Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Social Media - Change or Die?

I've been seeing a lot of stories like this one, arguing that "smart" organizations that want to compete for the best talent in the Millennial generation had better start embracing social media and making it available to all their employees. This particular article talks about being "uber-connected," and even makes a case that younger workers with unrestricted access to social media websites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are more productive than those that aren't.

This seems a reaction to a lot of studies, like the one cited in the article, that confirms a majority of workplaces still prohibit or restrict access to these sites. Indeed, many organizations I know are struggling to find the business case for these technologies.

Ultimately, I think the debate over whether or not social media is a productive use of a person's time depends on the person, and that the debate over whether or not it makes good business sense depends on the business. For every person that thinks Twitter is a waste of time, there's another who's using it to keep in touch with family and friends scattered across the country. For every business that refuses to give employees access to Facebook for fear that they'll waste time and expose the organization to legal risks, there's another whose employees are using it to find new customers and deliver better customer service.

The reality that these "change now or become obsolete" articles always seem to miss is that there are organizations for whom social media is more of a risk than a benefit.

Trade associations seem especially reluctant to enter the fray and, in my own experience, those run by older professionals seem to skew towards the "we ran the idea by our legal counsel and they recommended against it" mindset. Will these trade associations stop being successful anytime soon? I doubt it. Their business model works and it doesn't require the grease of social media to keep its wheels turning.

But will these same organizations eventually incorporate social media into the fabric of what they do? Yes, I believe they will, but it won't happen because the Boomer who runs the organization or the Boomers who sit on its Board read an article about how much the young folks like using Twitter. It will happen when those young folks start to move into positions of leadership (in the staff and on the Board) and naturally bring some of their productive social media practices with them. Change, in other words, will happen from the bottom-up, not the top-down.

The only question I have is which set of young folks are we talking about--Millennials or Xers?


Matt Baehr said...

Eric -

I think it will have to be the Xers as they can bridge the gap better when it comes to the business case for it. Millienials just expect it to be there, but Xers understand what life was like without it, and can therefore help ease into it.


Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comment, Matt. I would like to agree with you, and know that there are plenty of Xers much more connected than I am who are using their learned social media skills to launch or advance careers, businesses and organizations. But I also wonder what will happen when the Millennials buckle down (as all new generations eventually do) and start applying their innate social media skills to the same challenges.

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