Social Media Can Change The Corporate Culture

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Most corporate cultures are what they are. Some have been around for decades. Others have had the same corporate culture for a century (or longer). Change is never easy, but change does happen.

There’s this old trucker saying that goes: "if you can’t change people, you change people." The truth is that not every competent individual is right for every company, and there are also some serious nincompoops who manage to stick with a company longer than anyone can fathom. Beneath the many layers of individuals, personal politics, power shifting and HR is a corporate culture. The brand’s raison d’être. It is not something that changes easily, but it does change. Mark W. Schaefer over at the Grow Blog doesn’t seem to think it’s possible. In his Blog post, Can social media change your company’s culture? I doubt it (September 22nd, 2010), he calls me out for saying that Social Media is changing corporate culture during our recent Podcast debate on Ghost Blogging (more on that here: SPOS #214 – The Ghost Blogging Debate With Mark W. Schaefer).

Social Media can’t change a corporate culture…

And, here’s why Mark thinks this way: "The idea that you could transform a company culture just because it needs to create a Twitter account or YouTube channel is probably fanciful. I believe the companies who are succeeding on the social web are doing so because they already have a company culture that would enable and reward that success. A well-managed, market-oriented company with a legacy of customer-centricity is going to do well with social media — and any other marketing innovation that comes down the line.  If you look at a list of the most successful companies on the social web, there really aren’t any surprises are there?  Their cultures are pre-wired to succeed."

Social Media is not from within.

Mark is one-hundred percent accurate. A company that is customer-centric and open to innovation will probably be more successful in platforms like Twitter and YouTube, but that’s not my point. Take a look at Dell prior to Jeff Jarvis and his infamous Dell Hell post. What made Dell turn the corner was not a proactive decision to embrace Social Media. In fact, it was the total opposite. Social Media did not come from within. It came from consumers leveraging these powerful sharing and publishing platforms to speak their minds, and the net result of this content scared Dell’s top echelon enough to start re-thinking their corporate culture and how they connect with consumers. We’re all quick to cheer Coca-Cola for embracing their consumer-generated Facebook page, but let’s not forget how unhappy the company was when the Eepy Bird guys started mixing Diet Coke and Mentos for some volcanic fun. The company was not amused and reminded people that they would prefer if people consumed Diet Coke.

Coming round.

There are countless stories of major (and minor) corporate brands that over time have begun to understand how their brands now "live" because of Social Media and the brand ecosystem (Dell and Coca-Cola are just two regularly cited ones). A new Social Media marketing platform will not change a corporate culture, but enough voices in Social Media talking, sharing, creating and doing more is likely to get attention and force change. We have to remember that Marketers – if given the choice – would probably never want Social Media. They can’t control a message and they can’t keep others from speaking publicly about them. That’s scary, but Social Media is forcing this change in corporate culture. Whether brands are doing this proactively or because they have no choice is a whole other discussion.

Push beyond Marketing.

Look at LinkedIn. People are posting their positions. Peers and customers provide recommendations. Companies now have their own profiles. All of this information that used to be so closely guarded against the corporate chest is now open for the world to see. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in enough small, medium and large corporate boardrooms to know that all of this cumulative content (beyond Marketing and Communications engagement) and information is pushing corporate culture to change. From Real Estate and big pharma to financial institutions and law offices. Change is happening… and it’s happening at the corporate culture level. It may be happening slowly for some or at breakneck speed for others, but it is happening.

What do you think? Is Social Media changing corporate culture?


  1. Mitch – I just finished reading “The New Social Learning”, which highlights a good ‘ole Canadian company (Telus). Dan Pink writes the intro and makes a great point – for all the talk about social media in marketing, we might have missed the biggest change of all – how corporations learn and innovate. If there’s anything that will change corporate culture, it’s that.

  2. That was a great podcast (#214).
    When I heard Mark’s comment, I also saw his point, but I remembered what Jeffrey Gitomer said on another of your podcast about being slow to adopt social media.
    He couldn’t get past the triviality that people associate with Twitter and Facebook.
    It wasn’t until he saw its business building potential that he turned around and very successfully leveraged it to his advantage: “Social media is the new cold call.”
    If I may paraphrase: “…some are born social, some learn to be social, and some have social thrust upon ’em.”

