My Heart Will Go On: Social Media In The Enterprise

I just read a wonderful post by Jane Hart entitled “The Future Of Social Media In The Enterprise“.  In it, she deftly describes an issue that I’ve been encountering often lately with potential clients who want to talk about using this game-changing paradigm-shifting bar-raising (insert your own favorite stupid marketing metaphor here) thing we call Social Media.

titanic1Her argument is quite elegant.  If I may distill it, she feels that using Social Media tools only behind your firewall (not allowing employees to connect outside the company) is short-sighted.  And that their real value is the cross-pollination and connection that comes from engaging across a discipline, around the world, and to people who see things in vastly different ways.

(I bet British Petroleum has a great internal forum to discuss how much time and money to spend when drilling really deep wells, and what to do when you get 700+ safety violations.  But maybe, if they’d been more connected to reality, they wouldn’t have lost $17 BILLON DOLLARS and become the poster boy for dumb.)

I have to say, though, that I’m getting a little bit tired having this discussion with people who are extremely focused on keeping the fence up between their employees and the rest of the world.  Stopping the dangers of Farmville, YouTube, and people randomly getting information they might use to improve their skills.  It’s exhausting to keep having the same chat with the same network administrators.  The same vendors who want to sell their custom “behind the firewall” solutions.  The same tiny minds who think they have all sorts of special secrets about how they put their canned hams in the boxes and ship them out.

Would it make more sense for me to have a “pre-work” session, where there’s an assessment of some kind?  And if the client is mostly focused on how to lock all the doors and bar all the windows — just smile and move along?

On Jane’s blog, I said it this way:

We try to run from or eradicate that which we do not understand. If we can’t kill it, we try to control it and limit the access of others.

Probably true with the first cave-person who found fire. Still true in corporate America today. I have to admit that I, personally, am actually getting a little tired of having this discussion with potential clients and people who ask for advice.

I want to just say “Whatever” and move on to someone who’s open to new ideas and things that might help them. (Kind of a lifeboat drill — if I’ve only got so many years left, do I spend them arguing with people about the VALUE of parachutes or just HAND OUT parachutes to as many people as possible before the crash?)

It’s actually kind of exhausting. Like trying to convince my mom that “unlimited long-distance” actually meant she could talk to me as long and as often as she liked.

Never won that one, either.

So what do you think?  Do you want a parachute, or should we keep talking about the nuts and the in-flight movie?



  1. Hyoun Park says

    You and I know that there is no “fence” between internal and external activities; there is just an artificial barrier that companies put up for themselves (sometimes augmented with legitimate governance and compliance issues). But one of the failures is that I think that we as an advisory/consulting industry have had is our inability to break through to the masses with the value of social media.

    One thing that may help is framing BP as a social media failure. By both restricting any meaningful PR to Tony Hayward (who did a horrible job) and either delaying or poorly filtering outside ideas to cap the well, BP lost billions of dollars in current market value and may see additional billions lost from future lawsuits. (Because if there’s anything I know about New Orleans, they’re not going to just lie down and forget about BP now, a decade from now, or really ever.)

    But even from a pure business value perspective, companies can’t just ignore partners, suppliers, customers, constituents, and the rest of the extended community. Why wouldn’t a company want to get the added value of their feedback and market perspective? Some companies will simply continue to lose this competitive advantage at a time when it has jumped from an early technology to a standard business technology. But there’s only so much you can do to lead a horse to water…

  2. David Glow says

    I find it funny that so much energy goes into this “blocking” of social media, as if these same arguments haven’t occurred with phone usage, internet usage, email, or even idle office chat. Also, it’s funny since most mobile phones come with these capabilities. I find many in organizations getting to a sticking point of reaching out to colleagues, but then simply reaching to a phone (old school) or mobile (newer social media) to get to the avenues to engage outside resources when needed because they are undersupported by the business.

    If managers are managing their people, they are generally aware of whether or not someone is getting their work done appropriately without asking folks to provide blood so they can micro manage them at a cellular level. If folks need to be watched that carefully, chances are a manager is well aware of whether or not they are working well for the organization on a regular basis.

    It is all perceptual, and unfortunately, my experience is that a lot of the C-suite is being sold stories by IT depts who don’t want the headaches (although with some understanding and empathy- the network load and security risks to increase by opening up these technologies- but these, too, are manageable).

  3. dickcarl says

    @hyoun Yeah, the BP Case Study will be taught around the world for years as a “worst practice” from nearly every angle. And social media is one of the big areas that they failed at. It’s so hard for these folks to understand that they no longer control the message. People are talking about your company already, the best you can do is be transparent and truthful and not evil.

    @david One of my favorite things is to ask those folks so worried about SM is to “tell me what your cocktail party policy is.” There’s usually a silence, a little confusion, and then the penny drops. They admit that there’s no formal policy in place for what their employees might say after 2-5 drinks — but want to make sure nobody types anything risky. I live with a Network Administrator — and they’re not bad people. It’s just that none of them are rewarded for taking risks, for encouraging communication, or adding to the load on the pipes. Their main (and often only) metric is how few problems the network has, and server uptime.

    “WidgetCo — Our Goal Is 100% Server Uptime, Screw The Customer”

  4. Janet Clarey says

    I think this comes down to (as you said) control. (“If we can’t kill it, we try to control it and limit the access of others..”) I actually pulled down Focault’s “Discipline and Punish” for support. He speaks of the partitioning of time and then the eventual move beyond that level of control to attempts to assure quality of time used at work. It’s a control issue and L&D has long been a hotbed for control. At 9:00…at 9:30…the learner will…
    I can’t help but think it’s like convincing your Mom it’s unlimited when she’s only gotten bills that are time driven.