I recently attended a panel discussion held by the CIO Association of Canada. Each panelist was asked about their integration of social media and what they would do differently if they could do it over again. One of the panelists said, “We focused on the tools too much when we should have focused on culture.”

Most of the discussions and hype surrounding social media have emphasized the external perspective, but as Michael Brito stresses in his blog and his upcoming book, “The disruption today has nothing to do with the external nature of the brand; but everything to do with the internal dynamics of the way a business operates.” I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t know how many times I have heard someone from a company say, “We need a Facebook page” or “We need a Facebook strategy.” Facebook didn’t have a strategy when it was founded, so what makes companies think they can develop one with a snap of the fingers?

When I work with clients, I try to slow them down and understand how they do what they do now, their corporate objectives, and where and how social media might complement their efforts, if at all. Maybe they are not ready for social media, or at least the level of effort and organizational change required.

Senior managers that decide to ram social media through the organization are going to face obstacles such as old habits and organizational inertia. They need to approach the situation as a change-management initiative.

During a recent project, I interviewed number of internal stakeholders to identify who would be the change agents for social media and who would be the resistors. Making the senior leadership aware of the change agents and resistors is not sufficient. The leadership needs to:

  • communicate their vision clearly and frequently
  • ensure the need for this change is understood
  • involve change agents and resistors
  • listen and exhibit understanding
  • connect the changes to results
  • reward and reinforce the new behaviours

The leadership also needs to be prepared to experience the change cycle that moves from resistance due to the entrenched beliefs in the old way of doing things to the period of ambiguity and frustration when it is uncertain that the changes were worthwhile, and finally to the future state where it is evident that the changes are producing the desired effects and outcomes. This cycle takes time and commitment.

Do you notice how little I refer to social media? That is my point. It is not about tools. It is about culture. The sooner more organizations come to that realization, the fewer failed social media initiatives there will be.