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Best Practices in Creating a Social Media Strategy by Charlene Li

August 9, 2011

In part II of Linkage’s recent interview with Charlene Li, the author of New York Times bestseller Open Leadership presents guidelines to help organizations experiment with social technologies in various cultural landscapes.

Rich Rosier: I was reading the Wall Street Journal and they had a little clip about Apple retail stores. There was a quote in there that said that if anyone were to post anything about Apple Cupertino, meaning headquarters, they would get fired. I have to imagine that there are a lot of companies out there still that are awfully strict about what is appropriate. How do you help companies with that kind of culture to start making baby steps in this direction?

Charlene Li: Well, Apple is a fascinating example. They have something I call the ‘Apple factor’. They have fantastic products which have mystique around them and people actually do not want them to be that open because they like that kind of relationship. But at the same time Apple has this entire group of advocates who provide extraordinary support, that connective tissue. So if you are like Apple which makes very few mistakes and has a fantastic group of products, you can get away with it—and it works for them. But as you say, if you were in an organization that is struggling with being open, you must take baby steps. It could be around an upcoming event or it could be sharing something that you already shared in an investor relations meeting—but since you are sharing it with different channels it gets amplified. The same thing repeated in different ways can be extremely powerful.

Rich Rosier: For companies that are completely ignorant on to how to do this, what do you encourage them to do? How does it usually unfold?

Charlene Li: I see a lot of two steps forwards and three steps back in organizations. It may not actually be moving forward because there is a lot of experimenting–and because it is in the experimenting phase, nobody takes it seriously. Companies know they need a strategy but they are not clear about what they need a strategy around. Is it a strategy around Facebook? Well, that is a technology; it would be like having a strategy around your email system. Versus if you center it again on that “relationship”, then things become a lot clearer. You can then choose which channel is best for that relationship.

Rich Rosier: When being open has failed, why is that? And are there lessons to be learned from that?

Charlene Li: Absolutely. I think the biggest reason why openness fails is that it is not structured. Business requires context; it requires goals in order to be successful. If you don’t direct that openness, if you do not direct what you are trying to accomplish, people don’t know what to do with it. And they end up doing nothing because frankly, they have other pressing deadlines and they wonder why they should even be doing this? Versus explaining: This is why this is important–not only to the organization, but this is how it can be beneficial to you too.

Rich Rosier: And for most organizations, who will tend to do the structuring?

Charlene Li: About 41 percent of social technologies are being run by marketing departments. But we’re seeing a big push now across all the different departments. We see it increasingly in corporate communications and also in customer service. And HR is using this aggressively for recruitment.

Rich Rosier: How would you address the challenge of implementing open leadership in global organizations with offices all around the world? Do you find differences in cultural receptivity to this openness concept?

Charlene Li: Well, the use of social technology across the world is evident. It is mainstream everywhere but there are different levels of usage. I mean, you look at some countries like Korea and Brazil and it is off the chart what they are producing. It is almost twice as high as here in the U.S. And part of the reason for that, as some research has shown, is that they did not have a lot of content in their native languages (in Korean and Portuguese for example.) So they got a lot more responses when they actually started to create content because there was actually so little of it. And we also see differences in what they share. In China for example people are very transparent about what they make.

Rich Rosier: Make meaning produce, or?

Charlene Li: No. How much they get paid—or how much they paid for their house.  They are just very transparent about that. So we share different things, and we have different comfort levels about our identities too. But the universal thing is that we do share—across all cultures. We just share in different ways and we share different types of content.

Rich Rosier: That’s an interesting thought that perhaps people who aren’t familiar with different cultures could go back into the archived records of these kinds of conversations and start to understand the different cultural norms? Do you see people doing that or is the archive not accessible?

Charlene Li: Oh the archive is very accessible. You can go into the whole entire Twitter archive like the library of congress actually. All of this is searchable and discoverable. And you can sort it by language, by location, everything, and you can do that analysis right now, on your laptop.

Charlene Li’s full broadcast is available on-demand as part of the Thought Leader Series library. For pricing and viewing options, visit us online or call 781-402-5555.


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