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Social media in business: Breaking down organizational silos

In this interview with Michael Brito, author of "Smart Business, Social Business – A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization," we learn about how social media is being used, not just for marketing and PR, but internally as well to help break down organizational silos.

When it comes to collaboration, some organizations are turning to social technologies to help. However, technology alone is not enough. “Someone in the organization – I call them the Social Business Change Agent – needs to start aligning internal resources and at least get everyone talking about the growing influence of the social customer,” says Michael Brito, author of Smart Business, Social Business – A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization. Today SSQ talks to Brito about his book and about the way businesses are using social media to strengthen their business.

SSQ: Michael, we hear a lot about collaboration in business. How has social media changed the landscape of how we collaborate?

Michael Brito: Well with social technologies, it has certainly made it easier for employees and team to collaborate. So the barrier to entry for enterprise collaboration is certainly easier than it was years ago when employees had to actually get out of their seats and walk to building down for a meeting.  However, technology plays only a little part in collaboration. There has to be a mandate from senior leadership that forces organizations to tear down organizational silos and encourages (sometimes forces) people to collaborate and change their behavior.

SSQ: Though social media is a new way to communicate a offering lot of benefits, it’s not for everyone. One criticism, for example, is that it can be a time waster. In order to get the full benefit, people need to do more than promote their own agenda, they have to help others. Are organizations seeing a return on their investment and how are they measuring this?

Brito: There are certainly instances where employees are goofing off during work hours on Facebook.  Usually in companies like this, there are no governance models that help guide employee behavior. Even if IT restricted social media sites, there is no way to stop employees from accessing their mobile devices and doing the same thing anyway. With governance and trust, many companies are encouraging their employees to engage externally, join communities and interact with customers. SAP has done this in their SAP Community Network where they have SAP employees, partners and customers solving business problems through online conversations. The ROI in this case is simple. Employee retention, happy customers and innovation based on recommendations from the community.

SSQ: In the EMC case study, you talk about EMC starting with internal communication before moving to communicating with customers. Did they use tools such as Twitter and Facebook or special tools that were behind their firewall? How much of a concern was security?

Brito: EMC deployed an instance of Jive to build their internal communities. They built the internal community first on purpose – which was to build the social media proficiency of employees so they felt comfortable when engaging externally. It was an internal platform so I am sure that security really wasn’t an issue. I am sure many employees were already using Facebook and Twitter but not necessarily to talk about the brand. I am not sure if they were using internal “real time” micro blogging platform. 

SSQ:  You say, “Instead of tightly controlling or moderating content, EMC focused on a basic strategy of education and empowerment.” However, without moderation, isn’t there a risk that confidential or sensitive information might be shared unwittingly over the Internet?

Brito: Yes, there is always that risk. But what’s to stop an employee from making a phone call or sending an email to someone external. EMC wanted to build trust first which I think was a good strategy. To my knowledge as an outside looking in, they haven’t had any issues with employees sharing sensitive or confidential information.

SSQ: The book focuses on using social media in marketing and PR; however do you see social media also used to build stronger internal work teams and if so, how?

Brito: Yes, actually the book is for other teams as well - Customer Support, IT, Finance, Product Organizations, etc. Even if these teams do not use social media to engage externally with the social customers, the use of social technologies internally helps drives more effective communications across job functions and geographies, tighter collaboration among smaller teams and the tearing down of organizational silos.

SSQ: What other ways might organizations take advantage of social media in their business?

Brito: I think I answered some of this above. Other examples is to use tools like Get Satisfaction to manage customer support and also ask community members for ideas on how the brand can improve its products, processes, etc. Dell Idea Storm is the first one that comes to mind.

SSQ:  Some employees are concerned for their own privacy and do not want to engage in social media. How are organizations that are trying to implement a social media strategy dealing with this?

Brito: I am a firm believer that if an employee is concerned with privacy or just doesn’t  want to engage in social media on behalf of the brand, they shouldn’t have to. Does a business really want to force someone to leverage their personal networks if they don’t want to? Probably not. Employee engagement is usually facilitated by employees that raise their hand and say “I want to sign up.”

SSQ: Some people are using virtual worlds such as Second Life in business. What are your thoughts on this?

Brito: I don’t really have an opinion. I didn’t even realize the Second Life still existed.

SSQ: Your book ends saying that the key takeaway “is that organizations cannot and will not have effective, external conversations with consumers unless they can have effective internal conversations first.” You add that “organizations need to adopt social behaviors in every aspect of their business operations.” How do you recommend organizations start?

Brito: Well, it really has to start at the executive level. Sure, there are pockets of employees all over the place collaborating, tweeting, etc. but in order to really change organizational behavior, senior leadership needs to empower the change and also change themselves. Does this mean that they have to use Twitter? Not necessarily. It means that they need to invest in social technologies, add “social” to its own line item in a budget, blog and communicate internally, etc.

So to answer your question, an organization needs to start on two ends, at the top and also the bottom. Someone in the organization – I call them the Social Business Change Agent – needs to start aligning internal resources and at least get everyone talking about the growing influence of the social customer. Out of this will evolve a task force and combined efforts from people in the organization to create a groundswell of support. It’s happening already. It just needs more momentum, support, money and attention.


A tech veteran, Michael Brito is Senior Vice President of Social Business Planning at Edelman Digital, the interactive arm of the world's largest independently owned public relations firm. He is a much sought after speaker, advisor and community activist on issues ranging from social business, fund raising, digital marketing, community engagement, customer advocacy and integrated brand marketing communications. 

Brito's new book, Smart Business, Social Business, is available for purchase at most fine book stores as well as http://thesocialbusinessbook.comand You can also contact Brito through

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