is your company set up to monetize social media?

Framing looks great! Unless they needed a barn...

That framing looks great. Unless they needed a barn…

as with many things in life, success with social media is all in the framing.

if your company is trying to create a path to social success, starting with a clear strategy and alignment at the top, a concrete pilot program, and a roll out strategy that will bring social in drips to your entire enterprise, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

it’s not that the steps are wrong, it’s in how you implement them.

social media, as a communication channel, shifts power from the organization to the individual. what this means is, you (the company) are not in a position of power, and so you can’t use power to jam a social media program through to your people. (actually, if you run a good company, you’ll never cram down a change effort ever again, but that’s a different story.)

most company’s are still built as hierarchies, with power concentrated at the top. in a hierarchy, the people at the top make a decision and then communicate it downward to the rest of the organization. most of the organization’s formal communication, therefore is downward. lateral conversations (such as water cooler talk) doesn’t have any power to it, it’s just noise. this is such a simple, obvious premise that most of us aren’t consciously aware of it most of the time, but it’s there, hiding behind every decision, internal communication plan, and new program roll out.

and then along comes social media.

now lateral communication has real power—people can (and do!) organize, get information, and make decisions without input from the top. it’s not that top-down communication stops, it’s just that it’s no longer the only thing people listen to.

if this is a little esoteric, here’s a concrete example of what I mean:

my boss tells me to work the night shift on Thanksgiving—he says it’s corporate policy. in the old days, that would be the end of the conversation. but today, I go online, and whether I access the company manual myself or reach out to a friend on Facebook, in about 15 minutes I learn that my boss is full of crap, that company policy gives discretion to local leaders on whether to close on the holiday. I go back to my manager and push him to give me a compelling reason why we should be open Thanksgiving night as opposed to spending it with our families.

he fires me by asking me to write a letter of resignation. (pretty sneaky, sis!) instead, I write a principled letter about why I won’t.

and that’s where all hell breaks loose.

this exact scenario played out recently at Pizza Hut.  not only did corporate override the franchisee to offer the fired employee his job back, but the story, including the employee’s letter about why he thought the franchisee was being “greedy and immoral,” went viral—and not in the way the franchise probably wanted.

this story is what the shift in power looks like. it’s not that my boss lost all his power, but certainly he lost enough that he can no longer push employees around with impunity.

if your company treats social media like just another program, using its old, top-down communication strategies to roll it out, that lower level, lateral communication (that you didn’t used to have to think about but that now has teeth) can create issues for you downstream. these issues may not be as acute as what Pizza Hut faced (and the company did a good job dealing with the situation, by the way), but they will be similar in that your managers may run into an employee base that puts up and keeps up resistance in a way that wasn’t possible before.

to deal with this with regard to social media, you need to be ready for one specific form of resistance. you probably won’t get it explicitly, but it’ll be a question, and it’ll be on the minds of your employees, and it’ll go like this:

“Company leaders, when you tell us that you’re giving us permission to use social media, it seems you’re trying to give us permission to use tools that are already ours to use. Help us reconcile the fact that we already have LinkedIn profiles and Facebook accounts with what you’re asking us to do…”

the only way to answer this question is as a peer. you have to say, in effect, “hey, you’re out there in the world, you have some power, and we want you to use it effectively, because that will reflect well on us if you do.” and you have to mean it. now here’s the kicker: you can’t fake it. you can’t smile and lie. you can’t say that you recognize employees’ power while communicating to them via a top-down communication channel. if your organization is the government and you did that, technically, you’d be a fascist.

don’t be a fascist.

so, what do you do?

this is a simple concept, but manifesting it as a solution is delicate. it’s not the sort of thing I (or anyone) can lay out a 1-2-3 step solution for. but I can tell you, the solution starts with the recognition that monetizing social media requires a different sort of communication than you’re used to using, and finding someone (hey, Ajax, anyone?) to help you reframe everything—starting with how the program is framed.

by Jason Seiden, CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing.