Presidential campaigns (see previous posting) always make for interesting and intense case studies in organizational strategy. After all, they are essentially start-up businesses that must figure out very quickly, in a very competitive environment, how to achieve much higher adoption rates for their “product” (the candidate) than most businesses ever have to achieve. They have to connect to the proverbial “pulse” of their audience very quickly. Otherwise they stagnate and die.
The incorporation of social media practices in this environment was inevitable. Enough of the electorate now makes use of social media—blogs, social networking, video sharing—that campaigns can ignore the phenomenon only at their own peril. Candidates must figure out how to enter into the conversation in a genuine and meaningful way or risk alienating voters.
The same can be said for many other types of organizations—with respect to customers, members, or other stakeholders—though few feel the sense of urgency that a campaign environment promotes. Social media is not perceived as inevitable—and this in spite of mounting evidence, as noted by Geoff Livingston in a recent post on The Buzz Bin. Indeed, as a recent Read/Write Web posting suggests, the early adopters probably need to be prepared with a list of common objections if they hope to move things forward within their organizations.
Organizations that have people ready to counter the objections are fortunate, but one hopes—perhaps naively—that “upper management” (one of the sources of objection in the Read/Write post) and boards might take the longer term, higher level view and ask what impact social media, and more importantly, what social media enables is likely to have within their particular sector.
A recent posting on Marginal Revolution, in which Tyler Cowen asks, Which sectors will prove technologically stagnant? strikes me as relevant here. By “stagnant” Cowen seems to mean that, relative to the overall pace of technological change, the quality of output from the sector does not change in any fundamental way. Haircuts, automobiles (with much dissension in the comments), and spicy food are three candidates for stagnation in Cowen’s opinion. (He also muses about whether teaching is also a candidate: “not yet sure.”).
I refer you to the comments on Cowen’s post for debate about his choices, but it seems to me that the underlying perspective is an important one for leaders in any type of organization. Isn’t this precisely the way leaders ought to be thinking about the impact of social media—will it fundamentally change anything?
So let’s say you are a leader in an organization. Or maybe you are someone walking around with your list of responses to common objections to social media. Ideally either person would be asking similar questions: If I think about the type of interaction that a blog, or a wiki, or a social network, or _______ enables, can I see ways in which it might fundamentally impact the quality of services my organization provides to its stakeholders over time?
Maybe you are in the haircut business and it doesn’t matter. Technological stagnation is fine. Or maybe you are more like a presidential campaign. Stagnate and die. Which is it? How is this playing out in your sector or organization?
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