Social Media is Scary – How to Address Middle Managers

Part 3 in a series of posts responding to my original post, “Social Media is Scary

So, what can you do to address the myriad reasons for social media being scary?  This is the third (the first one addressed the junior employee, and the second addressed senior leadership) of four blog posts tackling each of the demographics that I brought up in the original posts, one by one and illustrate how I handle the “social media is scary” line.  The third group is the middle manager and project manager –

For managers – “So, how much time is my staff going to be spending blogging/reading blogs rather than doing actual work?  If my staff have questions about their project, their career, or their work environment, I want them coming to me, not blogging about it for the whole world to see.  I’ve got an MBA and have been with the organization for five years – why would I put my work out there for people to change and mess up?”

Ah, yes, time for the middle managers and project managers.  In my experience, this is the stakeholder group that is most skeptical, opposed, and confused about social media.  They seemingly have the most to lose – social media allows senior leadership to interact directly with their workforce (why go to my manager if I can talk directly to the big guy?) and they’re directly responsible for ensuring that the “work gets done” so while time spent reading blogs might be beneficial over the long term, it doesn’t directly benefit the project at hand.   The typical project manager is interested first in achieving the goals of the project, and the typical middle manager is interested in balancing the needs of his or her staff, plus doing what senior leadership asks, plus building their own career.  For this group, social media is at best, another activity competing for their time, and at worst, a severe inhibitor to achieving the mission.

To get the middle manager or project manager on board with social media, you have to show them two things:

  1. Social media will save them time
  2. Social media help them build their business and/or grow their team

While one might be tempted to launch into presentations about how social media can help them communicate with their staff or to collaborate more efficiently, they aren’t going to care unless you can demonstrate to them how these tools will help them do one of the above.

When talking with a middle manager or project manager, I’ll typically start by focusing on the tools themselves, rather than on the overarching strategies, like I would do with senior leadership.  Show them how the tools can help them save time.  Show them how they can use del.icio.us so that they can use their bookmarks no matter where they’re at, and despite the number of “blue screens of death” they see.  Social bookmarking to save time is of much more importance to them than being able to share their bookmarks with others.  Show them an example where a wiki has been used to eliminate 43 MS Word versions of a white paper or some other document.  Show them how an internal blog can be used to keep team members up to date on their project instead of having weekly in-person team meetings.

Once they have that foundation in how the tools work, and how they can be used to save time and to build their business/team, THEN they’ll start getting interested in the broader view of social media.  “Hey Steve – first, thanks so much for getting me set up on del.icio.us.  It really saved me when my laptop died the other day!  But what I really wanted to talk to talk to you about is the sharing aspect of it.  Since my bookmarks are just available online, couldn’t I just tag things and then my team would be able to see what I’ve tagged?”

Middle managers and project managers deal much more in the practical than in the theoretical.  An understanding of this very fundamental perspective is critical to showing middle managers and project managers that social media isn’t scary – it’s a critical time-saver that can be used in myriad different ways.

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About sradick

I’m Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh.

Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • This is a great strategy for reaching middle management, Steve. And, like you said, these are typically the most difficult to get through concerning the culture shift of Enterprise 2.0. I think once the time savings aspect is understood, the typical corporate values of “diversity” and “mentoring” can be easily woven in. Social media naturally encourages a diversity of ideas, from multiple levels of the organization. And it makes it a breeze to mentor junior folks virtually – write one blog post sharing business insights and share it with your entire team, share relevant web resources through social bookmarking, etc.

    However…we should never underestimate the powerful fear of looking stupid (or worse, ignorant). The transparency and “live” nature of E2.0 platforms means that inept managers can no longer pretend to know what they are talking about. Their expertise – for better or worse – will be laid bare. For managers who have this fear, we may be able to stress how they can easily get “back in the game” by subscribing to technical blogs, subscribing to appropriate tags in delicious, etc.

  • This is a great strategy for reaching middle management, Steve. And, like you said, these are typically the most difficult to get through concerning the culture shift of Enterprise 2.0. I think once the time savings aspect is understood, the typical corporate values of “diversity” and “mentoring” can be easily woven in. Social media naturally encourages a diversity of ideas, from multiple levels of the organization. And it makes it a breeze to mentor junior folks virtually – write one blog post sharing business insights and share it with your entire team, share relevant web resources through social bookmarking, etc.

    However…we should never underestimate the powerful fear of looking stupid (or worse, ignorant). The transparency and “live” nature of E2.0 platforms means that inept managers can no longer pretend to know what they are talking about. Their expertise – for better or worse – will be laid bare. For managers who have this fear, we may be able to stress how they can easily get “back in the game” by subscribing to technical blogs, subscribing to appropriate tags in delicious, etc.

  • Adam – I definitely didn’t mean to underestimate the transparency impact. I think you’re right on about managers being scared of the openness that social media allows. That openness is definitely a scary thing, especially for managers who are so used to getting by on title alone.

  • Adam – I definitely didn’t mean to underestimate the transparency impact. I think you’re right on about managers being scared of the openness that social media allows. That openness is definitely a scary thing, especially for managers who are so used to getting by on title alone.

  • Well thought-out, Steve. I think another thing people need to do when “selling” middle management is to convince them it doesn’t take much effort to learn the new tools. Showing them ROI is great, but they may fear the unknown; which is, “Is this going to be difficult? How much time will it take to get people up to speed on this stuff?”

  • Well thought-out, Steve. I think another thing people need to do when “selling” middle management is to convince them it doesn’t take much effort to learn the new tools. Showing them ROI is great, but they may fear the unknown; which is, “Is this going to be difficult? How much time will it take to get people up to speed on this stuff?”

  • Well thought-out, Steve. I think another thing people need to do when “selling” middle management is to convince them it doesn’t take much effort to learn the new tools. Showing them ROI is great, but they may fear the unknown; which is, “Is this going to be difficult? How much time will it take to get people up to speed on this stuff?”

  • It seems like business is still getting hit hard. Is anybody seeing an upswing in their respective niches? Health reform seems like a mess. I generate long term care insurance leads and annuity leads for the insurance industry, but volume has been terrible in the last two months. I am afraid the worst is yet to come, but maybe it is just my attitude.

  • It seems like business is still getting hit hard. Is anybody seeing an upswing in their respective niches? Health reform seems like a mess. I generate long term care insurance leads and annuity leads for the insurance industry, but volume has been terrible in the last two months. I am afraid the worst is yet to come, but maybe it is just my attitude.

  • It seems like business is still getting hit hard. Is anybody seeing an upswing in their respective niches? Health reform seems like a mess. I generate long term care insurance leads and annuity leads for the insurance industry, but volume has been terrible in the last two months. I am afraid the worst is yet to come, but maybe it is just my attitude.

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  • Nice looking site and I like the way you write. I just love using WordPress as well. Where did you get your theme?

  • Nice looking site and I like the way you write. I just love using WordPress as well. Where did you get your theme?

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