As I mentioned in a previous post, ComBlu is analyzing the state of social marketing in large corporations. One thing that is clear at this juncture is that whole industries have yet to do more than stick their little toe in the pond. Some of these industries are highly regulated and thus conservative by nature while others just seem to be stuck in an old school time warp. I can not count how often we hear things like: “We’re a b-to-b company so none of this applies to us.” But that’s a whole other topic.

What I find interesting is the disparity among companies in industries that have no obvious constraints. Take the automobile industry, for example. Ford has a long-term plan for its social marketing and will integrate it as part of its “One Ford” business strategy. Others, however, are very car model and campaign driven and appear to be blindly throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Even highly regulated industries have pioneers. Novartis and J&J for example are early adopters in the pharma space.

What are the cultural factors that spur one company to embrace new approaches while another keeps its hands firmly planted in its proverbial pockets? Are there clues that can predict readiness for socializing both marketing and operations? Some people have been pondering this very issue: Pharma Marketing News has a Social Media Readiness Quiz that marketers can take. Networked Insights also has a Readiness Survey. In studying cultural aspects of social business adoption, I have concluded that five key categories need to be considered.

Crisis Mode: How a company handles bad news can tell you a lot about its readiness to handle the uncertainty of social marketing.

· How does management react to bad news? Do they immediately go into spin mode or do they present an objective analysis of the situation?

· Is the organizational bias for ‘fixing the problem’ or “sweeping it under the rug”?

· Does the messenger get shot or heralded for uncovering challenges that need to be addressed?

· Is accountability an important part of the cultural fabric?

Customer Centricity: If an organization places the customer at the center of its enterprise, it probably has already adopted social business processes.

· Has the organization “busted silos” that get in the way of serving the customer?

· Is there a process for sharing customer insights and conversation threads that crosses multiple functions in an organization?

· Are departments held accountable for acting on pertinent customer information?

· Does anyone know what the voice of the customer sounds like?

· What listening channels are in place? Are they forward looking or based in past actions?

· What is done with the output form these listening channels?

Innovation: How a company approaches innovation reveals a lot about their agility and durability. It also gives clues as to how open management will be to socializing the business enterprise.

· Is innovation contained in a R&D silo?

· How are ideas generated, shared and evaluated?

· Does the company buy new products and technologies or create them internally?

· Does the company form alliances for R&D or product commercialization?

· Are a broad group of stakeholders encouraged to contribute to the innovation process? If so, how is this collaboration facilitated and managed?

Management Style: Although we thought command and control went out with the last millennium, it is stubbornly sticking around. Even in the age of information overload, some companies still hoard knowledge. Rather than empowering employees, they impose stringent controls. Does management openly share goals, mission, expectations, and results?

· Do they share both successes and failures?

· Is collaboration encouraged? Are their systems in place to facilitate the formation of work groups?

· Is it easy or difficult to work across silos in the organization?

· Does management want to hear from stakeholders or do they already know it all?

· What is the communication style of the organization? Does management interact, answer questions or rule by fiat?

Risk Tolerance. The way a company views risk is a key indicator of social marketing readiness

· Does your company try new, untested marketing approaches?

· Does the organization view progress in broad, sweeping terms or in small incremental steps?

· Are employees encouraged to take risks? Are failures recognized as learning situations or reasons for recriminations?

· Are managers free to discuss new ideas in open forums? Can they share the good, the bad and the ugly?

· Can employees speak with outside stakeholders and media without the presence of legal?

· If the industry is regulated, does legal interpret regulations or guidelines strictly or liberally?

So, is all lost if your culture blows? Not really. Logical starting points exist to get management to say yes. More on that in my next post.

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.