SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.
This week, we asked: Do you use internal social media tools to spur innovation within your organization?
- No: 62.82%
- Yes: 37.18%
It’s not terribly surprising that so many SmartBrief on Social Media readers aren’t using internal social media tools to fuel their company’s innovation efforts. Internal social media use tends to take a backseat to flashier efforts led by public relations or marketing. I think a big part of that is that you can look at competitors talking to customers on Facebook and think, “We’re getting left behind on this thing. We gotta get serious about Facebook!” But most of the time, you can’t see what competitors’ innovation efforts look like, unless they’re being profiled in business media or being featured in a case study. You could be forgiven for looking at competitors and thinking they might not even have an innovation strategy, much less a social innovation strategy. So that part of the equation falls by the wayside.
But take a step back for a second. Think about your office phone. Imagine that you could use that phone to dial out, but you couldn’t use it to call someone in the office. Imagine if your e-mail system worked that way. Imagine if you ever talked only to customers, never co-workers. Would you feel as though you were getting the full benefit of these communication tools? Of course not. Every other communication innovation — print, voice, digital, even video — has a readily accepted internal-communication use. But we’re still skeptical about social media as an office tool.
When I talk with people about this, the three barriers they throw up are price, leadership buy-in and time commitment involved. The good news is that those are problems that other communication systems have faced. Have you ever worked with someone who never quite warmed to the idea of sending e-mail — who will call you or even get up and walk across the office to tell you he or she sent an e-mail? It’s the same principle at work.
The key to overcoming these problems is ensuring that social media use is an “instead of” feature and not an “in addition to” feature of your innovation efforts. Let me put it this way: Imagine working in an office in which everything that was decided via phone had to later be confirmed with a face-to-face meeting. How many phone calls would you make? Wouldn’t it be easier to save everything for the meeting, because you’d need to have the meeting anyway? If you truly want to make internal social media communication happen at your company, it has to replace some other task that is more time intensive or unpleasant. People won’t look at presentations posted to SlideShare if they know that Vice President of Droning On and On is going to read every slide at the Monday meeting anyhow. Social tools can improve efficiency, increase the flow of ideas and make it easier to keep everyone in the loop. But it won’t work if it’s “only one more thing” or if it’s seen as optional. The tools work only if you work them.