Adopting a Piggly Wiggly View of Social Media

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.”


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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  • This reminds me of the “growtoon” on this site that states something like “This is certainly an innovative idea but we can’t implement. It’s never been done before.”

    Very good post Lou, thanks for writing it.

  • I am fairly supportive of letting employees using social media to promote the business but one of the critical points is to have them want to do it. In other words, motivated employees who enjoy their work will be glad to do it versus unhappy employees. This relates to each company’s work culture and how their employees feel about working there.

  • Pingback: Restoring Trust in the Church (for the first time in a long time) | 2×2 The Church Without a Building()

  • louhoffman

    You make a good point. There should be a natural order to decentralizing the use of social media. Even happy employees won’t always embrace social media in a work context and that’s fine. If you turn loose disgruntled employees on social media, I think it’s fair to say that the outcome won’t fortify the brand. Then again, such a company probably has a bigger problem than decentralizing communications.

  • rhonda hurwitz

    There used to be a newspaper vendor at my local train station who laid out the daily newspapers in the morning, and a jar for money. The entire system ran on trust. Did anyone steal a paper or run off w the jar of money?

    Like you, I believe that it is worth investing in well trained, empowered employees … but I am working with a company that will also not let its sales associates tweet, in a desire to control the message … so wondering how widespread this is.

  • louhoffman

    Unfortunately, I think it is widespread and the norm in most companies.
    Sometimes, a pilot program in which you handpick employees across functions, train them and then allow them to participate can help a company get comfortable with the decentralized model.
    P.S. I flew into Ashville, NC last year to speak at a conference. The airport depended on the same honor system to sell newspapers. Loved it!

  • RogierNoort

    Read that somewhere: “If you don’t trust your employees to tweet, you have a recruitment problem, not a social media problem.”

  • RogierNoort

    Nice post Lou and a good example…

    Honestly.., I think it’ll take a (business) generation. Changes like these are quite profound for some companies, there are a lot of old school (traditional) people in high places and they ain’t changing fast.
    Or, at the very least, in some cases it will take years to adapt to a (completely) open digital structure.

    Does anybody here have experience with successfully converting a 200+ company from “analog to digital”? You know.., like at least 80%.

  • louhoffman

    You’re probably right. Sometimes muscle memory doesn’t change. It needs to be replaced (to your point of turning over a generation … or two)

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  • the site takes a minimalist view of social media…despite a tagline (“I dig mr pig”) that’s made for sharing…

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