Just finished reading another book that talks about the importance of social media for business. More importantly, it addresses the need for employees at all levels of the organization to use social media to advance the objectives of the organization. This is not necessarily a new theme. It is one I have been reading about for the past couple of years. However, the message seems to be more pointed—leverage social media or become extinct.
If you can’t embrace social, get used to obsolescence. ~Jim Claussen
In their book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive*, Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt emphasized companies must move from an industrial age to a social age mentality. The manner in which the world communicates has significantly changed; however, most companies continue to operate as though nothing has changed to include my past and current employers.
Coiné and Babbitt began their book by introducing the Social Age and explained how it was different from the Industrial Age. Perhaps the most important point was that everyone (employees, clients, stakeholders, etc) has a voice; whereas in the past, it was often driven from the leadership downward. Throughout the book, the authors stressed the importance of being social. In fact, I counted eleven different times where they stressed the phrase:
More social. Less media.
While the authors had a number of objectives to achieve in writing the book, I felt the most important was helping others “get out in front of the social revolution” (Coiné & Babbitt, 2014, p. xv). They pleaded their case, I believe successfully, across 238 pages and 15 chapters. The chapters were organized in four different sections: the social age and its disrupting impact, organizations and the social age, social leadership, and a social age future.
Disrupting Impact of the Social Age
As I already noted, everyone is more social. The authors highlighted the impact customers can have on an organization, and the importance of listening and engaging with the customers. They used a number of important examples to illustrate their point to include: United breaks guitars, too fat to fly on Southwest Airlines, Bank of America raises fees, and many others. With these examples, they showed the importance of listening to those who use the products or services. The authors continued by providing examples of employees who positively or negatively effected companies. Although Coiné and Babbitt presented a number of cases where employees hurt a company with social media, they emphasize the need for allowing employees access to social media throughout the book.
Coiné and Babbitt have done a great job of liberally peppering the book with examples of how companies and their employees have gone out leveraged social media for the benefit of the company. Sometimes these examples are at the expense of other companies who failed to recognize the opportunities. They also provided ample examples where social media efforts promptly failed.
Organizations and the Social Age
In this section, Coiné and Babbitt examined organizations and the impact of the social age; specifically, the slowness of large organizations to change, flat organizations, and OPEN (ordinary people, extraordinary networks). I would like to focus on the last parts of this section.
Coiné and Babbitt discussed flat organizations and their benefits. Again, they provided ample examples of varying size organizations. In this book as well as in How Google Works and The Flat Army, the emphasis is hiring workers you trust, breaking down silos, and allowing workers to do what is best for the mission. Here are some interesting articles about flat organizations, one is about Zappos who is regularly highlighted in the book:
- Is Flat Better? Zappos Ditches Hierarchy To Improve Company Performance
- Hierarchy Is Overrated
- How Fortune 100 Companies are Flattening Hierarchies Through Enterprise Social
The authors noted traditional organizations tend to play it safer and are more conservative than flat organizations.
Coiné and Babbitt also introduce a concept called OPEN – ordinary people, extraordinary networks. In my opinion, this is really not a new concept. For years, I have been advocating for people to surround themselves with other smart people and share knowledge. Work out loud! The authors highlighted the power of the network… I agree. You should be able to regularly ask your network for input; but as the authors noted, it is just as important to share what you learn. It is a strategy I have used, for example, to find out what podcasts other Extension educators are listening to.
Social Age Leadership
Perhaps one of the most important sections in the book focuses on social leadership. Coiné and Babbitt began by stressing the importance of social listening. Leaders who take time to use social media to listen can learn a great deal from their employees, partners, and customers. The sad fact is that many leaders are not listening especially with social media. If they do use social media, it is often not personal and instead through an administrative assistant.
“An engaging presence on social media will not just be ‘nice to have,’ it will be considered a leadership competency” (Coiné & Babbitt, 2014, p. 128).
As I am just beginning a job with Jamestown Community College, the points the authors made about reaching millennials resonated with me. We need engaged leaders who will connect with them where they are. I think we still have a ways to go. One of the things that was obvious to me as I applied to SUNY JCC was the absence of social media other than the public relations department.
Coiné and Babbitt provided a list of recommendations for developing social leaders as well as social organizations and teams. It is part empowerment and trust, and the other part is training everyone from the top to the bottom. I really liked Zappos’ social media policy: Be real and use good judgment (Coiné & Babbitt, 2014, p. 167).
They continuously stressed the social aspects of social media. Social media is about having a dialogue with others. Social media without the social aspect is just media. Coiné and Babbitt provided a number of data points highlighting that people trust leaders who are social and not faceless entities.
Throughout the book, the authors provided checklists, questionnaires, and other tools that will help me assess my social media strategy. I am already identifying gaps.
Social Age Future
The last section has focused on the return on investment of social media for businesses as well as the future of social media. The authors listed ideas for tracking the success of social media such as the use of social media management software. They also stressed the importance that mobile devices, cloud computing, and big data will have on the future of businesses. All of these technologies are closely tied to social media. The authors were honest in that they could not predict the future; however, they stressed that social media was disruptive enough that ignoring it came with a consequence.
I was not as successful as I hoped in my previous job stressing the importance of social media to the success of the Extension program. As the authors wrote, “Change happens only in reaction to irresistible market pressure” (Coiné & Babbitt, 2014, p. 79). It is obvious that Extension is not yet feeling the pressure. My concern is that many businesses were too late to adapt to the changing environment. I hope that Extension can adapt in time. I do not believe this is only isolated to Extension, I also believe higher education must also leverage social media much more than it does. Looking at my new employer, I have begun and will continue to stress the importance of social media to attracting and retaining students.
Because I think this topic is important and relevant to higher education, I would definitely recommend this book to leaders across organizations. It not only stresses the importance of changing but also provides discussion points for helping organizations change.
Coine, T., & Babbitt, M. (2014). A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive. New York: AMACOM.
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