Social media represents an enormous opportunity for most organizations, particularly knowledge-intensive ones. While marketing applications of social media are getting the most attention today, the greater impact may come from applications internal to the organization. The McKinsey Global Institute, for instance, estimates that social media is poised to unlock $1.3 trillion of economic value, mostly through the improved efficiency of knowledge workers.
Despite this considerable potential, I suspect that most organizations will have significant difficulties leveraging social media for internal collaboration. This suspicion is borne out by Gartner research, which touts a very high failure percentage for internal initiatives.
The reason: strategy is too often stuck at the executive level.
After reading my recent post, “Procedural vs. Strategic Approaches to Social Media,” one reader, Susan Deisenroth, pointed out that part of the reason that digital teams do not act strategically is that they are not permitted to do so by their companies. She noted that many organizations’ strategy is locked up in the Board Room and the C-suite, with the average employee unaware of — or unable to act on — the bigger strategic vision.
She is right, of course. Traditional bureaucratic mechanisms are too slow to handle the pace of collaboration in social business. A recent Harvard Business Review article noted that one Fortune 200 company took a week to generate and approve an 140-character tweet in response to a critic online — far too long to possibly be effective in the fast moving world of social media. Even if employees can collaborate more efficiently and effectively using social media tools, any impact will be minimal if they still need to navigate the old bureaucratic processes to leverage the results.
Similarly, managers who use traditional mechanisms to oversee their newly efficient employees will drown in the information and activity generated by these subordinates unless they also embrace social media themselves. Tools such as blogs and online video can allow top executives to communicate with managers globally as well as solicit feedback from those managers. The vast amounts of data generated by social media tools can provide unprecedented transparency regarding organizational processes through sophisticated analysis and visualization.