No Playing With (Social) Fire

How do traditional, regulated industries cope with social engagement? Not so well, as it seems. In a series of two posts, we will explore the reasons that hold those industries back from becoming truly social (part 1), taking Pharma as an example. Between real constraints and irrational fears, various avenues of action exist (part 2) to seize the business potential of social engagement.

Turner_-_The_Burning_of_the_Houses_of_Parliament

Stop dreaming. You will never hear a traditional, regulated industry go for social media with genuine enthusiasm. Even when marketers or IS specialists get it, the rest of the organization generally doesn’t. In the face of social business, incomprehension and distrust are the norm.

A typical example is the Pharma industry. Although digital and social initiatives are not rare any more, to make a new social venture happen is still a painful journey. Cumbersome procedures, lack of management support, misunderstanding of coworkers are enough to quench the enthusiasm of social business advocates. Why? Because many preconceived ideas, fantasies almost, distort the picture of social:

  • “Social is vain”. Social networks are for young people – or people with enough time to lose –, they count for nothing versus real-life connections, and discussions taking place there are futile.
  • “Social is nasty”. Sentiment is mostly negative against the industry and social media gives echo to the nastiest activism of ignorant crowds. Better keep evolving in the familiar world of press releases, press conferences and media trips.
  • “Social is unnecessary”. In many fields of business, corporate people still believe success depends mostly on science and lobbying. For public health related business, the recipe for success would combine relevant scientific data + the support of respected scientific opinion leaders + proper channeling of tailored messages to policy makers. A pinch of marketing, slick visuals, and there you have it.
  • “Social chases away compliance”. Specifically for the Pharma industry, procedures imposed by health authorities are supposedly not compatible with wide social engagement. When you have to report any single adverse drug reaction you become aware of – in just a few hours –, or when any allusion to a benefit that’s not in the drug’s label is strictly forbidden, it’s pretty hard to consider opening the floodgates of social conversation. Imagine thousands of people complaining or speculating about your drug on social channels, day and night, 365 days a year. In the absence of FDA guidelines, how do you manage?

 A wealth of opportunities

But, these are convenient excuses for not trying. The reality is that there is a wide space open for experimentation of social engagement. The benefits are clear: as global PR Agency Weber Shandwick states, social media for Pharma:

  • Allows direct communications with audiences
  • Adds value to patient and physician communities
  • Shapes perceptions
  • Gains insight into patient populations, and
  • Extends important messages

(in 2013 Digital Health: Building Social Confidence in Pharma).

No one said it was easy. “But digital health can become a solution instead of a problem if seen for what it actually is: an amazing tool for connecting patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, treatment providers, and institutions with the information necessary to advance public health” says Michael Spitz in an Oct. 2013 article.

With the emergence of collaboration and listening tools, Pharma companies and other traditional industries are starting to enter the game. But few leverage the full power of social engagement. Why?

It’s a mindset (and leadership) issue

Traditional, regulated industries and the executives that drive them are deeply influenced by organization principles inherited from the Fordist era. “Control” is an absolute value, and “risk avoidance” a perpetual motto. Not a bad fit with today’s litigation culture and short-term financial management.

Organizations are optimized for business efficiency, segmented along functions and grades. Processes enable a standardized replication of a maximum of activities, to ensure the predictability of production, quality, and business results.

Human “resources” must also meet the demand for control. Talent acquisition and development are very standardized. As a result, the management and leadership teams are amazingly homogeneous from a gender, culture, education, and social origin standpoint. The “dominant while male” is still the leader archetype.

Such teams are not diverse enough to innovate and promote an authority-driven type of leadership, where being a good element in the chain of command is at least as valued as the in-the-job performance. This mindset stands pretty far from what social business requires.

Authenticity, connecting capacity, appetite for complexity, flexibility with hierarchical codes, collective and inclusive leadership, empathy with all types of interlocutors… are enabling skills in today’s social economy, and what precisely is still missing within the traditional industry.

 

In our next blog post, we will propose solutions for regulated industries to embrace social engagement, based on experience and observations. Your ideas are very welcome, feel free to share!

In the meantime, if you haven’t done it yet, take the test 🙂 How wired are YOU for social collaboration?

New: Thought Leaders Digest from Change Agents Worldwide

caww_ebook_coverChange Agents Worldwide is in production on its first e-book.  Our individual approaches to the market is unique and varied, yet we all share the same core beliefs about how the workplace is changing and what leaders need to do to prepare for that change.

Sign up to get a free copy of the e-book once it’s published.  We are targeting February 2014. The e-book will also be available on a variety of electronic reader platforms for a small fee.

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Social Business: Pining for the Fjords!

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it…  It’s dead!”

