Wells Fargo has Chastity, Sateen, Haila, Kimarie, Jay, and Ruby. These are the six official faces of Wells Fargo presented on the Ask_WellsFargo page on Twitter. Comcast famously has Frank Eliason attending to the ComcastCares account, joined now by Doug, Bill, Bonnie and six other Comcasters, responding to concerns in the ever growing Twitter channel.

It has become a much recommended best practice for companies to use real names with real faces in Twitter accounts of companies. Social Media are supposed to be about people, after all? (By the way, have you ever tried to get real names or an email address from call center reps?). So these are the faces of the company – for the Twitter world at least? Dispensing support in doses of 140 characters.

What about the other faces? Wells Fargo has over 250,000 employees. Comcast employs about 100,000 people. Thousands of them are on Facebook, having identified Comcast as their employer. Over 20,000 current Comcasters can be found on LinkedIn. Over 60,000 employees of Wells Fargo are on LinkedIn, many with pictures. That’s a lot of faces. By identifying their employer, they are faces of the company as well. Not to everyone, but to someone in their social network. No surprise, I have a few Wells Fargo connections in my direct network. Another 500 are just one link away. Let’s say I have a question about Wells Fargo or banking in general, I may reach to one of these connected faces in the network, rather than to Chastity, Sateen and co (who I don’t have a network intro to).

The proliferation of social networks has made corporations more into “companies of faces”. As I discover on Facebook that the brother of a member of my sailing crew works at Comcast, he has become a face of Comcast, at least to me. What see him doing or saying – online or offline – will be somehow connected – in the back of my mind – to the company he works for. If I ever have a question about Comcast, there is a good chance that I may approach him.

This is not to say that we all have to be “on”, representing the company which employs us at all times. However, companies appear not have fully grasped the implications of being a company of faces. Many organizations spend a lot of energy on getting their members on internal networks. In many Enterprise 2.0 projects, adoption success is measured by the percentage of employees who set up their profile, ideally with a picture. Rightfully so, as many improvements on internal collaboration depend on active members in such networks. In the meantime, the same employees have already active profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, interacting with former classmates and fellow members of their PTA. This fact is not lost on many companies. HR departments issue policies and guidelines for how employees should conduct themselves in the world of social media.

In applying traditional PR and customer service approaches to social media, most companies have focused on a few faces of the company, not yet grasping the potential that they are now a more visible company of faces. Yes, policies and guidelines may be useful. However, the image of a bank may not be shaped by people who stick to corporate persona, but by a banker who I see as extraordinarily friendly and amazingly helpful in my online of offline communities.

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As Enterprise 2.0 and social business technologies work their way through the Hype Cycle, the resistance to change understandably receives more attentions. A 2.0 Adoption Council study proclaims “Resistance is Real”. Culture has always been on the radar screen, now it’s right into the practitioner’s face again.

Enterprise 2.0 projects that don’t meet the interests and needs of the users will hit a wall. Labeling and treating such a situation as “resistance” can make it even worse.

For a recent big tech project at a bank, the implementation proposals from consultants all contained a section about “addressing resistance”. After hearing a few of these proposals, the executive in charge of the sales force got up and asserted “when my people don’t hit their sales targets, I would not let them get away with talk about ‘resistance from prospects’. I’d tell them to go back and listen to the customer needs and retool their products and sales approaches.”

If Enterprise 2.0 aims at the active involvement of employees, shouldn’t they be treated as we would treat customers? Sooner or later E2.0 champions face problems getting in their way of the envisioned project rollout or adoption. What happens when they label these problems “resistance”? Essentially, they declare the other side (the employees) to be the problem. Such thinking is in danger to reduce the people to ‘targets’ that need to be handled so that they can ‘overcome the problem’. At the same time, the evangelist aim at keeping their gospel unchanged, – the problem is with the “resisting target audience”.

How about engaging the employees early on, to design a solution that pays respect to their needs and pains? Their motivations and attitudes are not as mysterious or “irrational” as they may appear to an outsider. It’s about active listening and skilled facilitation of participative design processes. We have seen such approaches empowering both the employees and the Enterprise 2.0 champions.

The new tools enable new solutions to existing problems. It’s about more about the “solutions” than about the “adoption” of the tools. The future users “buy” their solution and seize its potential. Such a buy-in goes beyond addressing “resistance”.

Some players at the table became pretty quiet the longer the discussion went. A little while ago we were discussing social networking in a taskforce at a large financial institution. While “Enterprise 2.0” was not an explicit topic, most of the talk was about internal networking applications. “You know that a lot of people would need to change things that they have learned over time and make a lot of sense to them?” one of the silent SVPs spoke up.

With increasing information velocity and networking, organizations are expected to be more open. However, most organization weren’t built for openness. Companies exist (gross over-simplification of the Theory of the Firm) to reduce the fluidity and complexity of work relationships. If these work relationship had be negotiated anew on a case-by-case relationship, the transaction cost involved would make work prohibitively inefficient – at least at the time when firms were established.

Culture goals that look like no-brainers to analysts and technologists – who can object to FLATNESSES? – can actually be deterrents to managers in an actual large company. Those who think that they can do without these managers are far away from a successful pilot.

Is the incumbent culture the problem? Well as they say, today’s problems were yesterday’s solution to yesterday’s problems.

