Culture Byte: Social Media Silk Purse or Public Relations Sow’s Ear?

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Organizational “social PR” is silkier when representatives are accorded trust and authority about a company’s vision and goals, plus how internal leaders and employees operate and engage; in other words, reflect the true “culture” of the business.

Digital “public relations” for an enterprise is much harder and less likely to achieve success if the culture is porcine or controlled (i.e., grunt out some canned corporate or marketing messages on social media platforms…after five revisions and three levels of approval).

“Silk purse” social business culture coming of age

From a personal PR perspective (regarding reputation, value and relationship building), it’s my belief healthy social business cultures are starting to come of age for savvy organizations with forward-thinking leadership. This Byte builds on themes of my earlier Profile Byte and last month’s Employee Byte.

Three reasons why…

1. Reputation “proof points” that investment of resources (i.e., employee-dedicated or allowed time) is worthwhile, both on and away from social media platforms, and increasingly in larger companies. I offer four examples later.

2. Organizations have witnessed the departure of employees responsible for the strategy or hands-on responsibility of social media accounts—often recruited away by other companies for this role. As savvy and sophisticated social business cultures know this might happen, they develop and codify:

  • effective succession planning for critical roles
  • social media policies (including what’s proprietary, post employment)
  • sustainable and logical reporting and/or approval structures
  • business communication plans; and
  • content strategies

This means less focus on social media “stars” (and acolyte followers, who often aren’t even customers/stakeholders) and more emphasis on the social business culture and its own relationships. Ergo, the value and relationship building continues, unimpeded by employee turnover. When it comes to the management role of PR, a combination of successful continuity and evolution is important regarding the social business profile. If the employee exits on an amicable basis, he or she may voluntarily remain an “alumni” brand champion. (See the plethora of LinkedIn and Facebook Groups for former employees of companies.)

3. I’m following more businesses! That’s because I’m interested in knowing more about the organization, based on the communications and public relations expertise demonstrated. In other words, I’m intrigued by their social business cultures and how closely it reflects the internal ones.

Public relations sow’s ear in less-evolved (social) business culture

The culture of an organization is determined or at least “flavoured” by who is leading it. This has always been true.

You know this if you’ve worked at an organization that had a change in CEO. Sometimes, happily, the culture changes for the better (e.g., when the previous leader lacked vision, was indecisive, showed favouritism, didn’t trust employees or was egotistical). Most times there is a transition period of “change management,” when it’s decided whether the prevailing culture (especially in more-established companies) or dominant one (in the case of mergers and acquisitions) will prevail. Sometimes a new CEO come into an organization with a mandate (board or self-imposed) to literally or figuratively “clean house.” Occasionally the house cleaning is warranted.

A change in CEO is a particularly difficult time for the public relations lead, who sometimes is vulnerable to house-cleaning efforts. At a minimum, it’s challenging to lead an effective integrated communication effort, including social media, when the internal organization is in a state of flux or turmoil—particularly if employees are dispirited or fearful about their jobs. In the words of Olga Orda(Employee Byte), “Involving employees makes sense when you need to do a survey of internal organization issues. Poor internal communication equals poor external communication. I’ve found that you can only cover up internal strife for so long!”

A perfect storm

It’s unfortunate social business truly began to take off the same time as the global recession (i.e., 2008-2009), as many CEOs and organizations began to de-emphasize public relations and communication roles (including internal) and efforts. I’m referring to “investing” in and appreciating reputation, value and relationship building efforts. Conversely, during this perfect storm many companies put increased efforts into pure marketing and sales initiatives and messages. And lo and behold, social media was sold as the perfect place to pump out canned marketing messages and increase sales—the silver bullet mentality. (Note I recognize that there are many enlightened marketers and salespeople in social media.) Sometimes younger, digital natives were hired to replace more seasoned employees, because they were active on Facebook and could devise some cool promotions and contests. Likely they were willing to start at lower salaries, as this was one of their first full-time jobs out of school….

