For me, it all started about a year ago when I realized that my decision-making process for major purchases had completely changed. My decision making now begins and frequently ends with research on the Web. It begins with crowdsourcing. What brands are people buying? What vendors are being recommended? Who has satisfied or dissatisfied customers? Who has loyal customers? Only after answering these questions do I visit the vendor's or manufacturer's Web site to check specifications, warrantees, options, etc.
These musings and then a lot of research and listening led to one of the more important changes in the 2011–2012 Criteria for Performance Excellence, the inclusion of Web-based technologies and social media as significant customer listening mechanisms. So my question this month is whether social media has changed your organization. And if your answer is "no," you might want to reconsider; your customers may have changed your landscape without your involvement. In my opinion, one of the more significant insights gained from enlightened leaders this past year has been their pursuit of a proactive social media posture and policy.
So I was doubly intrigued in December after we launched our new Criteria and then discovered that the December issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) focused on "Social Media and the New Rules of Branding." The first thing I saw in that issue was the statistic that consumers annually share online 500 billion impressions of products and services, according to Forrester Research analysts. I believe the key question addressed in HBR is whether your organization is adopting social media as an important strategy or placing the organization in a precarious reactive situation. In her article, Leslie Gaines-Ross makes the point that anyone with a personal computer and access to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube can launch a significant information-based attack on your organization. Her advice is to be prepared for potential battles by stockpiling credentials that speak to the good work of your organization. Make "new media" your friend before it can become your adversary. And should negative information appear, respond with speed, balance, and transparency.
A growing number of senior executives see social media as a way of enabling leaders to gain trust and credibility that many organizations have lost over the last decade. According to HBR, leaders from IBM, PepsiCo, Best Buy, Apple, and Microsoft, among others, are using social networks to engage customers, employees, and their communities and to personally respond to their concerns. In a December 23, 2010 HBR blog post, Bill George states that social networking is the most significant business development of 2010, allowing senior leaders to communicate and share information through two-way interaction. George believes this is one reason Time magazine just named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as person of the year.
Learning Solutions magazine believes that crowdsourcing will emerge as a mainstay source for knowledge acquisition in 2011. Since social networks and learning are informal, they offer many advantages, including diversity of content at low cost; real-time messaging; the ability to tailor messages and information channels; real-time feedback from customers and a rapid response channel for providers; opportunities for innovation; the ability to build communities of and with customers; speedy, flexible collaboration with multiple organizations or partners; and a host of automated metrics.
So as we begin a new year and collectively continue our journeys on the road to performance excellence, I encourage you to consider your opportunities for potential benefit from the harnessing of social media. Here are some specific questions to consider:
- Do you know the social technographics of your customer base?
- Is your social media footprint aligned with your customers' knowledge base and desires?
- Are you listening to what your customers are saying about you via social media?
- Are you prepared for potential adverse attacks on your organization?
- Are you actively initiating a dialogue with your customers and key stakeholders through social media (e.g., blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook)?
- How are you guaranteeing ethical behavior in your organization's and its employees' use of social media? Does your organization have a social media policy? (According to a global survey, only 29% of companies do.)
- Are you sharing audience-specific information in a rapid manner through social media?
- Are your senior leaders communicating through social media?
- Is the future use of social media addressed in your strategic planning?
When you come to a fork in the road, will you be prepared to take the correct turn? Happy New Year from the Baldrige Program!
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