How to protect against dysfunctional social media strategies at your company

Posted by Patrick on April 14th, 2011 at 3:00 pm to Social Media Strategy

It’s sad how often internal company conflicts and weaknesses transfer into the organization’s social media efforts.

Over the weekend I read through a book our CEO Christopher Swanson loaned me called “The FIVE DYSFUNCTIONS of a TEAM.” It was a narrative that illustrated how you can have all the right tools, talent, money and time at your disposal, yet still get your clock cleaned by competitors, due to five key dysfunctions that unfortunately too many companies struggle with – and often don’t overcome.

The book is great, and every member of your team ought to read it. But for those doing business online, I thought the dysfunctions applied not just to doing business, but incorporating social media into a company’s fabric.

The Five Dysfunctions

Here are five dysfunctions of the book, and how they manifest themselves online.


1. Absence of trust:

“Without it, teamwork is all but impossible,” writes author Patrick Lencioni

Without a doubt, this issue plagues companies that want to take advantage of social tools. Whether one person is in charge of your company’s social media, or hundreds, if there’s too much friction in the system – too many people must sign off on each tweet, each Facebook status update, each blog post – you won’t see results. The system just gets slowed down too much because of lack of trust and second guessing. Put people you trust in charge of social media. Set up clear guidelines for what they can and can’t say. Have the company lawyer clarify what the company can publicly say about its products if necessary.

Then allow the content creators the latitude to publish content that intrigues those sorts of clients. The more people second guess, the more the content creators try to play it safe, the blander the content becomes. And trust me, in a world where everyone’s producing content, bland content is worse than no content at all.

Obviously isn’t not a bad idea to have one person read blog posts before they are published. But if executives have to read and sign off on every piece of content, just kiss good results goodbye due to too many hurdles getting good content out the door.

2. Fear of Conflict:

“All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow.”

Your content must fascinate at the risk of alienating some people. It can’t just be mediocre content that people would only read in prison. It should be something that catches people’s eye, that prompts your target audience to take note, and read further, perhaps even bookmark it. But too many companies want to play it safe. I’m not saying be sensational or provoke anger just for the sake of being provocative.

Just take the time to be interesting. If you’re going to take a stand, then stand. People don’t like wishy-washy. They’re looking for people who want to lead.

Right one really good blog post a week, not three mediocre ones. Only send out e-mail newsletters you’d enjoy reading yourself. I wrote 109 Ways To Make Yourself Irresistible To The Media, because I wanted people to pass the post along to friends, thereby spreading our brand farther and farther. And boy did they. A potential pool of around one million people were exposed to the post through all sorts of different channels. So don’t be afraid to rattle some cages, and talk about what’s really on your mind online, or publish something you’re sure people would print off and save. Sure, you’ll turn away some people, but they probably wouldn’t have bought from you anyhow. People crave honesty, and conflict is wrapped up in honestly speaking your mind online while remaining civil. Give people honesty, not fluff.

They’ll appreciate you all the more.

3. Lack of Commitment:

“In the context of a team, commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in.”

I can’t overstate how critical commitment is to businesses embarking on a social media initiative. I advise clients not even start looking for any leads or other results during the first six months. It’s akin to building a house. A whole lot of commitment must be present and goals clarified before earth is moved. And it takes a long time before you can move in. But once the home is up and livable and maintained, it can produce benefits for decades, even centuries. But you must have clarity on the strategy, and buy-in by all involved, and a commitment for the long haul.

4. Avoidance of Accountability:

“…the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.”

For the first time in history, your company can actually measure what people are saying about your business, brand or industry online. Yet so many organizations don’t really decide what measurable goals they want to achieve. This means results and who is responsible for producing those results tend to get fuzzy, and fuzzy gives way to failure. So set up clear plans for who does what when. Don’t allow people to write or post only when the muse hits them. Because trust me, that sort of muse vanishes by week three. Then hold them accountable, if you don’t see social media helping drive those goals.

5. Inattention to Results:

“The ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group.”

This ties into social media in a myriad of ways, but the most important one is making sure the goal is to enhance the company, not make a few members of your team social media stars, and help them get a better job elsewhere. While that certainly does happen, and you should always encourage staff to expand their networks, It’s important to lay out tangible, measurable goals for your business, which are typically linked in some way to being a thought leader, driving leads, providing customer service, or listening to what your customers want.

So benchmarks in your organization should include things like customers helped, e-commerce sales, leads generated, along with some diagnostic benchmarks like unique visitors, click through rates from social sites to your website, increase in positive sentiment about your business, phone calls that sprang from online searches, fewer product complaints, etc.

So what are your thoughts on this? What other dysfunctional examples have you seen in companies? Or do you think I’ve botched it. Go ahead, stick it to me. I dare you.

About David Graham

I consult on business to business digital marketing strategy for individuals and companies of any size. I have more than 20 years sales and marketing experience and have worked for leading global technology and consulting companies. In recent years I have focussed my energy predominantly on online digital marketing.
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