There’s not much room for non-marketing communication, engagement and personality with this kind of “sow’s ear” social media mentality. Not to mention being a hellish experience for the senior public relations lead, especially if not given access to the C-suite’s vision and business goals—mind reading is hard at the best of times, but quite horrible when responsible for an organization’s social business reputation. Yet if there’s an online marketing “miscue,” public relations will be (inexplicably blamed and) tasked with cleaning things up…pronto!

Of course that’s the worst-case scenario. The more reasonable CEOs, who value a healthy internal culture, can be persuaded to trust PR-knowledgeable, digitally savvy employees and their business initiatives, at least on a trial basis. Establishing and explaining goals and objectives, plus building in measurement, are effective strategies for influencing an ongoing social PR lead and focus.

Proof points to persuade

Steam Whistle Beer

One of the first non-PR-related business Twitter accounts I followed back was Steam Whistle Beer. An occasional beer drinker, I’m particularly supportive of this type of independent microbrewery. Having been to a social event at its headquarters, I found Steam Whistle staff to be customer-service oriented, friendly and fun—as appeared to be the person behind the Twitter account (whom I later learned was “Marina”).

Flash forward to hearing a Steam Whistle representative speak at Social Media Week Toronto’s Social Media ROI: Myth or Reality? panel session. He explained the history of the company, including its culture and attitude, and aspirational perception for the hearts and minds of its stakeholders (particularly community outreach/events sponsorships). The company’s vision is to be the “most-respected premium beer in Canada.” The culture of fun is profiled on every single bottle. If you ever have the opportunity to drink a Steam Whistle Beer, look for the 3FG mark. It stands for “3 Fired Guys. Likely the deliberate corporate culture of the “3FG” is in direct contrast to their former employer…another microbrewery, which was bought out by a conglomerate. Besides the profile, reputation and relationship building implicit in the company’s PR efforts, here’s a ROI proof point: over its 11 years of existence, Steam Whistle Beer has experienced a 20 to 30 per cent growth in sales, mainly attributed to its social media efforts. Also see Social Media Done Really, Really Well.

Deloitte South Africa

In Decorum Byte I introduced readers to Deloitte South Africa’s David Graham. Recently I shared an Altimeter white paper (received from Kred), The Rise of Digital Influence: A “how-to” guide for businesses to spark desirable effects and outcomes through social media influence, written by Brian Solis. I received the following message in response:

Thank you so much, Judy! This will keep me busy for a while. It comes at a good time because we have been approached by an organisation that wants to arrange a social media awards event. They have asked Deloitte South Africa to audit the process they have adopted to measure the top social media influencers in South Africa.

I was thrilled for David and the “cultural” appropriateness of his company being approached, both for its effective social business profile, as well as the apropos “audit” component of the request. I hope this involvement comes about, so that Deloitte South Africa garners even more well-deserved public relations profile in social media.

(D&B) Hoover’s/Eloqua

This third proof example is a combination of “silk purse” points 2 and 3, about two companies with a B2B relationship.

Hoover’s is another account I followed back, “A D&B company that provides insight and actionable information about companies, industries and key decision makers.” I noticed the account because of its active participation in various business-related Twitter chats. I knew the person behind the account was smart and added value to the chats, and was personable and fun. Later I learned it’s staffed by senior manager Shelly Lucas. Asking Shelly about the tweets from the Hoover’s account, she indicated an agency assists with some content, but Twitter chat participation is 100 per cent by her.

At a recent Brainrider-sponsored #torontob2b Marketers Meetup I appreciated Eloqua consultant Jeffrey Yee’s presentation on Setting Your Clients Up for Success with Marketing Automation – Best Practices. Jeff used Dunn & Bradstreet as his case study, because he was Eloqua’s in-house D&B point person when an automated email client retention program was being implemented. The partnering was so successful that Eloqua hired him….

One of his slides showed all of the D&B companies—and I recognized the Hoover’s logo as being that of my valued Twitter mate. This speaks to the importance of visual branding, as I didn’t immediately remember it was a D&B company. Chatting to Jeff afterwards, I told him what a great job Hoover’s was doing on Twitter. Jeff wasn’t surprised, indicating D&B had a great corporate culture and was good about exploring new areas of communication and growth. Ergo, Jeff is not only able to use his D&B work as a public case study, but he remains a brand champion, even though he now works for a different company.

