How much magic can communications do? Social media and company culture.

A while ago, I was commissioned with developing and implementing the first international website of a large, globally acting B2B company. Target groups: the company’s own international offices and its worldwide clients.

After the website went live, the users were asked how they got along with it, what they liked and what they missed about the old site. Almost all respondents indicated they missed a specific functionality which allowed users to search contact details worldwide; especially the contact details of service centers used in case of an emergency – including the range of services each center offered.

In our original concept we had included such a search function, but discovered in the entire organization there existed no database containing all the necessary information. A deeper research showed that any previous attempts to unify the details in one place had failed because of deep rooted and historical issues and sensitivities among the various offices.

That’s when I learned a sobering truth: corporate communications can never balance what isn’t there – and in many cases may have to bear the brunt of explaining the missing data – or worse yet, be seen as the culprit.

hand pointing at the manWhich brings us to the implementation of corporate social media.

Social media can never be what the company is not. A company that never leaves their premises to meet the users of their products; that never tries to find out how their products are actually being used; or in short, never talks with any relevant consumers – this company will find the world of social media both alien and terrifying.

So what kind of advice do social media consultants typically give in these cases? They include in their social media strategies, a “change of company culture”.  Which, of course, is easier said than done.

I agree with social media expert Jens Scholz who paraphrases this proposition nicely with: “Why don’t you just talk normally with people?” Which would seem to be the basis for a healthy corporate social media strategy, but can lie at a large distance within a company operating without a constructive error culture – where no feedback is good feedback; where everyone covers their backs a dozen times before any decisions are made.Blame Game Concept

Of course, when you recognize your company fits this description, a change of company culture is indeed an excellent idea. But it shouldn’t be a barrier to introducing social media. Get started anyway! It might help drive the needed change.  Some initial steps would include:

–  Find out what others have to say about your company and your products by installing social media monitoring. Liaise with crisis communication.

–  Conduct research about the social media platforms that are most interesting for your target groups.

–  Find individuals in your company who are interested in – and already active – on social media. Leverage their experience.

–  Establish channels for company news that won’t necessarily require much effort and which result in fast interaction – placing online ads for job openings would be an example

Lastly, as the company culture changes and opens up, let your corporate social media change with it.

 by Inés Gutiérrez

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