Social Business News: Too Many Wrong Messages On Social Media? Try Leadership, Not Control.

by cv harquail on December 5, 2011

201112050952.jpgIn my first contribution to Social Business News, I’m reminding organizations that want to align their social media messages to focus their efforts on leadership.

I find it pretty frustrating that so many social media advocates recommend “governance” or “policy” or “control” when an organization finds there are too many voices, not enough voices, or the “wrong” voices aiming to represent the organization online.

My post on Social Business News, Too Many Wrong Messages On Social Media? Try Leadership, Not Control” outlines my argument and recommendations in full. Here’s the takeaway:

If employees are making “mistakes” on social media, that’s not the fault of the organization’s governance, but the fault of the organization’s leadership.

If your employees use social media to talk too much or not enough or not about the right things, that’s a leadership opportunity for you. Don’t concentrate on policing the perimeter with control tools and governance initiatives. Instead, lead from the core of your organization and help members learn to express the organization’s brand and demonstrate the organization’s values as they represent the organization.



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Chris Bailey December 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

CV, this is a terrific take on what is becoming a great concern within organizations. Rather than address sticky, thorny, agonizing problems head-on, let’s just try to govern (or similarly, engineer) the problem away. And while there does need to be some sort of governing document related to social media (as our corporate auditor reminds us), governance and leadership are very different beasts.

Here’s my educated guess on what’s happening: no one knows how to lead when it comes to social media. It’s new and many execs have few ideas on how it works, why it’s useful, etc., etc. So, much like parents, they try to control what they don’t understand.

Perhaps a related organizational problem is at play here, as well: paternalism. Governance is merely a process of protecting subordinates from harming the company and themselves. Still haven’t gotten too far away from our industrial-era roots, have we?

cv harquail December 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hi Chris-

Governance is so fear-based. (Not that it’s not sensible, or necessary, but …) It is all about protecting, rather than about growing.

Your suggestion that maybe “no one knows how to lead when it comes to social media” makes me wonder what kind of education or additional learning might be needed. Sometimes, I think, the emphasis on metrics and on ROI makes people focus on the outcomes and not the quality of the relationship. But maybe the bigger issue is that people are afraid to lead with values becuase they either don’t really know the values or don’t really trust that the organization’s values are authentic. Who’d want to lead an initiative to communicate something unclear or untrustworthy? I’ll have to think more about this– thanks for prompting me to.

Another view would be to see the ‘control’ emphasis, and the paternalistic attitude that you identify, as markers that these organizations are unready to participate fully on social media. Hmmmm.

Chris Bailey December 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm

My experience is that governance can be prompted by a desire to mitigate risk. I know that’s one of the drivers inside my current org. But as you allude to, there’s a need for balance in order to promote a healthy organization.

Your idea about a fear to lead with values resonates with me. Because social media can (and perhaps ought to) encourage more personal dialogue between business and customer, things like values and culture become evident. There’s really no more hiding. This is a great discussion so I can’t wait to talk more about it in the future.

virginia Yonkers January 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm

So what comes to mind is belief in our economic, political, and legal system that companies are “people”. Social media is made up of people interacting with people, not “companies” interacting with people. For social media to work, there needs to be an understanding of the organizational culture (NOT GOALS) and the customer culture. This understanding of the customer culture is what is often missing because most companies assume if there is a goal that the “company” need only meet that goal. However, people have emotions, empathy, connectivity, implicit knowledge, etc… that a company will never have BECAUSE it is NOT A PERSON.

Leaders are people within the organization that can help to mold culture, but ultimately, there is very little control over how culture develops, especially outside of a company. Therefore, leaders are needed to help identify trends, the social climate, relationships, and meaning. Unfortunately, this is not what many business schools are doing, nor are many “companies” interested in anything but quantitative data. More than anything, companies need leaders that not only guide social media, but understand how to use it to connect to the culture inside and outside of the company.

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