Summary: Social media is still a novelty to many professionals, especially those in leadership positions. Rather than viewing social and digital technologies as a radical departure from traditional communication approaches, however, it’s better to think of them as “new tools for doing old things” and to remember they are facilitators and enablers, not an end unto themselves. Reflecting its role as a utility, best practices for social media management are emerging. These include focusing on the strategic as well as the tactical, effectively managing human capital resources, and managing Digital Era risks.
“What is social media?” It wasn't that long ago I was asked that question almost every time I brought the subject up. These days people no longer ask, but that doesn’t mean their understanding has evolved significantly. In spite of all the media hype, social media is still a novelty to many professionals, especially those in leadership positions.
Since 2009 I have dedicated myself to educating people about the applications and implications of new digital technologies for individuals and organizations of all types. For example:
The theme behind these posts and others is that rather than thinking of them as some kind of radical departure, using digital forms of communication should be viewed as an extension and new manifestation of what humans have been doing almost as long as we’ve been on the planet. Although technology, its uses, and our understanding have evolved and matured, our underlying motivations have not. It is as true in the Digital Era as it was in previous eras: technologies are facilitators and enablers, not an end unto themselves.
Putting social media in perspective as “new tools for doing old things” doesn’t mean we should think of it as “just” anything, however. I see lots of social media advocates do that, and though their intentions are generally good (they’re trying to demystify technology and make people less fearful), they’re misguided. New digital technologies, especially social media, aren’t “just” anything. They’re extremely powerful, with the ability to facilitate profound change and wreak significant havoc. From natural disasters to political upheaval to marketing successes and PR failures, there are countless stories of the strength and effectiveness of digital social networks, including the damage they can cause to both individuals and organizations.
Relative to more traditional forms of communication, the stakes in cyberspace are significantly higher because:
Because it is both powerful and potentially dangerous, it probably makes more sense to think about social media as a set of utilities rather than a set of tools. Their ease of use and perceived safety features (e.g., privacy settings) can lull us into a false sense of security, but we should never underestimate them. In other words:
As the Digital Era progresses, and we continue to realize that social media is neither a fad nor a novelty, best practices for managing social media as a utility are emerging. These best practices include:
Focusing on the strategic as well as the tactical. Any social media professional worth their salt will emphasize how critical an individual or organization's goals and objectives are in determining the most effective digital engagement approaches to employ, and they will also offer explicit how-to guidance. Here are some of our sample contributions in this area:
Effectively managing human capital resources, which means assigning the right people to do the work and providing ongoing support to maximize effectiveness. Sound human capital practices recognize the following realities:
For a deeper dive into human capital management considerations, check out:
Managing Digital Era risks by:
For more on risk management, check out:
Sound like a lot of work? It is! Anyone who tells you otherwise is being irresponsible. But if social media enables us to meet our goals and objectives more efficiently and effectively than more traditional approaches – and increasingly it will – then it’s worth the investment. It’s important to remember that social media and digital technologies shouldn’t simply be layered on top of existing practices, they must be integrated with them. And like other utilities, they should be viewed as an engine or power source for how things can be done rather than what should be done. The sooner we recognize the value of digitally enhancing all elements of organizational operations, including the social aspects, the sooner we’ll reap the benefits of doing so.