We live in a world of social media. Today, we can achieve greater exposure using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and blog-publishing applications like WordPress. While individuals and smaller companies have known this for awhile, bigger, more established, businesses are just starting to catch on with mixed results. In a world of social media, organizational leaders have to ask themselves how much exposure do they want to give their companies. There is a thin line between living in a fortress with the curtains drawn and living in a glass house. To what degree do we want people to look into our organizations? The question is a genuine challenge. Because all to often once you invite them in you can’t get rid of them.
Social media is not a formalistic auditing device, it’s not a confessional, nor is it a guarantee of transparency. More often it is used to share the mundane, the instant, the everyday. Social media allows individuals and organizations to involve others in their own self-reflecting process. It allows you to bring others into the immediate moment. This is a long way from the static use of the Internet or the asynchronistic design of a web page. Social media allows for a world of spontaneous and ongoing dialogue. Social media exposure has the power to create long-term bonds between your business and your customers and between managers and employees. It also means, in cases, the abolition of privacy. So how far do you really want to draw the curtain?
Social media allows for a world of “friends” and “fans” instead of “clients” and “potential customers.” Instead of static websites and impersonal emails, new business owners send and share photos of themselves, their cat, and the office party they had last week. Originally the Internet was used for feedback and to share material now it’s to share life. The question is how much of our life, organizational or otherwise, do we want to share?
Companies are starting to realize that inviting people in helps them meet new customers and establish friendships that can be beneficial. Leaders who use social media sites will find that they not only connect with potential clients but they will also bond with their employees to create a sense of an external or internal community as we mentioned earlier.
But there are challenges to social media. First, for the use of social media to be successful it has to be constant and attractive. The language that we use in our corporate daily life is not the short-handed language that we see on Twitter. The language that’s most successful on blogs is not one made up of bureaucratic details that we often become obsessed with in the workplace. The exposure we achieve on Facebook is different than the exposure we achieve on a static website. For social media to be successful it has to be continuous. Blogs and social media profiles demand constant attention. They can become “feed-me Seymour” terrors of our daily lives demanding more and more time. So before considering using social media ask yourself whether you are willing to engage in the short-handed dramaturgical language that this modality demands and whether you are willing to constantly update your social media profiles.
You should also keep in mind that once you invite people in, like The Man Who Came to Dinner, they’ll hang around and there is no easy way to ask them to leave. I’m reminded of a friend of mine who once invited a group of us to dinner and as we got more and more into the discussion, he simply retreated to his bedroom upstairs having dimmed the lights in the living and dining rooms and asking his guests to let themselves out. Social media requires that you entertain and engage your guests.
The bottom line is social media has created a new (and free) way for people and businesses to become transparent. Social media exposure can create bonds between customers and within your organization but you may also forfeit aspects of your privacy and put your company’s reputation at stake. In other words, social media is a new, easy, way to find friends but like in real life, friendships require time, understanding, honesty, and the occasional birthday card. You have to ask yourself if the investment is worth the new friends. Leaders in organizations must ask themselves to what degree they want to use the new social media to invite people in. The challenge for many leaders in today’s world is how much social media exposure do they want for their organization.