• June 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Required Reading: Socially Aware

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For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine — The Social Media Issue — please click here.

Social networking is the new kid on the block and companies are wondering whether it’s going to be the bully or the best friend. Regardless of whatever apprehension you may have, it will soon be difficult to deny that social networks are where it’s at. According to Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta, authors of Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom, the challenge isn’t getting on board, but rather throwing overboard the rigid philosophies of obsolete business practices. CRM Assistant Editor Jessica Tsai spoke with Fraser about why, for once, it’s not OK to be late to the party.

CRM magazine: What do you think is impeding the development of social media in the enterprise?

Matthew Fraser: First, the vertical architecture of most companies, corporations, and government bureaucracies, which are managed as top-down command-and-control control systems in which employees hold positions based on rank.… These are highly rigid and closed structures characterized by walled silos.

Second, the essential dynamic of Web 2.0 platforms is precisely the opposite: horizontal, open, transparent. Web 2.0 tools facilitate open information flows, not top-down but horizontally and bottom-up.
Web 2.0 networks have an essentially social architecture, but most organizations are not social environments, they are professional spaces. People don’t generally behave socially at the office. Interpersonal relationships in corporations [are] highly formalized. You can’t show up and “be yourself.” On the contrary, [you] have to be careful of what you say.

CRM: How does this then impact the company’s outward appearance?

Fraser: Communication with the world beyond the company walls is also highly intermediated…. Press conferences and annual general shareholders meetings are highly staged—and usually over-rehearsed—rituals at which the goal is to say as little as possible, or at least “spin” the message.

[Web 2.0 platforms] facilitate direct, open, and transparent information that is accessible to everybody at the same time—and what’s more, you’ll get instant feedback. For a lot of corporate executives, that’s scary stuff. They don’t want to change. But they soon may have no choice.

CRM: It’s often said that companies don’t get the senior-level support. Are they the culprit?

Fraser: [Technology departments] are basically gatekeepers that control and monitor information flows. Like middle managers, [they] tend to be resistant to Web 2.0 tools because [the tools] threaten their gatekeeper power.

Interestingly, it’s often the CEOs who are more open to Web 2.0 tools. [They’re] focused on shareholder value—i.e., productivity, innovation, increased profits—and anything that can enhance those goals will obviously get a CEO’s attention. They don’t have to get distracted by the corporate politics going on a few layers down the hierarchy. The real reason [why managers advise against Web 2.0 adoption] is that managers feel threatened by change.

CRM: What would you say are the current arguments for and against going social?

Fraser: The positives are increased productivity, fostering innovation, enhancing collaboration, boosting employee morale—the so-called “ROI” case for Web 2.0. On the negative side, many point out the risk of security breaches, virus attacks, legal liabilities, and good old time-wasting by employees. Both arguments have legitimacy, [but] this is not a Bad Guys versus Good Guys argument. It’s a matter of adopting what is right for your company while taking necessary precautions. Or to put it another way, loosening control without losing control. But beware of letting those who have the most to lose manage Web 2.0 adoption, because they will deploy it within their own biases and neutralize any threat to their own organizational power.

CRM: Many businesspeople are hesitant to get involved due to concerns over what’s safe/appropriate to share online.

Fraser: The irony about Facebook and other social sites in the workplace is that, while they’re often banned, HR departments actively use them to spy on employees and vet candidates for jobs.
We call this the “privacy paradox.” On one level, social networking sites have given us a vehicle to express ourselves, to connect with people, to make friends we wouldn’t have made before—and, inevitably, to post silly photographs, to make our views known, and express ourselves openly…. The problem, however, is that these social impulses, which are very understandable because we all have them, clash with institutional values.

CRM: To what extent is it a generational phenomenon, then?

Fraser: What’s interesting is that young people, unlike older generations, don’t seem to care about the potential consequences of the privacy paradox. A new value system about online social interaction appears to be emerging…. It will take a generation shift for new values to emerge and be regarded as legitimate…. There’s no doubt that the Web 2.0 revolution has momentum, and the impetus is in favor of adoption and deployment. Going forward, a powerful factor is the generational dynamic.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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