Creating and maintaining the right culture is essential for sustainable business. Probably more so today, given our access to tools and technology, and ever-increasing adoption. Zappos, Askinose Chocolate, Tom’s Shoes, and Land’s End are just a few of the brands recognized for centering entire company operations – from product to policy – around a set of carefully chosen values. Those values are the structural basis of every decision, action, or passive outcome that comes after.

These brand values – brought to life as deeds and messages – begets culture. When values flex and bow, culture is weakened. And the brand becomes fuzzy, internally and externally. Toss on some social media and you’ve got a heck of an operational and communications failure.

Cultural Failure In Social Media

I found some old documents while cleaning out files over the holiday. Mixed among the notes and “atta girl!” slips was a reprimand for ostensibly “disclosing company information” via Twitter way back in 2007 or ’08.

Security key codes? Hires or departures? Grumblings about coworkers? Nope, wasn’t me.

The information disclosed (term I’m using loosely) was along the lines of “Just met with a client to talk about plans for a new SEO project. Woot!” And it was narrowcast to all of my 12 Twitter friends. Not exactly on the same level as the Chrysler faux pas of earlier this year, eh?

Clearly the suits at that company believed employees should be buttoned up, polished. Discrete. Work should be done and not discussed, least of all in public venues.

Was there a disconnect between our two value systems? Not necessarily. The suits and I both believed in doing great web things for clients of the company.

Was there a disconnect in how those values should manifest into employee code of conduct? So it seemed. I thought I was showing my support for the company and team. They thought I was sharing proprietary stuff.

To say the culture shifted after that fracas depends on your point of view. To the corporate communications and executives, the “forward-thinking innovator” brand attributes remained part of the company’s standard language library. To the rank-and-file, that stuff started feeling more like just stuff the company said, but didn’t know how to actually live. A web tech company that cut employees off from social media? Huh?

Deeds and messages weren’t lined up.

It wasn’t until later that I realized the real issue wasn’t my rah-rah tweet. It didn’t lead to a client beat-down. The real issue stemmed from others’ fear of unchartered waters, questions of ownership, priorities that didn’t include transparency, and much more. Social media gave those everyday issues a spotlight and a stage.

Cause And Effect In Social Media

Social Media Fishbone Diagram - Heather Rast

Looking at cause-and-effect in social media shouldn’t end with deciding whether Twitter is an appropriate, scalable venue for customer service. It shouldn’t end with a protocol for Facebook page administration or even a crisis communication plan (all important things, mind you).

I’m not sure where it ends. Or, in light of the speed with which tech geeks dream up new stuff and Google consumes the planet, if it even ends.

But I do know when we stop to think about social media adoption by business, we need to think about the values and culture aspects as much as the functional, strategic, and execution aspects. We need to ask not only how might customers or prospects process our status updates or blog posts, but also how employees perceive the activity (does it jibe with their experience? Is it infused throughout?) as well as how those perceptions shape their behavior.

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://sproutsocial.com Brittany at Sprout Social

    Completely agree with you, Heather. When there’s a disconnect between what a company says and its actions, communications channels will reflect that. It’s difficult to maintain a “forward-thinking innovator” front when you’re limited in what you can say and do via social media. And customers will eventually see right through it!

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Social media may not be the issue. But it may be the catalyst when a company aspires to project an image or claim a position that its stakeholders aren’t prepared to infuse through the entire organization. Peel off the channel, and there are still disconnects between philosophy and actions, policy and practice, attributes the customer would assign and those the company would say it holds. 

      Thanks much for your POV, Brittany!

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    This is fact that social media platforms normally don’t have the traffic on any tradition day so it must be the main reason of social media failure on traditions days.

  • http://www.blurbpoint.com/ Internet Marketing Company

    Thanks @heatherrast:disqus  for such nice vision of social media. As this is the time when people have started to use the social network blindly for the business and not even know what will be the results or outcome with their effort. But the thing to think is that what firm said on social media , and if fails to do it and fails to prove themselves then what will be the results and this thing they never think on. And thanks for making this point in focus and for this article also!

  • http://twitter.com/markusrach Markus Rach

    Great blog entry! I absolutely agree – cultural readiness is a key not only to social media but to most programs setup in or by organizations. 

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      The leaders of orgs that think going through some motions equates to the kind of living, breathing culture that inspires passionate, loyal employees are really fooling no one. The disconnect is felt and seen, and factors into the perception of the brand.

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    JTWBNPCBTXLSZMXDN? I like it very much!

  • Clay

    Great perspective on the ‘Cause and Effect’ dynamics of social media. Very interesting perspective on things.

  • http://www.i95dev.com Henry Louis

    Hi Heather! I have really impressed with this post. I like your way of presentation regarding the social media and culture. Good informative post.

  • Anonymous

    Given your insights here, do you think that interpreting data on real brand sentiment is close to.. impossible?  Like, how can you accurately measure people’s perception about your brand..?

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    I’ve always thought that it is impossible to hide all your information when you are in internet…

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