Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald in Harvard Business Review July 2012, emphasized that most organizations still view social media as a threat to productivity, intellectual capital, security, privacy, management authority, or regulatory compliance. This is based on more than 250 organizations taking Social Readiness Assessment where respondents were split 50/50 between a positive and challenged attitude towards social media with many indicating that they recognize the potential for social media to address strategic needs and generate durable change.
The figure below shows the distribution of the six social media attitudes we identified.
Fearful, folly and flippant attitudes keep organizations from realizing the benefits of mass collaboration. Simple social media solutions that generate ‘likes’ may be easier to embrace but they offer little in the way of meaningful change.
The trouble with a fearful attitude is that an organization often doesn’t take a specific stance: it discourages and even prohibits the use of social media. While this approach reduces the potential for undesirable behavior — that’s the reason for restriction — it also stifles any business value that might be derived from grassroots use of social media.
In companies with a formulating attitude, organizational leadership recognizes both the value of community collaboration and the need to be more organized and strategic in its use. They actively plan how to use it with well-defined purposes. They are no longer fearful of its misuse nor flippant about its potential to drive results back into the organization.
Progression Path to Becoming a Social Organization
Source: The Social Organization
Social media sponsors who want to move beyond the three negative attitudes tend to build their social media capability in one of two ways: They either use it to demonstrate executive support and build confidence throughout the organization, or they start small with a narrow and specific purpose. Note that this is different than starting with a pilot. Social media pilots don’t work because they might limit the initial audience, which needs to grow organically and aggressively for success; or they tend to launch with a half-baked scope or technology that doesn’t inspire the community to participate.
The second option to overcome fear entails defining a purpose that engages people without threatening the organization. For example, instead of deploying a social network for all its employees to collaborate more effectively (but only starting with a pilot for the “western region”), a company can build a social media solution for sales people to network specifically on how to successfully identify and overcome the top three sales objections.
In other words, consider a starter set of social media purposes that are highly magnetic to individuals to attract them into collaborative communities. Purposes related to employee health and safety, customer support, or even organizing the company picnic have all been used to move beyond fear and into action and experience.
Any organization can get lucky and have a single successful implementation of social media. Social leaders, on the other hand, build collaborative capability through a learning process that starts with understanding their current attitude and taking the steps required to building confidence and trust. This turns a single social media success into a sustained source of competitive advantage.