I recently developed a plan for the introduction of social media into a large arts organization. The goal was to radically remake the organization’s relationship to its customers, a relationship which was showing significant signs of strain.
This was an organization that had a decades-long history of active discouragement by its leaders of listening to customers. It was a very large organization. It had a culture of fear, was very hierarchical, discouraged innovation and had gotten away with a monopoly for a long time. But in the last several years, it had seen its market share degrade substantially and at the same time age. It knew it needed to embrace a new conversational strategy, but, in the end, was unwilling to make the internal changes necessary to make that shift.
The opportunity was huge for this organization, so their surrender to short-term comfort was a real blow to me. But the intense thinking I was forced to put into this worst-case scenario was valuable. As a result, I have come up with The Plan.
Because each company or organization’s needs, history and culture are unique, it would never serve as a practical guide. But it might have some value as a point of departure and in that spirit I offer it. It was designed to both clear the ground and, at each stage, build upon the preceding one, training the users and the customers as it proceeded.
- Announce that the conversation is on. Period. Hold hands, have meetings, encourage an internal conversation, but remember: This is “disruptive technology.” There will be no consensus. It will—until it is a proven success and, for some, even after that—be resented and resisted. Only a determined leader, one willing to employ the force of his or her moral and organizational authority, will be capable of seeing this change through the period of adjustment to fruition. Express, as your goal, the recognition of an already-occurring conversation with your audience. Articulate your respect for the intellect and spirit of a dedicated customer based. Remind your employees that to listen to their customers is not the same as to pander to them. But to refuse to listen to them is the same as dismissing them.
- Express your intent to destroy the hierarchical, authoritarian status quo in your customer relations, replacing it with a radical openness and absolute dedication to two-way conversation.
- Set up a phased rollout of conversational tools, building both skills and comfort as you go. (See the rollout below.)
- Be complete. Do not try to have your cake and eat it too by, for instance, unveiling a “blog” upon which no one can comment. Activate all elements of each tool you use.
- Monitor each tool you roll out. You may find your blog and forum are extremely popular but simply no one wants to listen to your podcast. You may find that your company’s blog attracts too much spam and needs a more restrictive commenting policy. Again, do not act as though you know what works for all parties prior to experimenting with them. Use a combination of your own guts, vision and intuition, the expressed preferences of your audience and hard usage data.
- Experiment promiscuously with all forms of conversational tools: blogging, podcasting, vlogcasting, forums, social networking, wikis and file-sharing.
- Extend that commitment into the physical environment of your company. People who use these tools do not think of the ‘real world’ vs. ‘cyberspace’ when they fire up their computers anymore than they think of the ‘real world’ vs. ‘telespace’ when they pick up the telephone. To wit: Give bloggers press access; sponsor meetups for blogging visitors; arrange group interviews for bloggers with your company’s professionals.
- Make it understood throughout the organization that everything, everywhere, with no exceptions, is open to being blogged about, podcasted and videoblogged within the organization and generally observed, commented upon, praised or criticized by anyone and everyone within and without the organization.
- Secure the necessary personnel to implement these initiatives. Make certain their positions report to someone capable of authoratative decision-making, someone outside any of the groups in the company that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
- Internal wiki
- Internal blog
- External blog
- Video podcast
- MySpace page
- Facebook or other social networking service for employees and customers
- Second Life presence
- You Tube postings
- Forums or public wiki
- Yahoo or Google group
- Mobcasting and other coordinated events