IBM Alumni Brand Champion

I enticed whip smart, social-media savvy Gen Y Sacha Chua (see how much she impressed Neal Schaffer) into attending that same #torontob2b Marketers Meetup. When Andrew Jenkins (head of social media strategy, RBC) gave the first, also very good, case study on Building a Social Enterprise, he indicated Sacha Chua’s former employer, IBM as a “best practices” company regarding its employee social media policies.

I asked Sacha whether she’d helped design IBM’s social media policy—indeed, she had. Perhaps even more impressive is IBM’s inclusive social business culture that its leadership agreed to let Sacha blog without restrictions about her exit interview. Even though Sacha has chosen to embark on a new career as an entrepreneur, she remains a high-profile alumni brand champion for IBM and its corporate culture.

Check out the this How IBM Uses Social Media to Spur Employee Innovaction  (February 2010) on Social Media Examiner, which Steve Birkett shared in the comments section of Employee Byte for yet another proof point.

Your turn

Do you have any direct experience with or knowledge of a “silk purse” organizational example of social PR?

What are the innovative ways that the internal, healthy corporate culture is expressed externally?

Alternatively, any success stories about how challenges of a public relations “sow’s ear” of a corporate culture were overcome, at least partially through social media?

If yes, it would be great if you share in the comments section.

Judy Gombita
This monthly Social Media and Public Relations column is contributed by Judy Gombita. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. +Judy Gombita
Judy Gombita


Sr/hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist. Mindful curation @PRConversations. Heart: travel, film, theatre, opera, books & food.
By @BlakeMichelleM for @forbes: When Brands Try Too Hard On Social Media h/t @augieray - 7 hours ago
Judy Gombita
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  1. says

    Judy – thank you so much for an insightful article with practical advice based on the real world experiences that you have seen but many might not have realized. As we all know, social media will amplify your message, so if your conversations are not aligned with your corporate culture (or aligned in a negative way) it will become transparent to any stakeholder that listens.

    This post is very timely because I just saw Alex Hultgren, Digital Communications Manager for Ford in Europe speak at iStrategy (Scott Monty was supposed to speak but had to cancel at the last minute) talking about this exact same thing. Ford realized that social media would amplify what their brand was about, so they had to have a good product as well as a message that was aligned with their corporate values. In realigning their products and company culture around their original reason for being since the days of Henry Ford, their social media presence became a natural extension of that company culture which, with every tweet and post, helps fulfill their mission statement in an organic way.  Along with IBM and a few others, I believe that Ford is an emerging leader in social business, at least in how they utilize social media with public stakeholders AND allow their employees like Scott and Alex to be their most passionate brand advocates and “insourced social PR.”

    I would love to see what Scott or Alex think about this post – and I think they would be a good case study to showcase in detail in a future blog post 😉 #hinthint

    Keep up the great work Judy!


    • says

      Thanks for the ongoing support and positive feedback, Neal! When I told you a few weeks ago about what I wanted to do with this particular instalment, you were intrigued, albeit waiting to be persuaded about how it related to public relations. Ergo, I think it’s quite cool and timely that you heard Alex Huitgren provide another case study about the influence of corporate culture on authentic social media efforts. (I wonder if our earlier conversation at all influenced the way you received and processed his presentation, compared to other iStrategy delegates who might have been learning about Ford’s corporate culture cold…?) Of course I did include Scott Monty as a role model in my earlier Profile Byte, but I think it’s very encouraging Alex proved to be an equally compelling and convincing participant in Ford’s organizational narrative—which speaks to the ongoing need for internal-external alignment of vision, business goals and communication, plus social media succession planning and evolution—in this case on a global basis.

      I’m glad you reminded me about the company’s founder and first CEO, Henry Ford, and his accomplishments and lasting influence, both on the company and externally—it’s still quite common to see his pragmatic business vision and advice quoted! Serendipity to read a Globe and Mail article on Thursday, “A deadbeat no more, Ford must keep focus,” which reminded me that the family remains involved. Not only is the chairman a descendant, but Bill Ford and his relatives between them control 40 per cent of the auto maker’s voting stock—and, presumably, influence on the corporate culture, currently under CEO Alan Mulally (since 2006). This same article reminded readers that Ford was the only auto maker out of the USA Big Three that did not receive bailout money from your government.

      What I’d like to know from Scott and/or Alex is how much direct access they have to both Bill Ford and Alan Mulally….

      I mus admit, I’m not overly fond of your word “amplify,” Neal (I know…it’s used all of the time in social media), as I always think of amplifiers with the volume turned up too loud! :-)

      On the other hand, a Thesaurus indicates that alternative verbs for amplify are “intensify” or “add details.” In particular, I quite like the concept of social media “adding details” for interested stakeholders to consume about the corporate culture!

      I’ve been promoting the concept of “organizational narrative” as a crucial role for contemporary public relations management, over “spin” or even the less-complex “corporate story telling.” I’ve been thinking of ways to build on the concept to make it more understandable to individuals, i.e., amplify it for popular Byte consumption. So here’s an analogy I’ve come up with, thanks to your above comment:

      Think of the Ford Motor Company to being similar to the musical/film, Jesus Christ, Superstar.
      The company’s original vision (affordable and reliable cars for the many) was akin to introducing a new religion.

      Its major players influencing culture/beliefs are the C-suite: Chair, CEO, CCO, CMO, etc. (Jesus and his disciples)

      An equally important role is that of The Narrator, which in the non-religious Ford example includes a crucial social business role under compelling/organic brand champions and employees, such as Scott and Alex.

      Finally, I really, really heart the way you’ve embraced the concept “insourcing” social PR!


      • says

        Thank you so much for a thoughtful response Judy. In fact, the Ford narrative that you refer to was spoken of in detail during the presentation.

        Unfortunately, however, I never saw Jesus Christ, Superstar – so still trying to figure out your thought process…any similar movie that comes to mind?


        • says

          That’s great to hear, Neal, which means that Ford’s organizational narrative is consistent, both by internal stakeholders and in the external reporting by media (i.e., third-party validation).

          Hmm. I’m wracking my brains trying to find an equivalent film analogy to give you. The thing with JCS is that The Narrator is a character that plays a role throughout, as opposed to an opening and closing commentary (such as Forrest Gump).

          Some other possibilities:

          To Kill a Mockingbird
          Shawshank Redemption
          Sunset Boulevard

          Basically, the role of the narrator should be to “add details” and point out things that might not be immediately evident, but not to tell the audience what to think or feel.

          To give you some context, one of my nieces played the role of the narrator in JCS two years ago (had to audition against a tough field). It was considered one of the “leading roles.” Ergo, my analogy is that even if the person leading organizational social media efforts does not have a “C-suite” title, her or his role is still of paramount importance, particularly when providing the ongoing internal narrative, externally, to relevant and interested stakeholders.

          Does that help?

          BTW, I hope you provide a recap of your iStrategy conference experience, particuarly as to whether you found the case studies and or attendees different “across the pond” than that of North American conferences.

          And good luck getting over your jet lag (although I always find it easier travelling east to west, than vice vversa).

        • says

          Oh my. Neal, I just realized I mixed up musicals relatives performed in. (A couple of years BEFORE my niece’s role was JC, S, where my NEPHEW had a lead role…what can I say? My sister is a music major university graduate who teaches high school music; all of her children inherited her musical abilities….).

          Although much of my direct analogy re: organizational narrative no longer applieactually relates to another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (with lyrics by Tim Rice), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

          Although much of what I wrote above no longer applies so neatly, I do think this Wikipedia entry about The Narrator does lend the “organizational narrative” concept (re: social business) credibility:

          So, did you ever see Josph? The Toronto production boasted Donny Osmond in the lead role, so we all flocked to see it. :-)

  2. says

    As always, Judy, you give a thoughtful, cogent and usable perspective here! The real-world examples are especially helpful, as we all try to navigate the new social world, and use it in the most effective ways for our own organizations.

