I met up up with a friend recently who joined a large well known company a little while ago. Because both the company and my friend are well known, I won’t go into specifics for obvious reasons. When I was talking to my friend about the recruitment process, one question they asked him struck me.
Will you stop blogging when you join us?
When I was told this, I was initially quite surprised that a large company would openly ask a well known blogger to stop blogging as a condition of employment. Luckily the company saw sense when he pushed back, and took that clause out of his letter of offer, and he continues to blog. After I left our coffee catch-up, I reflected on this and looked at it from the company side. While I would never work for a company that restricted what is essentially an extension of who I am, I can understand why the company might have started from this position.
In the first part of my review of the Altimeter report on the Evolution of Social Business, one key finding was that the delay in adoption of social and social business is due in many ways to the aprehension felt by senior executives at large firms. Quoting from page 6 of the report, one of the key barriers is “unaligned executives“
Only 52% of companies surveyed agreed with the statement, “Top executives are informed, engaged, and aligned with our social strategy.”
Despite the initial funding that created their positions, many social strategists we interviewed felt that without deep executive support, they didn’t have the validation, direction, and resources to move beyond tactical efforts. Part of the challenge is that executives don’t understand social media’s potential for business impact — primarily because they have not experienced social media themselves. One social strategist shared, “Many of our board members and executive leaders aren’t even on Facebook, so social media is foreign to them.”
We found that in organizations where executives do not use social technologies, social media as a business tool is often limited in reach and understanding within the organization unless a business case is made. While some may see this as a criticism of executives, it is hard to lay the blame with people who have never used the tools that many of us take for granted. What is a criticism though is that some executives don’t see the rapid rise of social business as a huge opportunity for the company.
A report published late last year by Capgemini – also covered in a previous post showed that those that adopt social business are up to 26% more profitable than their peers. This proves there is a real business benefit in adopting social business strategies. I was also reading a recent interview from the Brunswick Group with Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts titled “The Democratic Republic of Burberry“. In the interview, she talks about how she turned the executive decision making on its head.
Ahrendts recognized that Burberry employees, like its target customers, are young – 70 per cent of those who work at the company’s headquarters are under the age of 30. To capture this theme institutionally, Ahrendts created two linked bodies that, on the one hand, allow ideas to flourish and, on the other, follow through and turn the best of those ideas into brand-enhancing initiatives.
The Strategic Innovation Council is a formal monthly forum that Ahrendts set up to gather the “young next generation of great thinkers” at the company.
“…the remit of this council is to dream,” she says. Alongside it is the Senior Executive Council, chaired by Ahrendts, who says that its purpose is “to execute this young vision.” These forums send an important message….
“We actually flipped the traditional hierarchy, and the way we communicated these councils showed the entire company that we were serious about being creatively led.”
Reading this gives me goosebumps. Here is a CEO that actually directs her board’s thinking from the strategy developed by a bunch of under 30s. This is in stark contrast to the company that my friend works for, who nearly had to surrender his creative voice and thought leadership to work there. I know which company I would want to work for if I had to choose. The lesson from all of this is that companies need to embrace what is happening. Those influential bloggers on staff can (and do) become their biggest advocates, and help them engage with this new, empowered and highly connected audience.
Many large companies don’t even know that that have influential bloggers on staff, and can probably greatly assist them as they transition to becoming a social business.