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Adopting Social Media: Are We Leaders, Managers or Followers?

July 5, 2008

By Williams, Tudor Williams, Ryan

A new IABC survey finds a wide range of opinions on how social media should be used in the workplace Most communicators use social media as a source of home entertainment. A minority use it as a tool for work. In January, IABC surveyed a random sample of 2,500 members, plus 1,149 attenders from last years International Conference, and found that more than 60 percent of them participate in blogs and use social networking applications such as Facebook at home, but just 40 percent use these tools at work. More than 50 percent of those surveyed use videosharing media such as YouTube at home, but only 28 percent use them at work. There seems to be a discrepancy between their willingness to use social media tools at home and their willingness to use them at work.

The mandate for the survey was to answer two questions:

* Do communicators have the leadership competencies to succeed in a social media environment?

* Can communicators use transformational leadership practices in applying social media to achieve better business results?

For the survey, we defined social media as the online technologies and practices people use to share knowledge and opinions. These types of media promote a shift from the broadcast model of communication to a many-to-many model that is rooted in conversations. Social media are those that use the “wisdom of crowds” to connect information in a collaborative manner, through channels such as blogs, wikis and podcasts.

The findings suggest that up to 20 percent of communicators are ready, willing and able to lead change with social media. These early adopters are intentionally planning and using social media in their communication strategies at work. They are already moving forward. Where do the other 80 percent of communicators fit in the change cycle? Clearly, the early majority are planning to use social media in the next three years. Some, the late majority, are waiting to see how it all plays out before they get on board. A few laggards are just not willing to change their ways.

The introduction of social media tools may be the most revolutionary change to communication since the introduction of the Internet. However, integrating these tools into communication strategy involves leadership and corporate-culture issues. As the social media revolution rolls forward, communicators have three options. They can use their leadership skills to develop strategy, accept their role in managing others’ strategies, or follow the directions of others.

We asked communicators whether their organization had cultural attributes that encouraged the adoption of social media and the leadership traits they need to adopt social media. The survey explored the readiness of communicators and their organizations to adopt social media and the impact those tools are having on them, as well as the extent of their planning and budgeting for social media in the short and long term.

Are our work cultures ready for social media?

Communicators were asked to rate their organization on five cultural attributes that predict whether social media can be adopted successfully. Those attributes are:

* Transparency-the sharing of information about the organization.

* Control-the trust put in others to do their jobs and be accountable.

* Sharing knowledge-people’s openness to share what they know and teach others.

* Democratic-formal status is not important; everyone’s views are valued.

* Conversational-when positional leaders share information, they value feedback on their plans and priorities.

Survey respondents rated their organizations as very good in the area of sharing knowledge but only adequate in the areas of control, conversational and transparency (see chart at left). Democratic attributes scored the lowest and were the only category to score less than a 50 percent favorable rating. This was particularly true of communicators in government organizations, with a 21 percent favorable score. Small organizations, however, rated very highly as democratic at 79 percent favorable; conversational and transparency both rated 71 percent favorable.

Most organizations are not ready to use social media and do not have cultures that accept their use. Only a third of communicators said their organizational culture accepts the use of social media to support twoway communication. Almost 40 percent of respondents said their organizations are ready to use social media in communication strategies, while 40 percent said their organizations are not ready. Thirty-nine percent said their organizations have policies in place to block access to external social media sites, through practices such as having the IT department restrict the sites employees can access through the company’s Internet connection (see chart above).

The data also suggest that small organizations (fewer than 100 employees) are more likely to adopt social media because the right cultural elements exist. Organizations that are least ready are large corporations and government agencies. Twothirds of communicators in small organizations said their leaders are aware of the impact of social media, while 50 percent of communicators in large organizations and government indicated their leaders are not.

Are communicators ready to lead change?

The other facet of social media adoption is the leadership competencies of communicators. Leadership is defined by author and leadership expert Walter C. Wright as the process of one person influencing another. It is the relationship of influence in which the leader seeks to influence the behavior, attitudes, vision, values or beliefs of another. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner note in their book Credibility, trust is the foundation of leadership.

Communicators acknowledge that social media have arrived and already affect their work. Just over half of the members surveyed said social media are already changing how they share information with colleagues.

Respondents were asked about the transformational leadership attributes they thought communicators collectively possess. The transformational style of leadership uses a compelling vision to energize, align and excite followers (as opposed to transactional leadership, which uses planning, organizing and coordinating to direct followers). Transformational leadership helps create a more open communication environment because it focuses on equipping others to act and not on control. Respondents were asked to rate how well communicators demonstrated 12 attributes of leadership that relate to the successful adoption of social media (see chart at right).

Most communicators said they listen, gather and articulate, and they promote values of tolerance, kindness and honesty. A small majority (53 percent) said that communicators remove organizational barriers to participating in decision making, and 55 percent said they share power and authority in decision making.

Intentionality is the key to great leadership. It is based on integrity and authenticity, and is integral to achieving a vision. Intentional means “purposeful, focused clearly on an outcome.” This suggests we are not leading unless we are planning and budgeting for change. The survey shows this may be the barrier to communicators leading in the adoption of social media.

Planning and budgeting for social media

There is a passive expectation that in the next three years, communicators will change their current plans to adapt to these new communication tools. While about half of those surveyed said they plan to use some social media tools, social media occupy only a small part of their communication plansand many do not have a budget for these plans. Communicators said they are planning to use social media but appear to have done little planning.

