Cautious middle managers avoiding social media

CRM consultant Denis Pombriant shares a surprising result from his recent survey: Some managers have reasons to steer clear of social media.

CRM consultant Esteban Kolsky and I did some research recently. We wanted to better understand the public's attitudes about social media in business and its adoption behavior. In some ways we uncovered few surprises, but in others the results were very interesting.

For instance, it was no surprise we concluded that social media in business is still a new market and we found multiple markers for this.

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular social tools in companies so far, which mirrors their popularity in our personal lives. Corporate and brand blogs also scored well and roughly compare in popularity with personal blogs.

It surprised us somewhat to see that senior executives understand the importance of social well, and are encouraging its implementation. Executives were second behind younger line-of-business workers in their attitudes toward social adoption, which you might expect from a group that grew up with social media.

Who were the laggards? Well, it was close and laggard might be too strong a word, let's just say that middle managers were in third place and that shouldn't be a surprise.

If you look at it a certain way, middle managers' relative caution makes a lot of sense. Young workers don't have as much responsibility as middle and senior managers so their enthusiasm for social can be relatively unhindered. The same can be said for the senior execs. Although they have the ultimate responsibility in an organization, they also have the ability to drive a directive to the middle managers who have to make a bright idea work. If the seniors are the jockeys, the middle managers are the horse.

So it's understandable that the people who do the implementing might be a little more cautious. When we asked our survey takers what the hindrances to social adoption were, the answers were classically middle manager oriented.

The big concerns were not so much related to cost or IT involvement. They centered on the issues you might have if you are trying to get something done: Where do we start? What processes and departments are the best targets for social deployments? Is it secure? What are the legal ramifications of using social media in business processes? These are all classic how-to questions most concerning to the middle managers -- and they scored highest among concerns.

From all this, and a lot more, my big takeaway from our research is that if I was a vendor trying to sell social solutions into an organization I would:

  1. Know that there's probably funding for a social initiative if I can get access to the senior executives --which I might not do if I don't convince the middle manager gatekeepers.
  2. Be specific about the business processes I want to approach.
  3. Spend a little extra time with the middle managers because they can and will say "no" if they don't think there's a business case.

We plan to make this a longitudinal study. We'll ask very similar questions next time and add some to help us refine our understanding.

Also, because Esteban and I are also primary judges in the CRM Idol competition we have a unique perspective on what solutions are in market and what new capabilities are starting to emerge. Evaluating all this will be a lot of fun.

This was first published in August 2012

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