  3. Part of that is the idea that Social Media is not just a Marketing and Communications channel. It can be that… but’s it’s a whole lot of other things. This feedback, conversation and back and forth is pretty candid. It’s very real and it can teach brands what is truly on their customer’s minds.
    Even thinking back to the early days of Twist Image, we had a vision for what we wanted the company to be. The Blog and watching it connect did – indeed – change our corporate culture. I believe that the new Social Media channels and platforms continue to help us to evolve and grow.

  4. … and in the end they must all deal with being “social”? I think there are companies (like Apple) that have social media thrust upon them, but can still manage to not pay too much attention to it. There will be anomalies. There will be businesses that have no need to be social, but I think they will only be the exception or the minority.

  5. Sticky sticky discussion here Mitch. I really think its impossible to paint a broad stroke here except to say it is changing every single business, but each in different ways. For some it is improving communication. Others like General Mills use social in a closed Facebook style system for their focus groups internally (like a Ning site). some are listening, some are using it as PR, some are using it to save money with marketing, some are using it for incremental sales, some for rewards and customer retention.
    So I think Mark and yourself can both have valid points as case specific. I will say that yes people do talk via social but not cohesively and in my opinion limited viraly. Since so few tweets and posts are seen on FB and Twitter due to the volume of the stream I don’t think it scares brands. Case in point if the voice of social really had an impact on Brands (minus the nestle dumbass move) then BP and Toyota would be out of business.
    I will state again Social has to be taken out of the Marketing context that Advertising/Media is forcing itself on, and stick to viewing it as communication technology.

  6. Mitch – good discussion. I had an interesting situation recently when I tried to change my monthly broadband account with my provider, the number 2 telco in Australia. I had an abysmal experience with both the sales and customer service folk (I’m a long-time customer) and then went to TWitter to see if it would be resolved. The experience was amazing. The Twitter team obviously has been given greater authority than the others and resolved my issues speedily and delightfully. I just hope they can embed the same capabilities into the sales & service teams, as its crazy and inefficient if every customer has to default to Twitter to get a positive outcome.

  7. But BP, Toyota and the like can’t hide anymore. They know these channels exist. They know that the mass media uses these channels to fuel the other side of the conversation. Do you think those companies have the same corporate culture that they had a decade ago? I don’t. I don’t think they’re close to being perfect, but I do think that Social Media is changing their corporate culture (wether they want it or not).

  8. I don’t think that one channel to use as Markting or Communications platform is the answer. But, again, I do think that instances like the one you mentioned is an indication that corporate culture is, indeed, changing.
    We’ll know that this is an accurate statement if you see the type of service you received on Twitter transcend throughout the whole of the organization.

  9. This is a very good post and discussion. Thank you all for contributing.
    My traditional 9-to-5 gig is in the automotive industry–talk about an industry that has had to change.
    Nonetheless, social media has definitely placed a large flashlight on successful dealerships and failures. The social web has enabled those dealerships that conduct business well to be amplified and grow market share and at the same time amplify those dealerships that do not conduct business well and consequently should be shut down.
    The difference between the successful and unsuccessful in the near future will be how they connect with their followers, subscribers and customers and not just sell. A simple business principle that is amplified in the digital age.
    The social web has definitely changed the automotive industry for those willing to suppress their egos (aka, the successful dealerships) and change. I do not see the automotive industry and different than others in this area.

  10. I’d push this even further. I see the work that companies like Ford. GM and many others are doing and it does seem like the Social Media components have permeated well beyond the Marketing walls and into the corporate culture. You can read it the CEO speeches and see it in how they interact with their consumers.

  11. Great post, Mitch. I concede that outside pressure can sometimes force change upon a company. However, I think most organizations are like the car dealerships Andy describes. The ones who are doing a good job any way embrace the channel and succeed even more, the ones who had lousy customer connections to begin with could not withstand the spotlight of social media and folded.
    I think the specific point you made in the podcast was that “as consultants, we can change the coporate culture” by being advocates of social media. I’m less willing to agree with that point unless you truly become part of the management team over an extended period of time.
    Your counterpoint is well articulated and is a good addition to the dialogue. Thanks!

  12. Hey Mitch- Definitely interesting. I was actually just re-watching David Byrne’s Ted Talk about the relationship between architecture and the type of music that’s played within it, and I think there are some correlations here. The environment around us affects how we behave within it, whether it’s as simple me being different whether I’m at home, at work, at a church, whatever.
    So no, creating a YouTube channel won’t change a company culture on it’s own, but the fact that there is a YouTube probably will (in the long run, at least). In other words, cultures are difficult to change, but those cultures are a reflection of their surroundings. So if you augment those surroundings, that will likely also change the culture.
    So the question for companies isn’t whether or not they’ll be changed by social media, but if they’ll change quickly enough to take advantage of it.