Survey responses indicate that less than 25 percent of current internal or external communication plans are committed to the use of social media (see chart below right). Almost half of these communicators said social media will be a priority in their internal communication plans in the next three years, yet only 22 percent said they have clear strategies for the social media tools they plan to use. Only 40 percent said corporate communication colleagues were prepared to change how they communicate by incorporating social media tools.

Communicators believe the social media applications dial will have the biggest impact on their organizations are blogs, RSS feeds and podcasting. In the next year, communicators plan to use blogs, social networking sites, RSS feeds and podcasting in the workplace. More than 40 percent of respondents selected one or more of these tools; blogs were the most popular choice, with 58 percent.

When asked which social media tools they planned to use in the next three years, 50 percent of communicators identified one or more of the following: blogs, podcasts, social networking tools, RSS feeds, video sharing and wikis.

A little over half of these communicators have allocated 25 percent of their communication plans for the use of social media. Forty percent said they did not have a budget for the use of social media this year, and 31 percent said their social media budget would increase this year (see chart at right).

Impact of social media on our audiences Customers and employees are the two audiences communicators feel are affected most by the use of social media. Just over 40 percent of communicators see social media fundamentally changing how they communicate with employees and customers. Just under a quarter see no impact at all. Communicators see very little impact of social media on how they communicate with shareholders, government or the financial community. A third of respondents said social media have fundamentally changed how they communicate with media.

To be organizational leaders in rliis area, we have to create a focus that aligns strategies with our situation, who we are and who our customers are. Communicators are not homogeneous in their views on social media. The tools are changing, but the fundamentals of strategies and outcomes are not. Some comments illustrate the thinking of some of the respondents:

* The laggard: “I am not seeing clear evidence that social media are any better than other media.”

* The follower: “I have not seen die evidence to suggest our employees want or need these types of interaction opportunities.”

* The manager: “My company is just realizing the impact of social media.”

* The leaden “Corporate communicators know the power of social media and the tremendous value it brings.”

So what type of communicator are you in the social media spectrum of activities, and what do you aspire to be?

Only a third of communicators felt their organizational culture accepts the use of social media to support two-way communication.

The introduction of social media tools may be the most revolutionary change to communication since the introduction of the Internet.

Cultural traits needed to adopt social media in my organization:

Sharing knowledge (people are open to sharing what they know and teach others)

64%

Agree

21%

Neutral

15%

Disagree

Control (we trust others to do their job and be accountable)

59%

Agree

20%

Neutral

21%

Disagree

Conversational (when positional leaders share information, they value feedback on their plans and priorities)

57%

Agree

24%

Neutral

19%

Disagree

Transparency (we share information about our organization freely)

55%

Agree

22%

Neutral

23%

Disagree

about the survey respondents

* 32 percent are responsible for internal communication, 20 percent for external and 46 percent for both.

* 51 percent work for companies with more than 100 employees.

* 58 percent are from the U.S., 25 percent from Canada, 7 percent from Asia/Pacific and 3 percent from Europe.

* 37 percent are under 40 years old; 58 percent are 40 to 60 years old.

Communicators believe the social media applications that will have the biggest impact on their organizations are blogs, RSS feeds and podcasting.

“Responses do not total 100% due to rounding.

My organization’s readiness to use social media:

My company has a policy to block access to external social media sites

39%

Agree

11%

Neutral

50%

Disagree

Our organizational culture accepts the use of social media to support two-way communication

35%

Agree

22%

Neutral

43%

Disagree

My organization is ready to use social media in its communication strategies*

39%

Agree

22%

Neutral

40%

Disagree

Do communicators demonstrate these leadership attributes?

Gather other people’s ideas

85%

Agree

11%

Neutral

4%

Disagree

Listen actively and receptively to what others have to say

84%

Agree

10%

Neutral

6%

Disagree

Articulate a clear sense of purpose and direction for their organizations

83%

Agree

10%

Neutral

7%

Disagree

Build a good understanding of what is happening inside the organization

82%

Agree

11%

Neutral

7%

Disagree

Empower others to “carry the ball”*

61%

Agree

27%

Neutral

13%

Disagree

Share their power and authority with others in the decision- making process

55%

Agree

31%

Neutral

14%

Disagree

Remove organizational barriers so others can participate in decision making

53%

Agree

27%

Neutral

20%

Disagree

What percentage of your communication plans is committed to using social media?

Internal communication plan currently committed to social media?

43%

None

42%

1%-25%

7%

26%-50%

External communication plan currently committed to social media?

41%

None

45%

1%-25%

8%

26%-50%

Our budget for the use of social media in our communications strategies will:

Decrease this year

2%

Stay the same

25%

Increase this year

31%

We don’t have a budget for social media projects

40%

2% did not respond

by Tudor Williams, ABC, IABC Fellow, and Ryan Williams

about the authors

Tudor Williams, ABC, IABC Fellow, is principal of twisurveys, an organizational research and strategy development company specializing in employee, association member and customer research, in Delta, British Columbia.

Ryan Williams is president and research director of twisurveys, specializing in organizational and behavioral research.

Copyright International Association of Business Communicators Jul/ Aug 2008

(c) 2008 Communication World. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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