So, which is it dead or not dead?   There is so much confusion in the market about what “Social Business” is, it might as well be a dead parrot (too).  And there is no shortage of people who come at this conversation with a perspective that simply adds more confusion based on their orientation or specific economic agenda.

No one knows this struggle better than I.  I had lost the battle to preserve “Social Business” for its original owner, Muhammad Yunus, who by-the-way is trying to solve global poverty and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, sometime in 2009 in discussions with the social cognoscenti.  My former employer and friends at the Dachis Group had settled on repurposing Social Business to describe the evolving phenomenon, and after I was acquired, I too fell in line eventually rebranding the Council I had created for early adopters of Enterprise 2.0 to become “The Social Business Council.”*   I think the goal had always been to create a singular view for the market, and I supported the direction.  But, even as I was leaving Dachis Group in the summer of 2012, we took a pulse to see how many of the early adopters had fully integrated their internal social collaboration initiatives (collaboration and learning) with their external social media marketing initiatives (sales and marketing), and wished we hadn’t asked.  I knew the number would not be high, but I was literally shocked to see the response was nearly zero.  The actual number was 4%.   The number was so startling that when I presented it at a Jive user’s group meeting here in Texas, people were somewhat alarmed.  So, I repurposed the figure in the report to reflect how many people said they had plans to do it, but currently had not done it.

planets

The reality that surrounds this issue is we are really talking about two different planets that share the same language based on the principles of the early web 2.0 phenomenon and open web.  But, anyone who’s played in both these camps will readily acknowledge that a digital strategist or VP of Consumer Strategy has no idea what social collaboration is inside the enterprise and most likely spends his/her entire day in email, teleconferences, meetings, and ppt.  And, someone who’s running an internal enterprise social network has no idea who the top players are in SMMS (or what that acronym even means).  The problem is becoming somewhat unwieldy, however, because people who do not know better can easily confuse expertise in one area with the other.  Some of the senior enterprise folks in our network are facing career track issues with this right now.  Further, there’s now evidence of attempts at rationalization taking place, trying to shoe-horn the whole shebang into a singular phenomenon.  Nice try, and if it leads to changing the world, we’re for it.

One of our Change Agents, Richard Martin, pointed out that Nilofer Merchant side-stepped the issue quite neatly in her book 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era: “You might wonder why I’m not using Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) or social business (#socbiz) terminology. Enterprise 2.0 primarily focused on the tools necessary to create information flow, based on the idea that we can do better if we share information freely. Social business (#socbiz) was a term first created by Muhammed Yunus, but more recently has been a popular way to describe the way companies function and generate value for all the constituents (stakeholders, employees, customers, partners, suppliers)—the idea being that we add a social overlay to the existing structural framework. Here, I pose a new question with the notion of Social Era: in what ways can we structure things entirely differently to create more value in the context of our times, to be fast to market, to be fluid in mind-set, to be flexible in how we organize, deliver, and create value?”

She nails it in that “new” question.

We’ll be talking about some of those answers in an upcoming webinar we are doing next week in cooperation with our sponsor partner, Socialcast by VMware. The webinar will provide a reality check on where social is today, but more importantly, will talk about the underlying trends that are driving enterprise-sized businesses to become more network-based and adaptable.  You’ll have the pleasure of listening to thought leaders Simon Terry and Harold Jarche share their insights on why social matters now more than ever before.   Simon will explain how we got here, what the problem is in the market, and Harold will explain ways we can begin to address these problems today.  We’ll cover a few case studies and have lots of time to do Q&A with webinar participants, so please sign up and join us.  We look forward to your participation.

Webinar: Moving Forward with Social Collaboration
Date:  December 12, 2013
Time: 11:00 a.m. EST

This webinar kicks off a series of projects we’ll be doing with Socialcast to educate the market.   We have a lot more in store as we roll into 2014 too.  As always, thanks for your support for the great work we’re doing at Change Agents Worldwide.  You can support us by tweeting (@chagww and #caww) about us, liking us on Facebook, following on on G+, joining our public community on G+, and following our updates on LinkedIn.  Of course, don’t be shy about joining us as well.  Things are going to change in 2014 for new members, so if you’ve been considering joining, now would be a good time.

Last thing –  Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review are running a fairly good survey on trying to get to the bottom of some of these issues and to mitigate some confusion in the market.  I highly recommend you complete the questionnaire.   We’re also very excited about Change Agent Jane McConnell’s Digital Workplace results which will be out in early 2014, as well.

See you next Thursday!  And, as always, interested in your comments.

 

*Sadly, one thing is deader than a dead parrot: The Social Business Council.  Dachis Group shut it down this month.  It was a great resource for many early adopters and fans, and its legend lives on in the halls of Wikipedia if you’d like to update the page.

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