Social Media and Corporate Culture

Picture 42I’m going to throw out several incomplete thoughts — that’s the beauty of a blog — on social media and corporate culture. There have been tons of studies and articles about the C Suite embracing social media, yet fearing their brands being tarnished by it. But the cultural force of social media now is so great that eventually all brands will have some sort of compulsory involvement. Those that willingly use it with sincerity will succeed; those that grudgingly use it because they “have to” will not.

Here’s the grandiose thesis: at the bottom of the resistance to social media is a resistance to democracy itself. Social media are “bottom up” largely — though there are “influencers” that may drive certain memes or conversations. But for years companies have been “de-skilling” the customer service function, outsourcing it overseas and using reps as gatekeepers rather than true problem solvers. By contrast, we see examples of companies now on Twitter (e.g., jetBlue, Comcast) that are doing well with genuine efforts to resolve customer problems and complaints. This is what I mean by “sincere.” You can smell it a mile away.

The US corporation, at least among the largest, is a top-down operation that typically seeks to maintain relatively tight control over the rank and file, although that’s increasingly difficult these days. While I realize that I’m crudely generalizing, this “top-down culture” is what you might call antithetical to the culture of social media. In my mind then, the (non-perfunctory) use of social media implies a culture shift within organizations that pushes some degree of authority and control down to the lower levels and front lines. It also implies more transparency and “openness.”

Some companies are doing this and will continue to do this, and will accordingly profit (literally and figuratively) from the use of these social tools. Others cannot and will not loosen up and so will not be able to make effective use of social media.

I apologize for the undeveloped nature of these thoughts but I wanted to simply get them out because I’ve been thinking about these issues but haven’t had a chance to write anything.

But do you agree with what I’m saying: to make effective use of social media tools companies need to change their cultures? What do you think?


14 Responses to “Social Media and Corporate Culture”

  1. Will Scott Says:

    I particularly agree with the de-skilling of customer service. By silo-ing that function we are assured a lack of empowerment at the level of the person on the phone.

    Even when one walks up the hierarchy there is no satisfaction because even the managers in some of the offshore operations aren’t empowered.

    I was most impressed by one of the social media panelists at #SESSJ who was from Zappos. The point he made was that their engagement in social media was without direct direction. They had trailings within which were some guidelines but there wasn’t necessarily a hard and fast set of rules.

    Obviously Zappos isn’t Intel, but the point was that they trusted in their team and their ability to train them to carry the burden of the social interaction.

    So I think you’re very right that the the top-down, buttoned-up corporate message control culture of larger organizations is the hinderance to good social media usage/engagement.

    But, without the C-suite “getting it”, it will always be ersatz engagement.

    And the C-suite ain’t often getting it.


  2. Will Scott Says:

    Bad proofing: “They had trailings” was supposed to have been “They had *trainings*”.


  3. veezy Says:

    I agree to an extent. I don’t think the whole company has to change their culture, but I agree with you in that companies need to realize and accept the nature of social media and implement accordingly. I doubt that would take a company-wide shift in culture, but maybe that’s not what you were saying.

    That said, social media could look very different in 5 years and the nature of social media online may change dramatically.

  4. Greg Sterling Says:


    May be overstating it with “whole company needs to change” statement. But there is a culture shift required I believe

  5. veezy Says:

    Yeah, thought that might have been a bit overboard 🙂

  6. Vickie Says:

    Some companies consider it a necessary evil, meaning they have to participate. I think having the right guidelines in place will help the front line people in knowing the boundaries.

  7. Greg Sterling Says:

    I think it’s a great opportunity for customer interaction and learning. Transparency and sincerity are key values here in my view.

  8. MiriamEllis Says:

    By George, I think you’ve got it, Greg!

    I have been especially hopeful that Social Media might have some effect on the accountability not just of big corporations, but also of government agency who trade on a similar lack of transparency and accessibility. Not so much hope that the heads of government agencies would embrace SM, but that SM is a way for things to be brought to light on a national, state or community level…things which in the past have been suffered in relative silence because communication was limited.

    Now, if agencies were compelled to appear in Social Media as corporate bodies are being compelled, perhaps the overwhelming negative response that might go on to things like strip mining, damming, clear cutting, etc., might actually change policy in a country that is supposed to be democratic.

    Keep thinking about this subject, Greg. Your thoughts are valuable!

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  10. juliemarg Says:

    When I worked at AT&T Yellow Pages, I used to tell my friends that if I was in management, I’d make everyone have a myspace or Facebook page. That was 5 years ago, when they could have been ahead of the curve on how people used the internet.

    Even today, the GM of the biggest sales office in California only has 4 connections on LinkedIn. How can you effectively market if you don’t understand useage?

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  13. Juha Antero Says:

    The fear of losing control has deep roots in the principal-agency problem as it appears in law and economics: current structures are based on accountability and control within organizations. These need to change or adapt first, me-thinks. I fear it will take a while…

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