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Identify the Right People to Manage Your Social Media Initiatives

March 29, 2012

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A version of this post originally appeared on this blog last year. I'm re-posting it with a few minor modifications because I just gave a presentation based on this content at PRSA's Digital Impact Conference. The full presentation is embedded below and available here.

Who leads your organization's social media initiatives? Is it someone who rose up and took the role or is is someone who was assigned that role?

Social media isn't something that can just be assigned to someone any more than you can just assign someone to be the homecoming king. Adding "social media" to that junior public affairs officer's job description isn't suddenly going to turn your organization into the next Zappo's. While you're at it, you might as well add "organizational budgeting" and "legal review" to his job description too – those are two other things that he/she might be able to do well, but would you really entrust those duties to them?

This is why so many social media initiatives fail – not because of technology or policy, but because of people.  We talk often about what department should lead social media, how to get leadership buy-in for social media, or what technology should be used, and while those are important discussions to have, you should be focused on identifying WHO should be leading the social media initiatives.  Not whether that's the Chief Marketing Officer or the Director of Public Affairs or the Community Relations Lead, but actual names of people.  Remember, social media is driven by the person, not the position.

The best person right now might be Joe over in Marketing, but what if Joe leaves the organization?  Who leads the social media initiatives then?  The answer isn't necessarily Joe's replacement.  It might be Kim over in HR. It might be that new guy over in community relations, or maybe it's your webmaster.  The point is that social media doesn't fit nicely into just one job description.  There's a very real human element to it, and identifying the wrong person, even if it is the right position is often the biggest determination in the success or failure of your social media initiatives.

To find the right person to handle social media for your organization, look for people who:

  • LOVE your organization and really understand its mission – first and foremost, find the people who love their jobs and believe in your mission. This isn't a job for the person interested in just the paycheck.
  • Believe in the transformative power of social media – it's not about applying the same old processes to new tools. It's about fundamentally transforming the way your organization interacts with the public, your customers and with each other.
  • You enjoy being around – If a person is a real butthead in real-life, he's going to be that way online too, and you can't afford to have someone like that representing you or your organization
  • Have little fear of failure – Early in my career, a client pulled me aside after they shot down 3 straight ideas I had and told me, "I want to make sure that you understand we WANT you to continue bringing those off-the-wall ideas because it forces us to think of things we never thought of and even if we don't take your suggestions now, they all become building blocks for future ideas."
  • Enjoy working in teams – Social media is "social" – you have to enjoy working with a diverse group of people
  • Are responsive – There is no 24 hour news cycle any more. It's real-time baby. You need people who you KNOW will reply to emails, tweets, texts, etc. quickly and thoroughly. Interestingly, these are also often the people who are the most ambitious and passionate about your organization too.  (*note – these are also the people who may take longer lunches or come in a little late because they don't just "shut off" at 5:00 PM)
  • Can speak like a human being – Corporate marketing speak, statistics, facts, and figures are good, but when was the last time you got inspired by a pie chart? Find people who can connect with their colleagues/customers/clients on a personal level
  • Are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are open about them – One of the first things I tell new employees is to find out what you're good at and find out what you're not good at, and then find people who are good at those things and make friends with them. In social media, you're going to come across issues regarding privacy, IT, legal, communications, and HR, not to mention specific functional areas of your organization. You can't know it all – know what you don't know, and know who to contact for help.
  • Are humble -People mess up in social media. A lot.  It's ok.  Admit you're wrong, fix what you messed up and move on. Not everyone can do this, and very few can do it well.
  • Are diplomatic – The point of social media isn't just to get more followers and friends. It's to help your organization reach its communications, marketing, and sales goals. That's why social media managers need to know how to educate others across the organization and demonstrate how social media can help their business.
  • Are dedicated to building a scalable, sustainable team – People go on vacation. People take other jobs. People get transferred. Make sure that your social media manager has the organization's long-term interests in mind and isn't just focused on raising his or her profile.

Now that I think about it,these are many of the same qualities that exist in any leader, right?  So, what other qualities would you look for when trying to identify someone to head up a social media initiative?

This post was inspired by Andrew Wilson's "Innovation Lab | Who Should Be At The Table" post and Lovisa Williams' "The Intersection" post. Fantastic stuff (as usual) by the both of them.

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But I Don’t WANNA Change!

November 1, 2010

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How many of us have thought (or said) those words? Whether we like it or not, social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with other people. For some that change has been exciting for others it has been exhausting, but for anyone engaged in social media, they have already accomplished one thing – they have changed their behavior.

