Gartner Blog Network

Why social media is not enough to become a ‘social organization.’

by Mark P. McDonald  |  October 18, 2011  |  1 Comment

Talk about social media and people like to talk about the technology, the tools, the applications as if that is all that is required to become a social organization.   If only it were that easy.

Social media is not like other technologies. The value of social media technology does not rest in its features and functions. Rather Social media technology success rests on the content and content.  Content in the form of individual contributions, feedback and consensus.  Context describes the social media investment.

This post concentrates on four contexts for applying social media.

The figure below highlights a way to look at social media in the context of different levels of development and deployment.

Taken together the rows of this table describe an additive approach that starts with social media technology and ends with a social organization.

Social Media Technology

Deploying social media technologies on their own is no different than deploying any technology.  Anthony Bradley, the co-author of The Social Organization Book uses the term “provide and pray” for this technology centric approach.  You provide it and pray that people come.  It works for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but your no Kevin Costner and your company is not Iowa.

Social Media Technology = Social Media

The social media technology has been the context for most organizations.  If your company has replaced its intra-net with a social media tool, used SharePoint to rebuild Lotus Notes databases, etc.  then you have engaged in a social media technology initiative.  Nothing against these or other tools, but technology alone does not create collaboration.

Just like in golf, the clubs alone do not lower your score, despite what the golf shop tells you.

Social Media Marketing

Marketing has been a beachhead for social media adoption.  Social media offers the promise of changing the nature of customer communications and conversations.  Social Media marketing uses social media technologies with the goal of creating communities of interest.   This is the realm of ‘Like’ where success is measured by participation, most notably the number of people who ‘like’ you and your products on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, etc.

Social Media Marketing = Social Media + Community

There is nothing wrong with Social Media Marketing.  In fact we are using it via this and other blog posts, our The Social Organization product page on Facebook and the #TheSocialOrg hash tag on Twitter.

While social media marketing reflects an evolution in marketing strategy, it largely concentrates on creating new channels for how you work with customers, not the way you work.

Having great conversations builds relationships; not delivering on the dialogue is an even better way to destroy your brand.

Social Media Initiative

Leaders recognize the potential of social media to change the way their organizations work.  Bringing social media into your organization involves more than technology or conversations. It requires collaboration with a purpose.  This is the next step in developing a social organization context.

Social Media Initiative = Social Media + Community + Purpose

Purpose is the reason why individuals participate in a community, why they care enough to go from passive concern to active collaboration.  Purpose leads people to spontaneously come together and many social media initiatives started as ‘grass roots’ efforts, where people formed communities using social media technology.

Grass roots efforts can be extremely powerful, for example Health and Safety is one area where social media initiatives have been particularly powerful.   But these communities can lead executives to falsely thing that it’s the technology that creates community.  Sorry but no – participation is all about purpose, encouraged but not

Grass roots efforts can be flowers in the desert, quickly growing, blossoming and then fading in the heat.

One hit wonders dominate the music charts for a short time, then after a while people ask, ‘what ever happened to … you know who…?’

Social Organization

You can always do something great once, that can be luck, but to do it repeatedly and extend it beyond an initial success requires management.

A social organization is one that strategically applies social media, community and purpose (mass collaboration) to address significant business challenges and opportunities.  A social organization uses all three to repeatedly deploy social media based communities over time and tap the collective genius of customers and employees.

Social Organization = social media + community + purpose + management

Management may sound odd to social media advocates as management and its implied control is an anathema to social based collaboration.  They are right and in our investigations we found a special type of management is required—management as a guide.

Social organizations have a unique form of management providing just enough structure to create powerful results.   How management works will be discussed in more detail in a latter post on management, but it is an essential ingredient to creating and sustaining a social organization.

A social organization is more than social media

Becoming a social organization entails being able to tap repeatedly into the collective energy of your people, customers, and suppliers in ways that create mutual value.  That capability comes through the complex and mutually supporting interaction of social media technology, communities, purpose and management.

How those things all come together, how they emerge, evolve and expand has been the focus of research and The Social Organization book. Please follow the link to read the first chapter.

Talk about social media and you talk about technology.

Discuss how to become a social organization and you discuss how mass collaboration encourages break through results.

That is the context of a social organization.

Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald are the co-authors of Fall 2011 book, The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees.

Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research

Category: innovation  leadership  management  social-media  social-organization  strategy  

Tags: leadership  personal-observation  social-media  social-organization  strategy-and-planning  web-20  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on Why social media is not enough to become a ‘social organization.’

  1. […] Why social media is not enough to become a ‘social organization. […]

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.