When we talk to leaders who are considering the use of social media as a part of their organization’s practice, we frequently see a fundamental dilemma forming in their minds. It usually starts with a statement like: “Our people are already maxed out producing marketing pieces, answering customer emails, reading the latest social media blog posts, tweets, videos, updates and every other piece of content about our brand, not to mention dealing with our internal communications. Now we’re supposed to start engaging those people too?” Then the real dilemma hits: “If we engage all of those people, our already maxed-out people are going to be pushed over the edge, so we need to come up with some sort of automated, procedural way to respond to everyone.. but.. if every response to a tweet requires a procedural response, it is going to take too long, or if we automate it, we will tick off the social media community..”
It is usually at this point that the headache sets in. So let’s explore this a little more in-depth. (spoiler: there is a cure!)
Skyrocketing Amounts of Information
On the one hand, the amount of information bombarding organizations each day has skyrocketed. For example, the number of Americans using services like Twitter has risen from 11% to 19% in one year (Pew Internet), and in 2009 a reported 46% of social network users posted something good about a brand or company online, while another 23% posted something bad (eMarketer). Traditionally, when an organization is bombarded with information, they do what they have done since the early 1900′s – create a series of standardized procedures to filter the information through algorithms and reports, make decisions based on those reports in an orderly fashion and efficiently create a consistent response.
Skyrocketing Ambiguity of Information
The challenge to the procedural approach is that the information hitting via social media is disordered and poorly-structured. In fact, it is becoming more and more so over time, since it is increasingly produced by everyday people who are forming their own rules for the creation of that content. And they are forming these rules in informal, highly-social groups. As a result, the information becomes increasingly ambiguous, and therefore difficult to understand and even more difficult to respond to in any sort of procedure-like fashion.
Curing the Headache
Assess your current Information Environment
Are you swimming in ambiguous, increasingly socially-generated information?
Assess Your Approach
Are you constantly trying to create policies and procedures for things that are best dealt with in another way?
Explore approaches that are better at dealing with lots of ambiguous, highly-social information.
I have written before about the increasing importance of rules of thumb, and the importance of social media fluencyfor every employee, including the organization’s leaders. Other folks like Roger Martin have written about the importance of “design thinking” in business, which is a powerful way to accommodate and even to leverage ambiguity. It also might be worth reading my blog post on the different ways of making decisions in complex/ambiguous situations.
The process for adapting your approach to social media does not need to be a painful one, if you have some help from the folks at SociaLens.
Note: this concept is loosely based on “Information Richness Theory”. For more on it, check out the following:
Daft RL, Lengel RH. Information Richness: A New Approach to Managerial Behavior and Organizational Design. Research in Organizational Behavior. 1984;6:191-233.