Social Media And The Gentle Art Of Management

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If there is one question that circulates around boardrooms, organizations and enterprises, it is: how do we manage Social Media from a management perspective?

Here are 6 ways for management to manage Social Media:

  1. Acceptance – Social Media is not a fad. The ability for people to share stories is as old as fire and cave walls. Mass media disrupted this type of conversation and now, technology not only enables it once again, but it also facilitates it. To think Blogging, wikis, Twitter or online social networks will disappear as quickly as they arrived is simple naivety. Management needs to accept and understand that their employees and consumers are connected, using these channels, sharing information and telling stories in both channels and platforms that are not only shared by over a billion people, but that are searchable and findable by anyone and everyone. It also means that your company must stop blocking access to these channels and platforms. Thinking that everybody is wasting their time on Facebook and YouTube and not getting their work done, is not the reason the work is not being done. If you’ve blocked them out of these tools, trust me, they’re finding alternative ways to waste time.
  2. Openness – Once there is acceptance, the only way to truly embrace these Social Media channels and move on is to declare a new state of transparency and openness within your organization (for more on this, please read the excellent business book, Tactical Transparency by Shel Holtz and John C. Havens). This doesn’t mean that you have to share corporate strategies or give everything you produce away for free. It means that you are going to embrace the notion of changing the way you communicate from a "one voice to customers" model to a "many human voices to many human beings" model. This does mean that you will empower employees – in conjunction with your Marketing, Communications, Legal and Human Resources departments – to act as both advocates and brand evangelists for the brand. It also means that you are going to not only listen to what your consumers are saying, but that you are going to respond and improve your products and services based on what makes the most sense… and you’re going to do it faster and better than you have ever done before.
  3. Policy and guidelines – One of the major reasons most companies get scared off of Social Media is because they feel that they will "lose control" of their messaging and brand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brands still (and always will) control the product, pricing, advertising, customer care, etc… and consumers will always control whether or not the buy from you and whether or not they tell everyone they know about how great (or bad) you are to them. Having a clear policy (though, I do prefer guidelines over a formal policy) will help everyone – internally – understand what these channels are, why they are important, how to communicate and connect in them and what the company expects in terms of disclosure and "voice". It also helps employees understand what they can and can’t say about their work (for more information on creating Social Media policies and guidelines, please check out this Blog post: Does Your Company Need A Social Media Policy?).
  4. Monitor – Tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Technorati and even targeted searches on the generic search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) offer tremendous insights into what is being said about your brand. Make sure you are listening to the many voices. Follow the keywords/terms that are specific to your business including key employees, competitors and even the more generic industry terms. By monitoring what is being said you not only get smarter about your industry, but you will be better able to manage internal expectations as you’ll be more informed about who is using these tools to communicate and connect, and what they are saying.
  5. Lead by example – Another way to manage Social Media is to not sit back and wait for employees and customers to use it before reacting to it, but rather to be proactive. Take the lead and lead by example. Develop a strong Social Media strategy that ties into your business (and sales) objectives. Tie that strategy directly into the overall ROI of the enterprise. Once you have defined the Social Media strategy, define the tactics and the key players within the organization and define budgets, timelines, teams and milestones. Hold yourself (and the company) responsible. Understand that it is going to take time to build community, and recognize that it is going to take a healthy dose of both relevancy and consistency to really break through and become some kind of  recognized authority within the greater community you serve.
  6. Start on the inside – The gut instinct it to jump on to  Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and start posting. One of the easiest ways to manage Social Media is to try it out internally first. What does that look like? Put your documents into a company wiki and ask for feedback/edits. Start an internal Blog to share news, information and other Social Media stuff that people on the inside should know. Take an audio recorder, interview the CEO and launch it as an internal Podcast. The list, opportunities and options are endless. What winds up happening is a "softening effect" – your employees get comfortable with these channel and platforms, they seem less scary and more manageable and suddenly, the enterprise starts benefitting from all of this sharing and collaboration.

What is your advice to management about how they can best use Social Media to build business?

