According to research, over 70% of corporate mergers fail to produce any positive results. These transactions, despite long months of strategizing and planning with some of the best business minds in the country, frequently fail to account for the cultural differences and inevitable personal conflicts that can thwart even the smartest strategy.
The same difficulties frequently arise in marketing and social media programs that rely on intricate and detailed plans but fail to account for cultural realities and ingrained behaviors.
Businesses aren’t sterile case studies. They’re collections of individuals who collaborate around a single purpose. And they typically adhere to the values espoused and demonstrated by their company’s leader, not by a lofty mission statement.
Although you may want every company to demonstrate the customer service attitude of Ritz Carlton, the friendliness of Southwest Airlines, the ingenuity of Apple and the thrift of Wal-Mart, that’s simply not the world we live in. Companies frequently disdain customer service, disregard their employees and customers and focus myopically on preserving a rigid and unresponsive business model.
The difficulty in planning a social media strategy for companies that are controlling, insular and generally unresponsive is that social media doesn’t camouflage their true nature, social media reveals it.
When working recently with a large company in devising and executing a social media strategy, I was confronted with conflicting realities. On one hand, the company seemed eager to exploit the potential of social media in reaching their target audience frequently and inexpensively, but on the other hand, the company’s culture incorporated autocratic control, restricted authority among their staff, lacked any feedback mechanisms and romanticized reliance on historical business processes.
A social media program, no matter how carefully designed, wasn’t going to change any existing cultural artifact. In fact, a successful social media rollout would actually have the potential to damage the company’s reputation by revealing its weaknesses to an audience previously shielded from the company’s true nature.
How can you predict social media failure?
Obsession with control – many companies believe that as long as they can control their message, they control their brand and, ultimately, their destiny. Social media shifts control to the participants, not the originator of the message. Companies can listen, engage, converse and interact, but they cannot impose control.
Unwilling to commit people to the program – your clients have no desire to develop a relationship with your company. Companies are, by their nature, impersonal entities. However, they may be willing to engage with individuals within your company, as long as those individuals contribute something to the conversation. These relationships take time to develop and rarely deliver immediate results. If nobody is devoted to the program, the program withers and dies.
Management views social media platforms as time drains – every office tool can be a time drain if the employee misuses it. They can chat with friends on the phone, they can while away hours in the Internet and they can even waste each other’s time in mindless conversation. Facebook is no different. If your employees use it as a tool, it can deliver results. If they use it to connect with high school buddies, you have a management problem, not a social media problem.
Think only in terms of pitching – if management hears the word “marketing” and immediately envisions another channel to pump out self-serving sales pitches, they’re doomed. The “social” component of social media is overriding, yet frequently ignored.
Management refuses to participate – It’s not a good sign when senior management refuses to participate in any way on any of the social media platforms. The message this sends to their employees is that social media is irrelevant or unnecessary to management and hinders adoption throughout the organization.
Users restricted to certain subjects – As a corollary to controlling the message, if users are restricted from engaging in open conversations and required to deal only with specific topics under unyielding rules, then they’re eliminating the human component and diminishing the effectiveness of the conversation.
Social media participation isn’t tracked or measured – It’s universally accepted that companies will get more of anything that they measure, and when they refuse to measure staff participation in social media, they’re sending the message that it’s not that important. The result is preordained: limited participation and effectiveness.
There is no getting around it – when strategy confronts culture, culture wins every time. If your company culture is too rigid, controlling and unresponsive to support an effective social media program, the best solution is to pursue your standard marketing tactics and ignore the social media channels entirely. No participation is eminently preferable to desultory participation.