    • says

      Thanks for reading, RT’ing and stopping by to comment, Kristen. You actually had an influence on this Culture Byte after our conversation over coffee a couple of months ago about what made for a great corporate culture and how much things can change with a new CEO or a buyout. Given the fact that your specialty is in internal/corporate communications—for which you’ve been recognized in industry publications—versus mine in primarily external communication management and public relations, it was really beneficial to receive amplification and confirmation of my perceptions versus your experiences and realities. It’s also great that you’ve met Neal Schaffer in person (at our #VXToronto Tweetup) and continue to put to use Neal’s suggestions from his first LinkedIn book, to help you navigate the new social (business) world.

      I hope to see you again at the next #torontob2b Marketers Meetup, if not before. (BTW, Sacha Chua old me she’s coming again…..)

  3. says

    Thank you for peeling back the onion and recognizing that not all businesses are the same on the inside. Culture is a wild card when it comes to adapting to changes, whether that change has internal or external roots.

    Many companies have underestimated the importance of internal communications. There is this idea that since they are inside, employee naturally know and understand why certain decisions are made and should simply accept them as necessary. Assuming that employees are on board is a huge mistake, however, and without a mechanism to listen – business leaders are flying blind. Spreadsheets can not tell the whole story.

    In regards to the role of PR in all of this, the companies that recognize what PR does will benefit. But it is amazing how many don’t “get” PR. Sure they have it in the marketing mix, but that is not the same thing.

    When looking to consolidate, they need to recognize that the social “army” they need is right under their nose. IBM has done this brilliantly. For example, IBM engineers are blogging – the change was fairly straightforward. Instead of focusing on writing white papers and submissions for tech journals, they were given a blog. It is the same (sort of ) process, but it gave them significantly more visibility. AND they literally have thousands that are qualified to join in. From there, participation on other social media outlets is a small leap.

    Talk about a silk purse (or a silver bullet)!

    The model can be leveraged by companies of various sizes, of course, but there has to be a cultural norm that encourages employees to venture out and try new things. It has to go beyond just “saying” this is a good idea… otherwise, you just end up with vapid marketing copy.


    • says

      Jen, I’m so pleased you’ve weighed in, given your senior-level experience in internal communications and your general social-media savviness! I’ve been lobbying Neal about the importance of internal communications in a social business (and, Psssttt, have told him about you), so it’s great to see you providing your take and confirmation about the value of insourcing for external reputation and value, let alone internal relationship building.

      IBM is indeed a stellar example. BTW, that same Forbes article you linked to on Twitter (together with this Culture Byte) about IBM’s CEO was earlier shared with me by Joe Ruiz (who writes the integrated marketing column). I’m linkin to it below. I do appreciate you highlighting the blogging engineers, as I doubt they are the first employees who come to mind when most people think of effective communicators. Let alone the fact that they are pretty far removed from the marketing messaging that so many continue to think of when it comes to social media.

      Indeed, “…there has to be a cultural norm that encourages employees to venture out and try new things. It has to go beyond just ‘saying’ this is a good idea….otherwise, you just end up with vapid marketing copy’.”

      Sacha Chua (featured in this Culture Bye) is a personal example of this. I suspect most readers don’t realize that I first became aware of Sacha because of her quite-fabulous The Shy Connector, SlideShare presentation. I think I spotted it on LinkedIn. I didn’t even realize at the front end that she worked for IBM or what she did there. But, of course, it quickly became obvious that part of the reason she did achieve so much respect and profile in social media was because she worked for a progressive employer, who supported and encouraged her initiatives, whether or not they directly related to the organization. I’ve linked to the IBM Network version below as a proof point.

      I really appreciate the way you communicate ideas, including the imagery. But now I have a bit of a mashup in my mind of spreadsheets flying blind in a less-evolved social business.
      Thanks, again, for the cogent, subject-expert commentary. You are such a beautiful writer! (IBM Study: If You Don’t Have a Social CEO, You’re Going to be Less Competitive) (The Shy Connector)

  4. says

    As always, Judy, a vital and interesting post.  I love the examples (Steam Whistle also makes terrific beer, kind of the main need for any company seeking brand power.) And, I intend to follow more companies too, starting with these you refer to here. 