Sidebar: On Friday, October 16th, 2009 I will be speaking in Toronto at an event titled, The Art of Management. This full-day event will also feature best-selling business book author Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence, Re-Imagine!, etc…), Marcus Buckingham and the Getting Things Done guru, David Allen. all live and in-person. There is special pricing for this event if you mention this Blog or my name. You can get more information here: The Art of Management (I hope to see you there).


  1. Hey Mitch – great article.
    For us we’re finding that the toughest hurdles (for our clients) are in the areas of 4 and 5. Traditional “management” persons tend to not want to break their comfort zone by taking the lead on a new (in their minds) tangent. Any thoughts on combating that type of rationale?

  2. Hi Mitch, this ticket will be share at work for sure.
    My first advice would be to stop being afraid of “being scared” ! Whether you like it or not, customers will talk about you and your brand (in good ways and/or bad ways). Why not offering a dedicated and centralised place where all those customers can speak about you and ask questions or propose suggestions ?
    This way, the information is all in one place (at least most of it) and you can educate other by answering their interrogations and slowly build your community and trust.
    In my opinion, not being part of social medias looks like you might have something to hide and is not good for the company transparency. Having a good plan and knowing how to well use these platforms can’t be a bad thing for your company; it’s another channel and new way to communicate with real people in real-time.
    I hope you share my point of you.

    Alexandre Poitras

  3. I agree with Patrick Lyver.
    They agree it’s there to stay, that their employees are there already, but don’t get the impact yet because they don’t use it. I believe it’s mostly because they don’t think they have the time.

  4. Mitch,
    I want to particularly call out your bit about “losing message control.” The “no control” myth has really rankled me– you only lose control when your message sucks– or when you are not participating in the conversation. Thanks for pointing that out.
    I’m glad to see commenters already saying they are taking this post up to management, but I worry– do we need more? Naysayers look for hard data that social media is a fad (I think that’s wrong-headed, and agree that we should counter with “communications is not just a fad”)- but I don’t think we have that silver-bullet answer yet.

  5. For companies that are hesitant, I suggest they start small, put in the necessary effort required (i.e. do something small but don’t do it half assed) and measure the results carefully based on what you were trying to achieve.
    Going through a complete ROI may not be necessary initially … just run an experiment. They will only truly understand once they see results.
    We’re doing that with a live music venue in a few weeks. Something quite simple to break the ice and hopefully grow from that success.

  6. We should be rebelling against social media, not attempting to justify it. Why? Because if social media succeeds, our species will surely fail. Our purpose here is to touch one another, see one another, love one another. We’re talking primordial Maslow needs here, not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo. “Social media” is a an oxymoron. Worse, it’s an abomination. The mediaization of humanity is warped. It’s driven by corporate greed and man’s own lusts for power. Let love rule. Love is not binary.

  7. Mitch,
    Good article. I agree that companies can no longer hide their heads in the sand and need to come to grips with social media. In fact, I’m tracking different companies who are proactive in this area. If a $45 billion company with over 150,000 employees around the world can figure out how to make this work to its advantage, then there’s much to be said about turning social media into a powerful, value-added tool.

  8. My advice to management is to get started and take action. It is what many managers do best. The principles you outlined above a great synopsis of a few ways that companies can get started and minimize their risk at the same time.

  9. If you are a beginner in the online networking you must reach some help from experiment people to prevent your enterprise to lose too much time and to find out the best way to work efficiently with those communications and marketing online tolls.
    Also, you must be aware no to forget to answer too the people asking questions and the one looking to find more about you or your company. Be honest and helpful to your correspondent.
    Finally, be patient with those online tolls, it takes a while before you get real results from that kind of interaction with your customers and your prospect.

  10. I don’t think the problem with social media for many companies is the message. It’s the time. There are a ton of companies out there whose main focus, whether they realize it or not, is keeping their employees focused totally on their job. Social media distracts from that. And many managers who are obsessed not so much with when things get done but with what percentage of your day you are focused on your job, see social media as just a silly distraction.

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