Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Are social media professionals unfairly constrained by organisations?

When organisations hire accountants they are allowed to use specialist financial software to do their jobs.

When organisations hire customer service representatives they are given training and scripts and are then allowed to speak to customers on the phone - monitored for performance reasons but free to communicate in appropriate ways without approval of every word.

When organisations hire graphic designers, project managers, multimedia producers and programmers they are given access to appropriate software and computer systems.

So why is it that, when hiring social media professionals, organisations don't give them access to their 'tools of the trade'?

In many organisations it is not possible to access social media channels - such as Facebook or Twitter - due to old-style internal IT access policies. Tools to monitor social media channels are also often blocked, making it difficult to track what customers and clients are saying about an organisation, identify opportunities or head-off potential issues.

In many cases organisations scrutinise all social media interactions at senior levels (down to 140 character tweets). These approval processes can add significant time and effort to online responses, making it difficult to interact at the pace required for social media. Imagine if telephone conversations or live conference presentations were treated the same way.

Also often those employed to implement social media systems and manage these channels are not provided with training and support - certainly not to the level of a phone customer service representative - despite being in the position of interacting with the public every day.

Even when organisations are serious about adopting social media, their policies, processes and procedures may not be designed to allow social media to work for them. This can lead to mixed messages (as when customers are invited to fan an organisation's Facebook page - which staff are not allowed to access during work hours). This can even lead to social media engagement becoming a liability, where its use is so constrained that it casts the organisation in a worse light.

These issues are occurring in private as well as public sectors organisations - perhaps some corporations have not realised that restricting access to social media can seriously damage your business.

Progress is also very uneven and often driven by senior personalities. Organisations and agencies with clear Gov 2.0 Action Plans are driving ahead, whereas others are still considering whether twitter is a legitimate business communications channel - either from a lack of knowledge, lack of leadership or lack of interest.

How can social media professionals ensure that our organisations give us access to the tools we need to support the goals of our organisations?

How do we break down the barriers to using social media when we cannot demonstrate successes due to these same barriers?

How do we convince senior management that social media professionals are skilled and trustworthy employees who should be treated with the same respect as other trained professionals?

And how do social media professionals juggle the need to be educators, innovators, strategists, change managers, implementers, communications specialists and leaders at the same time?


  1. I'm struggling with the idea of "social media professional". I think part of the problem is promoting a perception that social media is something apart from all the other ways a company communicates with the community around it. Sure, we might hire folk with social media cred into Marketing to help broaden its skill base, but the minute we define it as something different we're sending a message that we don't take it seriously as part of the business proper. "Did you run it past the social media person?" "No, we were under a deadline and don't have time."

    If a new tool or technique adds value than you can be sure business will adopt it. However, this will take time and it will happen from inside the business rather than outside. I like the journey Vic Gov is taking: a slow, twister path forward, but one which acknowledges the change journey and puts the new capabilities inside the business, rather than something tacked on the side. It's not surprising they're having quite a bit of success.

    I think the trick here is to define yourselves in terms of something the business cares about ("policy wonk", "child care worker" et al) and then use these tools if add value to your work. When a bunch of people are using the tools, and the tools are providing an obvious benefit, then the business will come on side. (Think of PCs and spreadsheets in the era of data centres.) Show the value, rather than trying to convince the business with (to them) abstract arguments.

    Defining yourself as a "social media professional" — which we've already acknowledged the business doesn't understand — is a sure path to frustration. Just ask any "Technology Evangelist" from before the 2002 .com bust: they were mainly figureheads to never managed to get anything done, and quickly went the way of the dodo when money became scarce.

  2. Love the Dilbert cartoon. This is the view of many in the PS who are facing questions about how to implement Gov 2.0.

  3. Peter,

    I think you missed my point. It's not about how an individual defines oneself, it is about how the business defines itself.

    Regardless of whether an individual's role is communications, policy or ICT, the tools remain blocked and unusable in many organisations.

    Either this is due to inertia - old policies never updated - or due to the direction of those who do not believe new tools add value.

    While in an ideal world organisations may adopt the tools and techniques which provide them with value, in the real world many organisations cling to the the tools and techniques which worked many years before.

    That's why businesses like Dell, Amazon, eBay and Apple are able to outperform their competitors. Because their competitors remain wedded to old tools - even when new tools are proven to add business value.

    In the private sector creative destruction means that new businesses outcompete and eventually replace older businesses.

    Where this competitive force is not present, in the old Soviet Union for example - or in many public sector organisations - creative destruction is much slower and more difficult to achieve without extreme pressure from within or without.