One of social-media’s most important contributions to business is the competitive advantage it offers. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from a close friend in web marketing who was responsible for a Fortune 50 company’s website—from the get-go. So when the latest McKinsey Quarterly reported on research from GE’s social media experience, I was curious to see whether their findings differed from that of my good friend and all his resources, and also see what I could learn.
GE’s rationale for social media is instructive. Fail to use social media, they say, and you’ll inhibit collaboration, knowledge sharing and the tapping of employee capabilities. That’s the basic stuff of competitive advantage in today’s economy. Their platform has already attracted more than 115,000 users. Cool!
Although the GE leaders are at different places in social media, the writers identified a range of six social media efforts. I’ll list the six, and then pull out what was of interest to me, whether confirming stuff or new insights.
- Compelling content: Most of the discussion here, focused on the creative skills of “auteur” filmmaking--authenticity, imagination and narrative--that makes for a media product. One of the insights that was especially valuable for this blogger is the difference from traditional media. Too much perfection is actually a barrier to collaboration and cocreation, as it disinvites participation. That’s a mindset of imperfection, along with rawness and lack of polish.
- Channel dynamics: The SM (social media) dynamics master business’ traditional orientation to control in contrast to much direct intervention—lack of control. That’s scary. One of the GE execs developed this orientation by blogging for a long period of time. That was the only way to get an audience involved. Blogging made it possible for her to find her voice, become more conversational and easygoing. True. But the blog conversation also reorients my priorities, adds new priorities and sometimes, to my frustration, rejects my priorities.
- Communication overflow: We are drowning in noise, what with e-mails, tweets, Facebook updates, LinkedIn, RSS feeds and more that’s tough to navigate. For me, that’s making decisions about when and when not to reply, when to link, when copy material (like this) and mash it up with mine, and what to share. I post on four different sites, plus my own. And making decisions about what goes where requires empathy.
- Driving strategy: The GE authors recommend using the youngest generation, the digital natives’ expertise, through reverse mentoring systems. No surprise there. As a septuagenerian I’d be lost without my Gen-Y buddies and my grandson. As a consultant, I’ve always accessed my clients’ expertise, so it’s not a new strategy. But what’s important is that I continue to use their insights, even when I’m certain that I “get it” about a different technology. I’m a “user,” but I’ve found that the youngest generation is comprised of “users,” who, at the same time, are developers. It’s not only about the technology, but it’s also about the language, the differing priorities and perspectives, and their ability to critique my stuff, my brain and my generational mindsets.
- Enabling architects: Organizations constantly deal with conflict goals: free-exchange infrastructure and forced control. Social media amplifies the “informal organization,” but the leader’s task is to keep that conflict from being destructive. GE has standards of transparency and integrity that must be observed. Although an individual blogger like me has no controlling CEO, it’s an issue that I must always observe. I may not be as scrupulous regarding my priorities and choices, but when in doubt, my Gen-Y protégé and colleague, Liam O’Dea, monitors my stuff closely. This has become far more important than I would have assumed early-on. And he can be appropriately ruthless.
- Ahead of the curve: With all its resources, GE has a number of initiatives to help top execs stay ahead of Web 3.0. It understands that the next generation of connectivity, appliances, cars and all kinds of objects will be connected--and that these spawn new business models to be managed. For me, that means I must maintain my exposure to the millennial mind-set.
It takes guts and smarts to innovate in social media. Social media, unlike other technologies, are powerful forces of change. At least we know where to go to get what we need to know. That’ll give GE and Dan Erwin a different type of competitive advantage.
Flickr photo: Jeroen Steemen