Yesterday’s solutions took years to master. Careers have been built on their mastery. In large organizations, we have seen Enterprise 2.0 efforts face some typical roadblocks:

Free information flow vs. Chain of Command

Free info flow from the frontline to executives? Managers get suspicious when information easily skips a level or two in the hierarchy. Not that they necessarily want to keep the information under wraps. But they prefer controlling the loop – when, how, to whom the communications happens. If it’s good news, take some credit for it; if it’s bad news, let’s add some spin (explanation or blame).

One-way street of transparency

A CEO recently informed his employees that the calendaring system has been changed so that she could see everybody’s calendar – and that he may make use of that capability. While some applauded the honesty, some employees asked if they would be able to see the CEO’s calendar. Well, not really. Cultural lesson learned for the organization: transparency is less required as you get to the top. Why not practice in advance?

The Black Hole Syndrome of knowledge sharing

“Knowledge sharing feels like a black hole. You throw a lot of stuff in, and never hear about it again.” While this typical complaint was probably a good characterization of past KM approaches, many managers are still burnt by this experience. Today’s solution allow for better attribution of authorship, tracking of use, and feedback. However this signal has to get across the noise level.

Too much visibility? Never change a winning team – especially if it’s mine

Good managers spend of lot of energy on building good teams. While they enjoy the visibility into the skills and experience of employees – theirs and those of other organizations – they tend to be protective about their team. “If other managers see the quality (or capacity) I have build in my team, they are tempted to plunder. Good for the other managers’ career, but not for mine.”

Culture of “internal trade secrets”

In an insurance company, a sales manager had figured out a very effective way to sell packages to law offices and accomplished phenomenal sales growth. For quarters, that sales technique would remain the ‘secret sauce’ of her team’s success. It remained a secret because she was pitched against the other sales managers. In an effort to motivate performance, the executive team had established a stack ranking of the company’s sales regions. While collaboration between the teams was possible, the incentives were punishing it. Many reward systems have baked constrains into the culture which are deterrents to Collaboration 2.0.

Talking about secrets:  companies have reasons to keep a lot of information within the boundaries of the organization. Even within the firewall, there are a lot of secrets between employees: salaries, bonuses, performance ratings, health data, succession planning, customer details, emergency contacts etc. While it is worth exploring more openness in even these areas, Enterprise 2.0 adoption has to pick its battles. Opening everything up without consideration for grown cultures would result in unproductive distraction from the real business.

While some technology providers consider adoption barriers irrational, these behaviors are often grounded in some rationality. They need to be treated as such.

Most initiatives we have seen face any of these tricky challenges:

  1. There isn’t anything solid about Social Media. Yet. We are all just learning how this works – while the target is still moving at racing speed. Some are thinking without doing. Others are doing without thinking. Without a good dose of humility about try-and-error approaches, we won’t get very far. However, corporate governance for new initiative prefers predictable outcomes with a “proven ROI”.
  2. Real budget dollars are at stake. Recently, when asked where the dollars for Social Media come from, a retail marketing executive – after hesitating – pointed to print and direct marketing budgets. Social Media is not the land of honey where everybody wins. There are entrenched incumbents who stand to lose significant resources.
  3. The culture eats the strategy for breakfast. Business leaders can’t afford to speak out against Social Media. However, their organizations are rarely set up to accept the risks along the opportunities. Engaging in true conversations?
    “We just have a myriad of 1-way paths to the customer.” What about the potential damage to our brand if we don’t have this under our control?”
    “Not sure if we can trust our people with postings, without web compliance involved.”

Using Social Media for customer Engagement is not so much a technology or education problem as it is a challenge to the culture. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff acknowledged that at the heart of their “Groundswell” contribution.

When you happen to talk to vendors of Social Media, try to figure out if you are meeting someone with expertise in changing cultures.  – More on that later.

“We need a strategy for Social Media – can you help us?” Many of my clients and business friends have me asked this popular question in recent months. “I need to be on Twitter asap.”

Given that that Social Networking and Social Media gained new attention in most business, yes, a game plan is dearly needed.

However, it’s not about a Social Media strategy. It’s about a solid business strategy.

A strategy that centers around Social Media will sub-optimize sooner or later.

Social Networks are made of people. Who do you want to reach? What do you want to achieve with these people?

Business needs to be clear about their Customer Acquisition strategy. Do you have a Customer Retention strategy? Do you have a bought-in strategy for managing Customer Relationships? Employee engagement? Reducing service cost?

If the business objectives are understood, then yes, Social Media provide powerful, evolving tools to engage with customers. These tools require well thought out tactics, making them serve the business strategy effectively. However, the strategy won’t be centered around the tool set.

If we were in gardening, would we formulate a “wheelbarrow strategy”?

Most businesses need plans and skills to use the tools available. That’s what Social Media and Social Networking are – a set of new tools to engage with people.

Social networks are for people. People – customers, prospects, members, employees – have been using the Social Media tools more and more. Yet their lives cross the boundaries of specific media or life contexts. Any customer-oriented business is served best with strategies anchored around customers, not specific toolboxes.

On the other hand, a customer strategy that does not include a deliberate game plan for using Social Media tactics will fall short of engaging with customers where they choose to engage.

The Actedge site has migrated to a new platform. The move provided an opportunity for a overhaul and housecleaning. If you are interested in some of the previous content, please contact me.

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