Using Sociology To Effect Change Within Your Brand’s Social Media Efforts

March 15, 2012 Comments
Using Sociology To Effect Change Within Your Brand’s Social Media Efforts

Social Media, Social Media, Social Media – say it three times and you will not end up in Kansas or eating golden wrapped chocolate bars in the land of the Oompa Loompas – you will though need to check your marketing-based convictions at the door, because applying social media via process and social business practices to make a brand social media capable is more like taking a dive head-first into a 3rd year university sociology textbook on organizational change management.

WTF? Process design, change management, sociology – isn’t this far removed from the basic tenant of social media – customer engagement? Well, look at this this way: engagement is the final goal. Creating a culture of social media acceptance and empowerment across the organization can mean the difference between one person assuming the role and responsibility of becoming your brand’s social media efforts relegated to the ebb and flow of marketing budgets vs. an organic or matrixed approach to social media whereby every department feeds into a social media command center placing the social customer at the heart of the brand’s customer-facing activities.

In social media, you come across brands of all shapes and sizes that are navigating the customer engagement waters, some have been even hurt by their past experiences for various reasons and once that happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to steer clear of the negative memories the organization at the highest levels may have of past activity making it even more challenging for that lone social media manager to get past this bottleneck to effect change within the organization.

OK, so this describes your current situation down to a tee – the Executive office, your boss: both see Social Media as a marketing function and hence a cost center.  This is where the sociology part comes into play. This is where understanding the concept of social change helps bring about substantive change within your organization so the brand’s key stakeholders can bring social media out from underneath the thumb of a P&L statement to that of one of the organizations key performance indicators for customer satisfaction (CSAT) – after all isn’t that what every brand is in business for – the hearts and therefore wallets of their customer? (this is a rhetorical question, the answer should be a resounding YES!)

Former NPR  cultural affairs program host, Scott London, has an outstanding piece on change entitled: Understanding Change: How it Happens and How to Make it Happen, that outlines and references the classic sociology textbook The Planning of Change in a very accessible manner towards effective change strategies falling into three categories: 1) rational-empirical, 2) normative- reducative, and 3) power-coercive.

The rational-empirical approach assumes that people are rational and practical and will change on their own given the appropriate conditions. These strategies include:

  • Provide the right information, education or training to allow individuals to change of their own volition.
  • Invite the perspectives or expertise of outsiders.
  • Promote utopian thinking to stimulate creativity and “best-case” scenarios.
  • Clarify the issues and/or re conceptualize the situation in order to bring about greater overall understanding among members of the group.

Let’s look at the above points from a brand perspective:

  • Information, education & training – all essential elements to ensure that your efforts relate to each department and why social media is more than just a bunch of Tweets or a Facebook page – this is a means to have a dialogue and a personal connection with your customer. Make sure every department understands this and why its important every department must work towards engaging with the customer or at least with the social media team (even if at first it’s just you)
  • Inviting the perspective of others, that is your organization’s stakeholders and departments will allow you to hear from and understand other experiences related to social media – by seeking out the input from your own colleagues you not only make social media relevant to them you’re on the path to gaining buy-in from the executive office.
  • Promote utopian thinking – read business minded customer connectivity thinking. How can the company at large create an experience that stimulates the best-case scenario for the social-customer. Is it through the regular social media channels, further community moderation, social (customer) care or better reporting to understand the big-data surrounding the social customer?
  • Clarity. Transparency really. If your colleagues still don’t get the ‘what’ on social media and ‘why’ your brand needs to do certain things to engage with the customer, re-pitch it to them in their language. The language of the finance department means you talk up how social media can drive customer support call costs down and drive profitability up by having a better understanding of your customer. The language of the HR department relates to recruitment, learning, recognition and knowledge sharing. For Product Managers, social media is by far one of the most cost effective ways to crowd source customer feedback and product innovation.

The second category of strategies — the normative-reeducative — is predicated on the view that change begins from the bottom up, not the top down. That is to say, it focuses on changing the individuals that make up a social system. Two strategies characteristic of this approach are to:

  • Improve the problem-solving capacities of a system by encouraging individuals to be self-diagnosing.
  • Release and foster growth in the persons who make up the system.

Both points mentioned refer to one simple paradigm – the power of responsibility – make people responsible for certain parts of your social media process or strategy and let them wow you!  By empowering your colleagues with certain roles and responsibilities, you’re effecting change at the grassroots level, thereby making change an organic process that permeates through the organization almost akin to osmosis.

Shifting a cultural attitude takes time, however, by involving your organization’s base the Executive office will be able to green-light projects and processes that are already part of the organizational fabric far easier than a project or process that may seem to overwhelmingly new to even hazard a chance on something so alien to the goals of the organization. So let me remind you again – the goal of your company is to connect with your customer and have them pay for their affinity with your brand’s products right? (again, rhetorical question the answer again is YES – by connecting with your social customer and by empowering the grassroots levels of the company that connect with the customer on a day-to-day basis already, your organization becomes part of the social customers purchase consideration mindset.

At the heart of social media and all of its offshoots be it: social design, social presence, social business, social business process design, social care or social commerce – one additional consideration when understanding your social customer is clear – understand how to use sociology to effect change in your organization so you and a social media team (made up of different departments and personnel) can be ready and capable of engaging with the hearts, minds and wallets of your customer.

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