5 signs your company’s culture is stifling its social media efforts

Does every department want to help write tweets? Are employees afraid to talk directly to customers? Watch for these signs and others before you jump on the social media bandwagon.

A while back I worked with a new client in New York. In the lobby of its impressive building was a huge plaque with the corporate philosophies of the company’s founder—a man who died 25 years ago.

In every meeting I attended, employees mentioned his name and values at least once. As I learned more about the company, I saw that this beloved man’s influence extended far beyond the grave into the daily activities of the company.

Corporate cultures are a complex amalgamation of executive personalities, external events, and history. Culture affects almost everything—from how managers treat employees to how the company competes in the marketplace. When I talk about social media strategies, the conversation inevitably turns to cultural fit.

Social media is a function of an organization’s personality. Here are five signs your company’s culture may be in the way of your social media efforts:

1. Corporate culture mismatch

You need to build your social media strategy around the realistic capabilities of your company culture. As grandma used to say, you have to deal with what is, not what you wish for. Is your company ready to become a publisher? Is it able to react? Is it truly open to the idea of customer dialogue?

If the honest answer is “no,” move on. That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, you just have to adjust. Your culture is your culture, and your desire to have a blog won’t change it. But, your strategy can conform to your situation and still have an impact. You need to think about education, not execution.

2. Lack of executive sponsorship

If you’re counting on a grassroots effort to establish a social media program that will “change the culture,” you’re setting yourself up for problems. You must have support from the top if you want to be successful in the long-term.

Why? The higher level executives control the purse strings and resources. They set the strategy. If they don’t understand the value of social media, here’s an article on selling your boss on social media that might be helpful.

3. Lack of executive engagement

To build a social organization, you need your executives to be involved and sponsor the initiative. Executives don’t have to blog or tweet, but they have to intimately understand the vast implications and opportunities. Some executives will relish this change, and others will resist it. If your boss is in the second group, lower your expectations and slow down.

4. Unwieldy politics

Every organization has politics. But when everybody wants to own a piece of your blog or customer service strategy, watch out. If you find that the legal department, HR and the janitorial staff demand to approve every tweet, it might be a sign that your company is just not built for social media.

Remember, the beauty of the social Web is that you can be flexible and reactive. Most companies are conditioned to broadcast. This is very difficult to change, and it may take re-organization. One large brand I work with reinvented its approach and created a new department called Customer Connections.

5. Unrealistic expectations

Impatience also falls into this category. It takes time to build a strategy and connect to customers, especially if cultural change must occur first. It may take years to build your social media presence. If your boss says your employment is contingent on Facebook likes or the number of blog comments you get next month, it might be time to consider another position.

One of my B2B customers just started social media marketing, yet I’ve worked with the company as its “rented” chief marketing officer for more than two years. Why did it take so long? The company had other projects to take care of, and its culture just wasn’t ready.

The company is just starting the transformation, but will do it the right way with understanding, executive sponsorship, and cultural readiness.

What are your experiences with corporate culture and social media?

Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He blogs at grow, where a version of this article originally ran.

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