  13. Oh, this was too easy… now we’re both agreeing with one another… 🙁
    I think Social Media changes corporate culture mostly because it can come from the consumer, from the bottom of the food chain or from the c-suite. True enough, nothing will happen if the c-suite doesn’t take action, but I think we would both agree that Social Media is one of those things that leaves little room for choice. The voices (whether we like them or not) are the real representation of the customer’s voice. If we don’t listen and adapt to that, what is left?
    I’ve been in way too many boardrooms where my presence wasn’t really wanted… but everyone there knew it was needed. Social Media does change corporate culture. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  14. Social media (SM) if appropriately used and guided can and I hope will change not just a single company culture but create a massive global consciousness shift and change.
    What do I mean by appropriate use of social media?
    Based on my observations of what is currently going on in the SM world, I think that at present the activities on the SM are unfocused, not coherent and not aligned. They lack leadership, purpose and vision. This is on a global level.
    The same is true for the national, local and in the corporate world.
    The difference would be in the focused discussions that will be lead in coherent way on a corporate/local or global level.
    Anyone who has experience with appreciative inquiry, or open ended inquiry or world café discussions will know how powerful a single question can be in order to create positive change and attitude within a group.
    Now imagine that instate of the current confusion on the SM (by the way this is only a reflection of our personal and collective confusion and lack of global leadership) we start to use the SM in a coherent/aligned way and start to ask questions that matter on corporate/local/global level. This will start a process of inclusion and WHOLE SYSTEM PARTICIPATION and will tap the collective intelligence of our employees/people on the planet.
    By the way, culture is extremely difficult to change without the whole system participation.
    What I suggest is that the SM is being used as a platform for a global INQUIRY (discussion) on things that matter.
    To illustrate you this, just imagine the impact of one important question being shared and answered all over the world by lets say 10 000 000 people or more. Questions like:
    What is our vision for the future?
    How do we want to live on the planet?
    What is our purpose?
    How to deal with global warming etc? …etc.
    Further more SM could not do much good on its own in changing culture.
    With culture as with other things “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” so the social and cultural change needs to be measured and monitored.
    Today we have laser sharp tools to do this used by many companies and several nations.
    Some companies are understanding this and thy are in the middle of so called corporate culture transformation. Several countries have also started this process on a national level. This is only a signal of what is going to happen next and that is global-WHOLE SYSTEM PARTICIPATION in changing culture, behaviours and consciousness.
    Viktor Kunovski

  15. Yes!
    When consumers come together with social media, smart marketers will listen. Really smart ones will engage and thrive. The others will eventually just fade away.

  16. I think we need to define corporate culture before we can answer this question. I agree with both of you but I think you are not talking about the same issue. You are mainly talking about marketing and Mark looks at corporate culture from anothe point of view.
    Corporate culture is more than marketing strategy. It’s about core values and that doesn’t change easilly. A person might be highly introverted but still use social media actively. The same applies to companies.

  17. I think we’re both defining it as going well beyond Marketing. If I didn’t state it clearly enough, I’ll state it here. The corporate culture is the culture of the entire organization – it’s about what the company stands for and why people love to work for it and buy from it.
    I agree that those core values do not change easily, but Social Media is bringing that change in everything from open leadership and transparency to reworking legal, customer service, how things get sold, etc…

  18. I’d go even further and say that if networked communications are NOT changing the culture of a company, then there’s already the smell of death about them. Free Expression, real-time peer-to-peer Connection, and impossible-to-control Exposure are re-shaping the ENTIRE cultural landscape. It’s a matter of changing, or being drowned in the tidal wave.

  19. Add to that the many open and collaborative tools that Social Media has given us – from open source and the ability to share… I get pretty astounded by those who think that this is not changing corporate culture… but that’s just me.

  20. Being involved in a startup since I am an entrepreneur I don’t even like much the whole concept of “corporate culture”, I like to value people’s ideas and elastic thought, and I believe being confined into a “culture” doesn’t really help in that.
    Social media has the big chance to put the individual again at the center of the information, a message conveyed to HIM by people like HIM (hopefully). Corporations that understand this, and that are able to provide a more “human” message, are the ones that are bound to succeed the most in the future business world.
    Just my two cents.