    A couple of comments. The internal constituencies are too often seen either as customers or as necessary evil. That’s one reason why marketing always wants to sell (“features & benefits!”) and management tries to simply tell (“Why aren’t they doing what I said? I sent a memo!”) Sow’s ear indeed!If we consider the communication process of awareness, understanding, commitment and action as discrete and progressive elements, where does two-way discussion add the most value? Telling gets to awareness (provided stuff gets read), but understanding comes from involvement. Without getting those right, commitment (a process that self-directed and cognitive) isn’t possible, and neither is action.  The sow’s ear leader wants to jump straight to action, and unless you’re a soldier in a war, that’s not going to work (conditioning leads to obedience, and with good reason). Connecting to your example, “social media was sold as the perfect place to pump out canned marketing messages and increase sales—the silver bullet mentality.” — social media should be conceived more like excellent internal comms: relationship-building among a defined constituency. Selling to employees or trying to convince them to “feel good about the organization” is not likely, and increasingly that sort of bald approach to customers isn’t working either!  This is ironic as heck, because there are so many examples of organizations using social ONLY for marketing which aren’t as successful as those which use social to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. That, my friends, is what Public Relations is all about — which is why we must influence the social path in our organizations, no matter who “owns” social. 

    Good post!

    • says

      I’m so glad you’ve tried Steam Whistle, Sean! Can you purchase it in the US or did you have whilst in Canada? Next time you visit the T-dot we will have to go to The Roundhouse for a tour, maybe even given by Marina.

      I really appreciate the way you encapsulate big ideas into sound bytes, whether intentionally or not: “The internal constituencies are too often seen either as customers or as necessary evil.” Brilliant. Your Kent State PR students must thoroughly enjoy your classes.

      And this is why I’m so pleased that Kristen, Jen and you have stopped by to comment. I’ve found in social media the marketers tend to dominate the so-called “conversations” about all things social. We need to hear from more internal communications specialists, when it comes to evolving a true social business.

       I asked this question today on the #brandarchy version of #brandchat: When it comes to corporate CULTURE, who is more important, customers or employees? The marketers kept changing corporate culture to talk about “brand” and most insisted that it was the customers who determined the brand/culture. Umm, no. Customers do NOT decide corporate culture, although they can certainly recognize when it is great or terrible. Customers also come and go; employees tend to stick around longer, although not always by specific choice if the culture is porcine.

      Building relationships, yes. Of all kinds of ilk and stripes. But preferably of the silk-purse variety. And I don’t care who owns social media, I just want public relations to lead it, even if it’s leading from behind or beside all kinds of employees.

      Thank you for “getting” it. And for using the “sow’s ear” and “silk purse” imagery throughout.

  5. RebeccaEdgar says

    Lots to think about here. Love Steam Whistle – its reputation AND its product. Your point about 3FG speaks volumes about its leadership. Can’t think of many CEOs who would broadcast that info, let alone build it into branding. Do you think the orgs that make the silk purse do so by relinquishing (some) control re: controlling the message? 

    Point about internal strife reminded of something Erik Qualman discusses in Socialnmonics – that social media eliminates the ability to play different roles depending on the audience (he calls it “social schizophrenia” which I don’t love, but the concept is interesting). 

    Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

    • says

      Rebecca, thanks so much for stopping by. I apologize for the delayed response, but I did not receive a Disqus email about your comment (although I did yesterday, for Steve’s).

      The thing about Steam Whislte—this mini case study has resonated with so many, even those who have never tasted its beer or experienced its culture—is that I was NOT aware of the 3FG story prior to Social Media Week Toronto panel…but once I heard it, I wasn’t overly surprised. Next time Neal Schaffer comes to Toronto we must arrange to hold the tweetup there and you come along…. You know what delighted me even more than the 3FG story? Finding out that The Round House regularly displays Canadian artists. A new four-person show was announced on Twitter last week. How many beer companies do you know that support artists, in addition to sports and music events?!

      Regarding your query, what I’ve been saying to Neal and others is that more and more I’m coming to believe that a truly social business is one that reflects, on all levels, what the internal culture is like. Ergo, it’s not really relinquishing control of any message: it’s simply telling the organizational narrative in various digital and social forms, as well as traditional ones, by a variety of voices and sources—just like would happen in a staff meeting. If the organizational narrative has always been true, there really isn’t much room for either control or spin, is there?

