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04/28/2010 Social is a Hybrid

I had the pleasure of spending time with Mitch Lieberman of SugarCRM yesterday. Mitch was back from his SugarCon conference and we were sharing notes on the state of Social. We soon realized that Mitch, coming at social from the CRM/IT side and I, coming at social from the marketing/digital side faced the same issues. The main hurdle with getting companies to go social was a tug of war between groups of who"'owned" social media. Is it IT, which traditionally led technology initiatives, or marketing, which focused on outbound customer communications, or PR, which had experience developing relationships with the media?

We both ended up saying the same thing: It's either everyone, or it's no one. Social can't function as a silo. It's a hybrid. It's ItMarketingPrCostumerserviceOperations. When you develop a social strategy, whether you start from the CRM side or the Marketing, you have to realize that no one group has the knowledge or experience to successfully lead social initiatives alone.

The challenge for most businesses is that people don't operate as hybrids. They operate within silos, with clear role definitions and even clearer budgets. Mitch thought that a lot of the 'who owns' tug of war was really about money, and he's probably right.

One thing I've found in developing social strategies for companies is that the most important strategy might be creating a hybrid structure to lead and manage the social media initiative. This means that people from around the enterprise need to meet, talk and act together, all the while they practice hybrid skills that move them out of their silos. When IT thinks like PR and marketing thinks like customer service, both businesses and consumers win.

Whether or not you or your company can develop into hybrids might depend on which game theory philosophy you follow. In a Zero-sum game theory, someone always wins and someone always loses. The sum is always zero. If you're a Zero-summer, then there's no incentive for you to work with anyone or to become a hybrid.

If you believe in non-Zero-sum game theory, then your gain doesn't always end up as someone else's loss. A Non-Zero-summer can work with others because the sum can end up greater by cooperating. Hybrids work in non-zero sum scenarios because a helping someone else win means the enterprise (and you) win as well.

Hybrids connect things. They develop communications that blend different tactics into one experience. Social media is, I think, a placeholder for hybrid marketing and operations since it doesn't fit cleanly into any one discipline. But it isn't the only place where businesses need hybrids. But to develop into a hybrid means people may have to take some personal risks. I've spoken to a few hybrids who, while providing invaluable services to their companies, lost their jobs when new bosses couldn't understand their function or value.

When you're starting to put your social strategy in place
  • Identify key departments that need to play together
  • Choose a champion from each department and place them on the social/hybrid team
  • Make sure you choose people who will play well together. This might be more important than skill levels, in some instances
  • The team will need a leader to report to upper management. But play around with shifting functional leadership between team members at regular intervals. Think of the UN Security Council as an example.
  • Make sure members evangelize the work of the team back to their individual group. They should also identify people from their group who express interest in playing with the hybrid team
  • When presenting results and successes back to senior management, show how the non-Zero Sum approach has worked
  • Talk about yourselves as hybrids

The bigger question for businesses today is whether they accept hybrid structures and if they support the growth of hybrid individuals. Putting together a social media team with representatives from various groups and funding that group as a separate structure is a good, and necessary, place to start.



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