells potentially profound consequences to the basic shape and fabric of existing business practices as we know them.

People like Gary Hamel, who've written about best practice management for years, are saying that management must be reinvented. It's a voice that can turn into a clamour when social media becomes part of the equation. Change from without is a challenge, but it's also well established that change is rarely well effected entirely from within.

So when David Gelles at the FT writes about 'firefighting' as the point of social media within corporates, I must confess that I get ever so slightly sceptical. When 'companies are using Twitter to douse public relations fires before they erupt' it's worth asking how much emollient can be dispensed at the same time as facilitating the real opportunities that businesses need to reinvent themselves?

I'm part of Seth's tribe. We recognize the quite heretical element in many of the conversations that social media is starting and because of that we often talk more about starting fires than fighting them.

Tribes casebook

This is a picture of firefighters who start fires, record the moment, then put them out as part of their training. That's what well trained firefighters do. The casebook's a free download for your viewing pleasure full of stories where communities have been set alight because of the spark of imagination that being social allowed them to generate.  Download TheTribesCasebook

And as the established world view of many businesses comes pressingly and perilously close to the white heat of customers who care through social media, the challenge becomes how to deliver the best interests of organizations in terms of how they engage with it.

With the opportunity to integrate social media into business practices opening up, real conversations can start to influence strategy. Cost effective transformation can happen to replace the tedium of the monologue that the diet of traditional media has been serving up for some time. Beyond that there lies the question of how to 'operationalize' a tribe. As Bob Pearson of Dell puts it in the same article, "social media is much more than getting out there and having conversations, it transforms a business if you use it correctly."

Socialwash is an unfortunate and emergent reality, more CRM 2.0 than a new management opportunity for a radically different era. The question worth asking is what are the responsibilities and opportunities that belong to the new corporate masters of social media and what will their paymasters let them be, a point of PR or agent of potentially profound change?

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