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March 21, 2008

Bucking the system

by Josh Bernoff

Does your company reject change?

Of course not. You love change, don’t you. Change is good. That’s how companies grow. The bigger the company, the more a little change will do it some good.

Baloney. You all know the truth. Companies are like organisms with immune systems. If you’re a change agent, you’re the antigen. Your company wants to reject you, and it’s got lots of systems to block that -- accounting systems, legal systems, management hierarchies, policies and procedures.

Social applications and their champions run afoul of this all the time. Why? Because the people in your social applications – your customers and prospects – are out of control. Who knows what they might say or do? And you want to make that a part of how your company runs? That’s what stimulates the allergic reaction.

But you can succeed. Here are our best tips, taken right from the pages of Groundswell, which could have been called, “How to be a social provocateur and still succeed within a company.”

  • Start small. Don’t try to change your whole company overnight. Pick a single project, a single brand, a single group of customers, and work on that (or them). You’ll seem smaller and less threatening to the status quo. And you’ll get the chance to foul up and learn in a sheltered environment.
  • Get an executive sponsor. When the you-know-what hits the fan, you’ll need somebody in a high place to cover your back. At Dell, it’s Michael Dell who gives people cover. At Unilever, it was two top executives: Babs Rangaiah and Rob Master. Who’s your sponsor? You’ll need her. Take her to lunch now and make sure you can count on her.
  • Line up the stakeholders ahead of time. Will legal be blocking you? Then get a person from legal on your committee. Or a regulatory affairs guy. Or somebody from accounting, or brand management, or whomever might be threatened by what you’re doing. You want them on your side. And you want to hear their objections early, not when you’re about to launch and they can shut you down for some policy violation you didn’t even know about. In the months it takes to spec and build your application, you can win them over, or learn from them and change what you’re building as necessary.
  • Set deadlines and move fast. This is how you get the objectors’ objections out of the way now. If your launch is six months off, they won’t pay attention until month five. If it’s one month off, you’ll get to their objections now. Speed also helps – you’ll be up and running before they can figure out some new reason to object. Lionel Menchaca and his team got the Direct2Dell blog up in three weeks. (This was a week later than Michael Dell wanted.)
  • Seek precedents. What’s your competitor doing? Is your community, your wiki, your blog like one in another industry? Show them to your management and anyone else you need to convince. (Groundswell has 65  examples including 25 full case studies, indexed by industry, by strategy, and by geography – you might find what you’re looking for by starting with page 265.)
  • Make friends. Join communities like the Social Media Club, or Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell's Society for Word of Mouth. Find people who are doing what you’re doing. Lean on them. Learn from them.
  • Measure your success. The surest way to fail is to be unable to prove you accomplished anything. Decide what you’ll measure up front – buzz, conversion rates, sales, community memberships. Prove it accomplishes your objectives. And then prove your application is delivering results. (If it isn’t . . . fix it!)
  • Don’t stop at one application – build! So six months have gone by. Your first application is successful. Go ahead revel in it – for ten minutes. Then build on it. You have momentum – you’ve bested all the obstacles and proved you can deliver results. The second app will be far, far easier. Doing one proves you’re a prodigy. Doing two or more will get you promoted.

What’s your best tip? Add it in the comments.


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Jackie Huba

Thanks for the shout out Josh! Looking forward to reading your new book.

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