Finding Your Social Center

by Caroline Dangson 25 Aug 2010 Blog Post

Finding balance is one of the first lessons for a dancer. As someone who is compelled to move, I remember resisting the commands of my ballet teacher to stand still in one place and focus on core muscles that I was told would improve my balance.  The instructor would remind us to locate and engage our core muscles to maintain a strong center (related to center of gravity concept).  As I matured (and completed a high school physics class), I appreciated this lesson so much more. With a strong center, I realized that I could push my movements outside of my comfort zone. I could move my arms and legs wildly without falling flat on my face as long as my extremities were connected to a solid center.

The concept of a strong center has interesting applications outside of dance. A strong center maintains connectedness across disparate parts. Dachis Group has observed one of the major frustrations of large companies is the fragmented state of social – each department going out on its own, developing different social tactics, using different social technologies – all guided by different principles and no common strategy. Each department is like arms and legs moving wildly out of sync in different directions. This decentralized structure lacks the important connections between systems that leads to an intelligent network. At some point, the stress and strain of uncoordinated social systems will cause the organization to flail – like a dancer attempting multiple turns without ensuring arms and legs are aligned and coordinated with the central body.

At first it may seem to go against everything social represents to centralize social. The power of social is in the ability to scale the sharing of information without anyone owning or controlling it. What I have learned in my work with clients is that centralizing corporate social strategy, policy and training does not mean social is owned or controlled. Instead, centralizing governance means creating a solid command center to lead the organization and help connect the dots. The edge of the organization can therefore operate with autonomy but still maintain connection and coordination with other parts. Otherwise, the brand is at-risk for social chaos:

  • social intelligence is siloed which prevents a centralized view of the customer (internal)
  • fragmented experiences and mixed messaging confuses and frustrates customers (external)

While the goal of social business is to distribute social responsibility for scale, the organization starts to flail if it doesn’t operate from a strong center. This social center, also known as the social business center of excellence (SBCE), is a cross-functional team that guides innovation, strategy, policy and training for the organization. The SBCE consists of representatives from each department who come together to collaborate on corporate vision, strategy, policy and training so that ownership is shared and distributed across the organization, not owned or controlled by a particular department.

Below is a visual of how a social center governs while empowering the edge of the organization to take accountability and responsibility for executing.

So many of us are eager to dive into social tactics. The forward motion of execution feels good. Conducting an audit of properties and initiatives, answering the ‘why,’ establishing charters and policies feels like we’re standing still. We resist standing still under the pressures from executives to move the needle and report the results. But taking time to establish a strong center is what’s going to allow large companies to manage multiple moving parts in a way that provides more momentum and power to support the desired results.

Take a look at how your organization is structured for social business. Do you have a social center guiding and coordinating the edge?

  • Scott Allen

    I agree with everything you’ve said here, Caroline. The challenge, though, is for companies to find the balance between this and traditional “command-and-control”. The value of social media rolls up, not down. The single most important strategy for a company in social media is to enable each functional area to use it to do their job better. That often gets lost when social media is treated as a centralized function.

    That said, it’s exactly what you’ve proposed here that ensures that the total value of social media to the organization exceeds the sum of the parts from the various departments and business units.

    A very wise entrepreneurial mentor of mine had a policy that was some of the best business advice I’ve ever heard. He used to say, “Everyone is in the sales department. Everyone is in the business development department. Everyone is in the HR department.” The way he enacted that was that every single person in the company was trained on what an ideal customer, ideal partner and ideal employee looked like, and how to talk to them. Everyone in the company was aware of our current sales figures, partnering opportunities we were exploring, and open positions. He even had a 2-page write-up of all this for a temp receptionist just coming in for a day or two.

    I think this concept is essential in corporate social media, and it’s part of what needs to happen in this social center — to ensure that, in the process of serving the needs of their job role, social media participants also serve (or at least don’t do anything counter to) the corporate goals.

    • Caroline Dangson

      Thanks Scott for sharing your insights. You bring up a great point about the risk of centralization. Our goal with SBCE is to avoid traditional command-and-control operations and focus on collaboration and information sharing. (My colleague Cynthia Pflaum blogged about this in yesterday’s post) The trick is creating a center with representation from the edge – the folks who know the ins and outs of the workplace. The SBCE then provides the missing link between the edge of the organization and the C-Suite when it comes to social business and the transformation required.

  • Larry Irons

    Hi Caroline,

    I suggest that the real value of social business design comes from the promise it holds for enabling management practices to develop to deal with the following fact: Social networks do not respect organizational walls, they never did. We have siloes in organizations because employees typically respond to formal information requests for information which they are accountable and responsible for.

    Although the hub and spoke model of the SBCE concept provides a constructive step for dealing with this fact about organizations, it doesn’t really account for the ways, or reasons, that people at the edges of the spokes find it necessary to communicate outside the channels represented by SBCE. In fact, I suggest that the reason all the elements of the hub and spoke are “informed” results from the fact that the people involved often tap into their own network as well as relating to the hub.

    I offered some thinking on this topic in replying to a post by David Armano while he was at Dachis.

    I also suggest that making people at the edges responsible and accountable is a “reactive” concept of collaboration. What is really needed in social business design is a balanced concept of collaboration in which information sharing is done both “proactively”, whether one is responsible and accountable for the sharing, and “reactively”. Management is more likely to get balanced collaboration by working to increase empathic relations between employees by encouraging them to get to know one another as people because that will increase their perception of shared experience.

    Zappos seems to understand these points about empathy and collaboration as well as anyone, though recent research in call centers supports it empirically.

    • Caroline Dangson

      Thanks Larry. You provide useful feedback and a reminder that I did not explain that this model is actually the first part of a series that builds to reflect the social network you describe. I’m looking forward to reading the posts you have highlighted.

  • Dan Latendre

    Caroline… just awesome. At IGLOO Software we have been working on the network model for over a year now – connecting not only individuals, teams (i.e. committees, departments, groups) and the enterprise into an interconnected network.

    In our online business and social platform – groups and teams can create sub-communities (with the appropriate access rights of course) to manage their daily activities. They can bubble up group driven content, collaboration and communications i.e. vital documents, important events, blog posts etc… which may be applicable to the entire company to the hub (i.e. some companies may decide that moderation must be on). In your blog… you talk about a social center – this is where corporate governance, guidelines, best practices, SOP’s, rules etc can be created and published for everyone to follow and even comment, rate or modify (depending on how open the corporate culture is).

    As we all know, not every organizational culture or hierarchy is the same – especially wrt knowledge sharing, collaboration and social networking. By using this type of distributed and interconnected model governed by a social centre provides a very flexible solution for almost any organization.

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