      I’m not familiar with Erik Qualman’s book Socialnmonics. Now that I’ve finished Nora Young’s The Virtual Self and Clay Johnston’s The Information Diet, I will add it to the reading list. It’s thanks to YOU that I found out about Philip Sheldrake’s The Business of Influence, including the fact that he cited my PR Conversation’s blog post. It was one of my two favourite books read in 2011, so I know I can depend on your recommendations. “Social schizophrenia” does sound like an interesting concept for PR practitioners and others to explore, especially if
      it helps tear away the curtain on toxic cultures and gives higher profile to the healthy ones.

  6. says

    Another strong, deep piece, Judy. So much so that I needed to ruminate on the subjects for several days in order to add some value! Hopefully I can do so now.

    The truly silk purse social business accounts upon which I’ve stumbled have one thing in common: enthusiastic employees who have been given the freedom to express themselves and their organization through social media. They radiate the positive internal culture of their employer, largely because their employer has trusted in them to do just that.

    The flip side for those that have not bought into this way of thinking is just as you predict. Early on, the effects will be negligible, with traditional communications practices continuing to tread sufficient water to rationalize ignoring more contemporary approaches. For now, ‘social’ can be a pool in which businesses paddle. Soon though – and perhaps sooner than many of us expect – social media maturation will equate to a much deeper body of water, in which businesses that haven’t learned to swim early on may well drown.

    In this scenario, companies hoping to turn around their social fortunes need to seek out just those individuals they previously eschewed, the natural connectors with an innate ability to navigate the social media waters. This may require a position shift, a pay raise, and possibly even hiring in new talent, but without someone who can hit the ground running, late comers will find it difficult to catch up with those social businesses that have been honing their craft for years.

    By no means do I believe that social media is the be all and end all of successful operations in the future, but the shift that it represents to more customer-focused, two-way business relationships is extremely important. The trend in the past few decades has been towards more and more automation of customer service, with a correlating increase in customer frustration. As word of mouth becomes a central factor once again, organizations that continue to ignore the open channels to their customers will find themselves struggling to retain business. 

    • says

      Steve, I am happy to receive thoughtful comments days or weeks after a post publishes, rather than something that was simply dashed off in the interest of speed and timeliness. Translate that to a corporate setting—which is going to be the more effective piece of communication?

      I agree with you about the importance of trust, but of course that is a two-way street. As enthusiastic and heartfelt as employees can be, some need to trust that occasionally individuals aren’t best suited to share certain aspects of the organizational narrative. What I’d like to see is employees being entrusted to share more openly about the aspects of the social business in which they are directly involved, provided it isn’t proprietary or a regulated area. That is another sign of a healthy corporate culture—open discussions about these things, per Employee Byte. For example, cross-generational mentoring, for the benefit of both.

      I really like your “For now, ‘social’ can be a pool in which businesses paddle” analogy. From the Make Corporations Behave book (I haven’t read it, but heard the author on the radio), “brands are also useful as social signals.” Translate that to the various stakeholders sending out the social signals about the social business.

      One thing to keep in mind, though, is that listening to customers mainly applies to B2C companies. With B2B or governments or charities, etc., the primary stakeholders will be different than consumers. For that matter, I do get concerned that too many in social media place sole emphasis on consumers, even in B2C. What about the various levels of government, or the communities where the business resides? Shareholders, investors, partners in business, etc., all should play a role in the two-way communications. As time is precious, the juggling act is who to pay the most attention—why and what (the social business strategy)—as well as the tactical side of where, when and how.

      I would suggest that Steam Whislte, Deloitte, Hoover’s and IBM are all really good at that balancing act.

      You are yet another thoughtful individual I’ve met through business-related Twitter chats. I thank you for your comments, influence and inspiration, particularly in the writing of this Culture Byte.

      • says

        Much appreciated Judy. I’m also fortunate to have met some very knowledgable folks across a variety of Twitter chats and Facebook groups, all of whom afford me insights into industries that would otherwise have been out of reach. 

        I’ve also subscribed (finally!) to this site now, so hopefully I’ll catch more gems as and when they arise. The best of days to you :-) 

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