  21. My partner’s business, a tea shop in the UK, recently got terrible customer service from a multi-million pound department chain called Habitat (might as well name and shame!). She blogged, the blog went viral, and my partner got a personal visit from a regional manager and a lifetime 20% discount.
    For a couple of days it was a mini Dell Hell but in fairness to Habitat, they responded fairly quickly and effectively. That was only a couple of weeks ago and I like to think that there will be a board meeting soon when someone will say: “It’s all very well being responsive to social media but, actually, our customer relations are the same as our public relations now – so we should treat every conversation about customer service as if thousands of people might be watching.” Here’s the story, if anyone’s interested:

  22. You may like (or dislike) the notion of a corporate culture, but I think it’s integral to a company and their success – both internally and externally. If you don’t have a culture, what do you have? It’s a lighthouse. It’s defines who you are, what you stand for, why you stand for it and why people should be connected and buying from you. Culture is everything.

  23. The big question is this: can this issue move from a corporate communications platform to something that lives and breathes with every employee within the organization… where people actually change not because someone might call them out, but because it’s the right thing to do and the right way to be?

  24. I think, that participation has to be willing. The social aspect of social media has to be the focus — engage, talk, and bring something people will enjoy (like a pot luck party).
    In addition — it has to be genuine.

  25. Fascinating stuff Mitch and it mirrors what we are seeing with the corporate clients we work with in the UK.
    I think a lot of CEO’s got a rude awakening to what is happening when the BP boss asked to ‘have his life back’
    Over the next 24 months or so I think the businesses that cone out of recession furthest and fastest will be those with cultures that match the ‘new’ realities.

  26. Everything depends on what you are calling Culture and Change. Organizational Culture in an specific sense is so deeply rooted in social practices and group imaginary that to change it is very very hard. Although it´s possible to make more superficial change – in that levels of culture that Edgard Schein named “visible artifacts” and “spoused values”, which includes some kind managerial practices, new jargon [ring the bell?], marketing tactics and of course layout, architecture and so on. This is very different to say that social media will transform corporate culture in its most profound level. Social media will transform the so called “individualism” [see: Hofestede] trait in American culture? I doubt it.

  27. Love your post and this topic. And like you Mitch, I do believe that social media can change a corporate culture particularly if customers demand it. I also think there’s another piece to this puzzle and that is the impact that social media can have from within a company. By that I mean, the use of social media tools to communicate internally as well as externally and the impact they can have on employees within an organization and the traditional role of HR. In addition, when a company opens up on Twitter, FB, (insert social media tool here), this sends a clear message to employees about transparency and how to treat and communicate with customers.
    I also wonder what happens to corporate culture when social media tools are used for collaborative innovation, information sharing etc.

  28. Let me share something with you, and this comes from the source of corporate culture change. This is not theory, this is happening NOW.
    UNILEVER Brazil is a mega Billion $ business.
    2 years ago they started a process called Cultural Transformation.
    Their CEO, Kees Kruythoff recently said
    One of the first things that they did was to measure their culture.
    “If you can’t measure, you cant menage.” And they are not the only ones.
    More than 2000 organizations and 60 nations are already doing the same.
    The results are amazing in culture change and in bottom line business “CASH”:
    See for your on these links:
    The measurement is just the first step in this process. The next step is the questioning and discussion process (open ended inquiry, open space discussion…name it with your own words). And here the Social Media is the leadership tool, an ideal platform for large scale, whole system participation and inclusion where the leader(s) are asking the questions that matter within the system. If you have done personal or Business INQUIRY you’ll know what I am talking about.
    This process is described in details in the book “Values or Death” available for promotional download on

  29. @Mitch – Thanks for challenging the all too human assumptions. Keep on doing that.
    @Viktor – Love your big picture. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, give me a holler there.
    The post and comments are a real treat. Thanks to all for making my read worthwhile.

  30. Social media is changing corporate culture and the ones that get it are going to swim while the ones that don’t are going to sink. I recently started a new position doing marketing and SEO for a professional services firm. I found their job posting on one social media site and checked out my current boss’s profile on another to see the depth of their marketing experience. For my writing sample, I submitted a link to my social media culture blog, I think the blog was the reason that they hired me. And, their liking it complete with their website and corporate blog was why I liked them.

  31. It’s what all the guru / pundits since long before the times of Plato and Socrates have always gotten wrong. You can NOT make people fit in to any System. You HAVE to make the System fit the people. The former always launches with good intentions, but, it always fails because “The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”.

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