Social media has evolved so quickly and engaged so many people — a billion of us on Facebook — that it has actually changed the nature of our culture. It has changed our expectations about how quickly we will receive responses from people. It has also changed our expectations of shared knowledge within our personal and professional “tribes.”
We have come to expect the same kind of communication in all areas of our lives that we have on Facebook. The new openness has most significantly affected the way businesses need to operate.
I recently heard Michael Zeisser, CEO of Liberty Media, speak about how he decides whether a business is worth investing in. Liberty Media’s portfolio consists of typically risky companies in the media, communications and entertainment businesses. For this reason, determining what businesses are viable as long-term investments — like all complex decisions — is part art and part science.
What is the key factor that Zeisser uses in determining what companies are sustainable? Is it the business model? The economic environment? A financial analysis? The management team? None of the above. For Zeisser, the key factor is the corporate culture.
And the corporate culture he looks for is one whose values happen to mirror those of social media. Here is a description of a corporate culture that that reflects the principles and ideas of social media:
- The organization behaves like a community, not a hierarchy.
- Management does not “broadcast” directives but is open and listens to employees.
- Communications aren’t codified, rigid and ritualistic but flexible and spontaneous.
- Obedience is not a highly valued quality. Innovation is.
- Information is open. Management is transparent.
- The company does not rely on controls and procedures to guide decision making, but on collaboration.
This may all sound like the principles of what is currently known as “social business.” But the essential point is not that corporate culture needs to change to be more able to engage in social media. It is that it needs to change to be viable at all.
The kind of corporate culture I’m talking about here has nothing to do with how the people in a business relate to their customers, or how people outside the marketing department can get involved in social media. It is about developing a culture where the employees are the customers and management behave more like community managers than bosses. In this Tedx video by John Jantsch, you can hear the story of a company that went from the brink of extinction to becoming a leader in its industry by changing the corporate culture to focus on the needs of the employees (the customers).
For those of us who are deeply involved in social media, it’s hard to imagine that there are businesses still questioning the value of it. What is apparent from how Michael Zeisser, who evaluates businesses from an investment standpoint, is that becoming adept at social media means learning principles that can assure survival of a business in challenging times. That sounds like a good ROI to me.
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