Internal Silos Can Suck Life out of Social Initiatives

Share it on Twitter  
Share it on Facebook  
Share it on Linked in  

It's ironic, really. Companies may feel like they are having more conversations with their customers and potential customers than ever before. As they leverage social technologies to open new channels of communication, external information is flowing into the enterprise more freely. Yet internal communications at most companies haven't changed to accommodate this flow. Will companies derive any value from this information if it just ends up in the same old departmental silos?


Ed Moran, Deloitte's director of product innovation, alluded to this when I spoke with him about Deloitte's "Tribalization of Business" research last year. After noting that marketing typically spearheaded social efforts, he said:

Your whole enterprise should care, not just marketing. Your product development people should be sitting right there saying, 'What does this mean for the next revision of our product?' It'll help you get smart about support. 'What are the bugs in our product, or what's not clear about the owners' manual?' You can correct that almost in real time through better integration with your support. Think about HR, even. People who are really engaged with your company's product and services and want to help, wouldn't those be great people to employ some day? So when you go across the enterprise and look at the different functions, every one of them should have a seat at the table.

Julie Hunt makes a similar point on CMS Wire. she writes:

Many enterprises are understanding the value of social media to better engage and retain customers, to attract prospects, make sales, help customers solve problems: Social Business-Outside. But it seems to be much harder for enterprises to understand social on the inside and why that matters. Enterprises must come to understand that social on the outside won't be substantially achieved-let alone sustained-if social on the inside isn't working.

Using feedback garnered from customers, marketing can create some pretty terrific promotions. But those promotions may fall flat if it doesn't work in tandem with other departments to deliver promised products or services. Poorly-supported promotions may generate customer complaints. If those end up in a departmental silo somewhere, it'll just exacerbate the problem.


Slide Show

Unified Communications Converge with Social Networks

Results from a Yankee Group survey regarding the convergence of social media and unified communications.

To avoid this kind of negative cycle, Quy N. Huy and Andrew V. Shipilov, both professors of strategic management at international business school INSEAD, say companies need to develop both internal and external communities. Writing on Harvard Business Review, they relate some common pitfalls experienced by companies trying to do so:

  • Using a traditional command-and-control leadership structure.
  • Linking participation in internal communities to performance evaluations and/or financial rewards. Not a good idea, they say: "People only really engage in a community if they derive some learning from it or if it gives them emotional comfort and support. Successful online communities all have compelling and inspiring goals for their existence and their leaders are passionate about those goals."
  • Not accounting for inter-generational differences in how folks relate to communities.


They suggest recruiting middle managers who are already experienced users of social technologies to lead the effort. Such managers are more likely to hear about and understand "hot button" issues like those mentioned above, they say. Readers commenting on their article make several excellent points, many of which I've written about before in this blog. Among them:

  • Integrate social technologies into all aspects of communications.
  • Develop clear goals for social technologies, ones that fit into broader corporate strategies, and metrics to measure performance.
  • Don't just spring social technologies on employees and expect them to use them. Roll them out with an awareness campaign and offer training to those who need it.


A point I especially like, made by @StorytellerBill, is for senior leaders not to feel intimidated by social technologies. He writes:

The current discussion around social media amongst the more 'senior' executives I work with reminds me a lot of the discussions I used to hear in the late 90's around websites and the Internet advertising-i.e. 'I don't know the first thing about this stuff, so I'm going to hire some kid who does.' While I still feel there was something slightly intimidating about the whole 'Internet thing' when it started becoming a dominant force in brand building and communications, I find the social media world much less so. There is something wonderfully familiar and intuitive about it, especially if you consider the 'social' aspect of the phrase. As social human beings, we all know what we like and don't like in terms of interactions with others. We need to take that same insight and apply it to our social media programs. When we do so, I think people quickly realize that it's not as hard as it might seem. Even an executive can learn how to do it ... with a little hand-holding, guidance and encouragement.