TO ERR IS HUMAN
In her book Open Leadership, Charlene Li tells how Cisco CEO John Chambers challenges prospective employees. “I ask [them] to tell me about [their] failures,” he says. “…it’s surprising how many people say, ‘Well, I can’t think of one.’ That person immediately loses credibility with me.” Businesses are just like people. When they pretend to be infallible, they come off as dishonest because nobody’s perfect.
In this book, we will argue that social marketing isn’t a task to be delegated exclusively to the marketing department, just as replacing traditional media channels with social ones will achieve only marginal benefits, if it achieves anything at all. In order to tap into the true power of these new channels, businesses need to rethink their culture and values systems. They need to reject the concept that all company information is a proprietary asset to be shrouded in secrecy. They need to reject the veneer of infallibility as an operating principle. Those were appropriate strategies in the information-starved world that existed prior to 2000, but marketing in the age of the Web is about giving and participating and being as omnipresent as you can be. In social media marketing, developing solid interpersonal relationships are, generally speaking, much more important than showmanship.
Fallibility is endearing. When a notable politician or sports figure goes on Saturday Night Live and submits to the cast’s mockery with a good-natured grin, we instinctively like him. In fact, willingness to accept shortcomings actually demonstrates confidence. Dell Computer is the poster child for corporate humility. The company was twice a very public victim of social media savagery: Once at the hands of disgruntled blogger Jeff Jarvis in 2006 and again when it denied overheating problems with its laptop batteries two years later. Instead of walling itself off from its publics, Dell did the opposite. It embraced social channels with a fervor few companies could match. In 2009, Jarvis himself traveled to Round Rock, Texas on assignment for BusinessWeek to document Dell’s remarkable change of heart. “Dell has leapt from worst to first,” he wrote in the lead paragraph of his feature story, which was titled “Dell Learns to Listen.” One of the reasons Dell is considered such a thought leader in social media today is because it stumbled so publicly in the past, learned from its mistakes and championed culture change
We don’t mean to suggest that this transformation is easy. Large corporations in particular have enormous institutional impediments to change. One is middle management. While we’ve seen many examples of middle managers championing change, people in that role can also see open communication as a threat to their hegemony. They rarely derail an initiative entirely, but they can greatly slow its progress.
A more serious impediment, particularly in B2B companies, is long-serving senior managers who simply see no reason to do business any differently. In some cases, they’re right. We’ve worked with B2B companies whose markets were so focused that the sales organization already had personal relationships with every customer in the market. At these companies, social marketing isn’t an imperative, but today’s global business world changes so quickly that it seems shortsighted not to be acquainted with the tools that can open up opportunities in new markets. In chapter 3 we look at how to sell social marketing to tough customers.