Clay Shirky has an excellent quote in this short video, where he says, “A revolution doesn’t happen when a society adopts new tools, it happens when a society adopts new behaviors.” This has become a sort of mantra for me – it’s about changing behaviors, it is not about getting people to use a wiki/blog/social networking site, etc.

I recently gave a presentation to a regional International Association of Business Communicators’ (IABC) conference in Philadelphia. The subject was using change management methods to encourage social media adoption within organizations. I was excited to share my ideas about something that I felt way too many social media enthusiasts overlook – the fact that if you expect people to adopt new tools, what you are asking them to do is to fundamentally change their behavior. To do that effectively within an organization you need to use change management.

Dr. John Kotter wrote a revolutionary book in the 1990s called Leading Change. The principles of that book can be found on his website, and what I like about them is that they are universal truths. This isn’t some convoluted graphic model that shows 47 change management processes running in parallel. (Can you tell I hate those?) These are basic principles about human and organizational behavior. It doesn’t matter if you sell shoes, computers, or services, these truths can help your organization transform.

For the IABC presentation, I took Kotter’s principles and applied them to encouraging social media adoption within organizations. During my presentation there were two key questions that really brought home the specific challenges people are facing.

“How do I get my boss to understand that we can use these tools to find new customers?”

Like any good consultant I answered the question with a question. I asked, ‘do you know what social media tools your potential customers are using?’ The answer was no. My advice to this person was – do some research. Don’t just tell your boss, hey, there are people out there using social media and we can sell products to them. Do your research and prove it.

Before you can complain that your company won’t engage in social media, you have to clarify to your boss that there is something tangible to be gained by doing it. Remember, engaging customers is good, but increasing customer loyalty, selling more products, improving customer service – these are ideas any company can get behind.

“My company launched a wiki, but no one uses it. How can I help get people to understand the value of it?”

This is a sad, true statistic – 68% of IT implementations fail. I asked a few follow-up questions, but the gist of the issue was this – IT built it, the communications team wrote an internal memo about it, and that was it. They expected people to just start using this new tool. Of course there were some early adopters (there always are) so the initial results were encouraging, but after a few months usage was way down and no one could understand why.

The answer was simple – you asked people to change the way they behave without giving them a reason to. You didn’t you answer the question “What’s in it for me?” but you also didn’t use change management. Expecting people to change their behavior without understanding the reason for the change or the tangible benefits to them is not realistic.

Here are some key principles to change management, derived from Kotter’s eight common mistakes:

Develop a shared understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve – remember urgency lives where problems exist

  • For social media the key is making sure you are addressing a fundamental business need. Is the goal to train employees, improve morale, or communicate more effectively to a global workforce? Determine the business need and get everyone to agree on it and then you can start talking about solutions.

Gather senior executives, middle management, and junior staff to be the guiding coalition

  • This cannot be a ‘top down’ approach. Gather support from each of the tiers within your organization by helping them understand how this solution will help them. Talk to them about the things that matter to each of them – don’t think one message will work for three different audiences!

Get the naysayers to participate in building the strategy

  • Be sure to engage the traditional naysayers (IT, Legal, etc.) and the late adopters in your organization early and often to address their concerns. You may just make them believers, but at the least you will understand their concerns and reduce their negative influence

Develop a concise and clear change vision – 5 minutes or less!

  • Employees at all levels have to understand what the change is, why it’s happening, and what the goal is. If your boss can’t communicate all of that in 5 minutes, how can he or she expect the employees to talk to each other about it?

Communicate the change vision over and over and over…

  • Consistency is everything – this is no different than any communications strategy. Analyze your audience, develop your messages, and deliver them in multiple ways consistently to build awareness.

Set small, achievable goals to gather momentum

  • Don’t try and do everything at once. Launch one component, get feedback, make improvements, and add functionality. This will show employees that you are listening and building this platform to meet their needs.

Understand this is evolutionary, there is no touchdown dance, just achievement of milestones

  • As you begin to get good news about early adoption, it is easy to sit back and relax on messaging, on rolling out the next feature, etc. DON’T – that is a sure way for the effort to ultimately fail.

Make the change part of the fabric of the organization

  • A key to the success of these enterprise 2.0 solutions is to embed them in the culture. Use the discussion forum to launch initiatives, use profiles to staff projects, use document storage as the only place to find materials. Make the site indispensable to your employees to ultimately have long-term successful adoption.

Remember this key fact – changing behavior is hard. How many times have you tried to lose a few pounds, quit smoking, or stop working on the weekends? Change is difficult for people, so you have to help them understand why changing their behavior will be a good idea for them. Make it about the individual and the organization – do that and you have a chance to really make a difference!

Michael Murray is an Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has helped clients use social media to engage people around the world and in the office across the hall.


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