By {grow} Community Member Lou Hoffman

Companies understand the intellectual argument for embracing the digital world. Prospects, job candidates and other target audiences increasingly conduct due diligence on the Net before making decisions.

That’s the easy part. Most marketing execs get this and the need to come up the digital curve.

But expertise by itself isn’t the game changer.

Mark hit the nail on the head in a recent post: “… social media success is not going to be a function of marketing vision or budget. It’s going to rely on radical organizational transformation.”

Amen.

But this transformation goes deeper than org charts, training and replacing the Friday jelly donuts.  I think the game changer lies in companies changing from a mentality of centralized control to one that cultivates a distributed approach of digital actions.

Getting Past the Fright

This is a scary proposition.  I can hear the lament echoing in the corporate corridors:

“It’s tough enough that our comms team is deploying social media that generates real conversations, dialogue we can’t always anticipate and with people we don’t always know. And now you expect us to proactively put these tools in the hands of amateurs. Borrowing from Match Box 20, you might not be crazy, but you’re certainly unwell.”

The shift away from a command and control model always causes heartburn.

When the Piggly Wiggly invented the self-serve grocery store, the common wisdom was that customers would steal them blind. The idea of picking your own groceries from the shelves instead of ordering from a single counter was viewed as totally radical in the day.

As it turned out, people lived up to the trust.

Last year we went through the exercise of helping a client CMO sell the idea of a hybrid decentralized model – select employees from all functions across the company would be trained and guided in social media – to the rest of the executive management team. The CEO put the kibosh on the proposal. His rationale – as a public company, they carefully scripted what they’re going to say during each quarterly earnings call and the last thing they needed was some guy in procurement tanking the stock price with an off-hand tweet.

Being a glass-is-half-full type, I told the CMO this is a good start. At least your CEO knows what a tweet is.

Here’s the part the CEO hasn’t figured out.

It Comes Down to Trust

If Piggly Wiggly can trust customers, you can trust your employees. With the right training and guidance, their use of social media will become a net positive and expand the company’s digital footprint.

A few companies have the right spirit.

My favorite example of an organization willing to give up control in exchange for the multiplier effect of social media is the Department of Defense. In fact, the DoD established a SlideShare platform to support the rank and file on topics ranging from how to tweet to tips and tools for YouTube.

Look, I don’t pretend to have all the answers on how a company can harness the collective power of its employees in deploying social media.

But I do know this. If companies don’t start rethinking their centralized mindset, trusting their employees and trying new things, the answers will never come.

Lou Hoffman spearheads a global communications consultancy and writes about storytelling through a business prism at Ishmael’s Corner. You can follow him on Twitter @LouHoffman.

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