Businesses Must Adopt Social Media or Be “Overrun”
Charlene Li is the Founder and CEO of Altimeter Group and the author of five books, including her latest The Engaged Leader, as well as the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership and the co-author of the critically acclaimed book, Groundswell. She is a sought after speaker and advisor to many Fortune 500 companies, as well as an expert consultant on social media and interactive media. Li is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School and lives in San Francisco with her husband and two teenagers.
Question: How has social media altered the business landscape?
Charlene Li: The fact that social media has become more of a mainstream activity means that businesses need to take it very seriously. The days when you could actually ignore it, kind of put it to the side are long gone. We’re at that point now where more people are using Facebook than are using Yahoo and Facebook is rapidly catching up to Google in terms of the number of people using it, so I think when it comes to business it is no longer a way to think about this is sort of a nice to have activity that your teenagers are using. This is a place where you can actually build real relationships with real people and in fact, if you don’t do it you are in peril of being overrun by them. So I think the biggest impact that social media has had is that it is bringing people together. It’s actually crafting new relationships and allowing people to create those relationships where they never existed before.
Question: What guidelines should managers create for employees’ soical-media behavior?
Charlene Li: One of the paradoxes of giving up control is that you actually have to work harder at being open than being closed, so what I mean by that is when you are open, again, you cannot be completely open. You have to put some limits on it, so the guidelines and the processes, the policies that have to be in place are very specific. For example, you could have a social media policy. You can have commenting and community guidelines and what I call these are I call them sandbox covenants. They’re actually sandboxes that you define. They have walls that you clearly state where they are defining how open you can be and inside of those walls you have rules of engagement. The rules of play basically, what can people do without any hindrance whatsoever as long as they stand and play inside of those walls and then you also have consequences. What happens if you step outside of those walls because you really can’t be there? Now over time what you find with organizations is that they feel more and more comfortable with the sandbox that they have. They do an evaluation again about how open they need to be, determine they need to be more open and they redefine that sandbox. They actually open it up even further. So I think one of the key things to think about when you’re trying to manage risk and this sense of being out of control actually create the semblance of control again by putting in place these sandbox covenants defining for people how open they can be and writing those guidelines out so it’s very clear and also laying out the processes of what happens when things go wrong.
Question: What’s the single most important part of a social media strategy?
Charlene Li: The single more important thing when it comes to looking at all of these social technologies is that you can’t have a strategy around a technology. In the end it’s not about having a Facebook strategy or a Twitter strategy or a blogging strategy. Those are tools. Strategies are built around goals and I would ask you instead of thinking about the technologies think about the relationships that you can enable and the goals that you can accomplish. Every organization, every leader has a finite set of goals that they have prioritized. Think about those goals first and then think about how can these social technologies help me accomplish those goals and do what they really do best, which is to strengthen, to create or deepen the relationships that are at the center of all of those goals. When you look at business it fundamentally comes down to relationships and when you look at social technologies it’s also about relationships, so I would encourage that if you take nothing else away to focus on the relationships and not the technologies.
Recorded June 23, 2010
The fact that social media has become more of a mainstream activity means that businesses need to take it seriously. The days when you could ignore it are long gone.