Our Challenge Is Digital And Social Illiteracy

Long-term changes are more difficult to see. We have witnessed the rapid emergence of social and digital over the last decade or so, but actually we are only just at the beginning of that journey. We face an enormous problem at the moment and its not going away. 

I write this post with the utmost respect for senior leaders in organizations, but I’m also not going to shirk away from the reality of a predicament we are encountering. 

Leaders and managers are still trying to solve 21st century problems, using 20th century methods. 

People in senior, powerful positions (C suite) are making wide reaching, significant decisions about the web and digital whilst being web and digital illiterate.

It’s not a surprise, many leaders are saying that they know they have to embrace social business, but don’t understand it and don’t know how.

The web, its digital and social activity is far more complex than many people believe. It’s moved fast, they have been caught out by watching the wrong thing and distracted by old school issues. 

To be honest who can blame them? The issues facing business today are sophisticated and complex. In an IBM study of around 1700 Chief Marketing Officers they found:

71% were unprepared for the data explosion

68% were unprepared for social media

65% were unprepared for the growth of channel and device choice

63% for shifting consumer demogrpahics

56% for customer collaboration and influence

The research goes on. These digital and social illiteracy challenges reside in four key areas:

1. A reluctance to think strategically

I’ve worked with several very large institutions now and the start of the conversation is always about finding the silver bullet and sorting the whole problem. You don’t make 6000 employees and 10 million customers change overnight.

Strategy brings some intellectual thought, a good dose of in depth listening and a couple of solutions that have high impact and start the process of cultural change.

The almost fever like behavior in implementing just tactics without thought. Why most social media internally and externally is failing to get the engagement levels required.

We need to start looking at the goals and targets, align them with overall business objectives and start building relevant, co ordinated activity that delivers real business results not just a stream of benign conversations on Twitter. Most businesses that say they are social are not.

“Strategy brings some intellectual thought, a good dose of in depth listening and a couple of solutions that have high impact and start the process of cultural change.”

Countless businesses are in panic or excitement mode. Either way it manifests itself in organizations wanting to tackle everything all at once. If that strategy is deployed, I guarantee it will fail. 

Instead find two or three hotspots and deliver a blue ocean strategy with the appropriate engagement model in those areas using mobile technology to deliver. Works every time. The key to making this happen is concentration not diffusion.

Innumerable organisations rush into the tactics without listening. We just don’t listen enough. Conduct a social listening audit and analyse what people are doing saying and making. Because they are and in droves.

Digital and social is a very sophisticated industry now and admittedly thats happened very quickly. No one person, nor one consultancy has all the skills to help deliver your solution, but always have a strategic expert on hand. 

They will help you build the architecture and models that will bring about sustained success.

2. Structure

We are still building silos not collaborative spaces and places. Social is seen different to digital, IT separate to marketing, marketing different to HR etc., etc. We’ve built organizational structures that resemble centralized engagement models. 

Perhaps they were right in an industrialized world but in a connected, knowledge based one is a bad fit. These need overhauling, changing and re structuring. We need to move from ego systems to eco systems of engagement. 

Engagement with employees, customers, communities, suppliers and other stakeholders. Structure will need to look more organic, coordinated, perhaps even hub and spoke or, if you are feeling brave enough; honeycomb.

I would even go as far to say that organisations with a centralised, hierarchical structure in the future will fail, they are failing now.

3. Skills set

Senior people making decisions that they don’t fully understand because they are working in outdated models.

I believe that if your organisation does not have digital/social embedded in over 75% of its strategy, operations, activity, humans, skills, processes, analysis and engagement in the next 18 months, you are in very big trouble in 3 – 5 years time.

Lots of people are struggling, marketers still obsessed with a hard copy brochure with no social/digital expertise. HR people are still recruiting people that are not digital savvy. 

I met a company recently that are doing some great things here though. They are using psychologists to analyze online profiles of potential recruits rather than doing psychometric testing, absolutely fascinating. 

That same organisation only recruits digital/social savvy people no matter what the role or at what the level. And they had started using those same people to solve joint collaborative problems with customers. 

Sadly this foresight in an HR department too rare. All employees are publishers now and organizations are the media distributors.

4. Processes and systems are not being digitalized fast enough

Is your sales division driven by digital processes? How are you collecting your customer insight data? Are those employee surveys being replaced by social profiling? We are getting there. 

In another IBM study, 54% of companies expect to support their Customer Service processes with social capabilities within two years, up from 38% at present. 60% will socially enable their Sales processes in the next two years, up from 46% now.

Engagement with employees, customers, communities, suppliers and other stakeholders. Structure will need to look more organic, coordinated, perhaps even hub and spoke or, if you are feeling brave enough; honeycomb.

Ending Rant

So why the hell would an organisation what to turn itself in on itself in so many crucial areas. Simple because its employees and customers, for the first time, are moving faster than the organization itself. 

The power is shifting. Perhaps not overtly, but quietly, discreetly and under the radar. And, thats why it’s so dangerous for organizations. 

Customers and employees have their prey in their sights. Working like an institution or an organisation is not going to get any of us very far in the future.

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