Twitter


You’ve heard it before: Individuals using social media to hold people and organizations to a higher level of accountability and transparency for perceived injustices—leveraging their network and the power of an engaged community to bring about change.

No dogs allowed...Board of Health...whaddyamean? I just had a bath!!!

An airline passenger with a smart phone Tweets about the fact that he’s been stuck on a tarmac for four hours with little access to food, water and bathrooms.  We’ve heard about companies monitoring Tweets 24/7, and seen how a Tweet in some cases will get you a faster customer service response than calling or even e-mailing—a real-time response for a real-time communication channel. A well-known restaurant chain is shamed by an employee who posts an inappropriate video to You Tube from one of its franchise locations, and a cable company is held accountable when its cable-repair guy falls asleep on a couch in the middle of a customer’s living room and the video goes viral on You Tube.

So it wasn’t much of a stretch to learn that my local coffee shop turned to social media—and the power of an engaged community—when the local Board of Health enforced a customer complaint about the establishment’s policy of allowing leashed dogs inside the shop with their owners. Coffee Labs—a play on coffee-colored labrador retrievers and the kind of laboratory it is for roasting coffee—has always been a dog-friendly place. Customers like me enjoy the friendly atmosphere and wonderful full-bodied coffee. The presence of an occasional dog is a pleasant diversion, and responsible people acting responsibly with their leashed dogs has always been the norm. A sign on the front window clearly indicates that “dogs are allowed” (Snoopy would be proud), and potential patrons bothered by this policy are always welcome to  take their business elsewhere.

Here’s what happened:

  1. Someone complains to the local Board of Health about bringing dogs into Coffee Labs.
  2. The shop owners build a fan page on Facebook called  I want to go back to Coffee Labs Roasters, WOOF!!!!! and let their network know about it.
  3. The network of loyal customers (455 people as of this writing) is understandably outraged and shows their support.
  4. The local television news—as is the custom with media these days—discovers a story breaking on social media (Facebook) and picks it up for coverage on the evening news.
  5. A local attorney learns of the shop’s plight and volunteers to write a possible waiver to allow dogs back in the shop.

Bravo—the power of an engaged community using social media to fight injustice at the grass-roots level. Just a local coffee shop in the suburbs of New York City who wants to run their business as they see fit, not injustice on some grand scale.

But still…think of the possibilities.

The response came in a matter of days; the network came together voluntarily and participated enthusiastically and vigorously—no one is paying them and no one is paying the local attorney. It’s the power of an engaged community using social media to lock arms.

Lessons for corporate communication, employee engagement

What else might be accomplished through social media communication strategy? Are there lessons to be gleaned by those of us in a corporate communication function? How might social media channels be used in your workplace to bring about this level of engagement and discretionary effort? Are there social media intranet communication strategies hidden in this story? Are your employees passionate about a cause—which one(s)? How can you influence the discussion and motivate to action?

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I’ve been thinking about the value of micro-blogging applications for CEOs, and it seemstwitterto me that the use of Twitter (or Yammer, the micro-blogging service for internal corporate applications) for a CEO or anyone else in the corporate space becomes an issue of engagement, culture and two-way communication. I believe two-way communication, by definition, is an intelligent effort to incorporate employee feedback into corporate decision-making. So the use of Twitter becomes an issue of a CEO’s comfort level with consensual decision-making (wisdom of the masses) as opposed to the top-down, cascaded messaging prevalent at most companies whose businesses were built by traditional means.

But there’s an important distinction to be made; namely, that the use of Twitter at companies like Zappos is a reflection of their business model and culture. Zappos use of a next-generation communication platform like Twitter makes perfect sense because their business model was built online — they sell shoes over the Internet. What legacy-based organizations have to overcome is the cultural perception that their business model was built without reference to these new communication tools and platforms.

You get my point: It makes sense for the CEO of a new media firm to send out tweets during the day about how she’s meeting with venture capitalists, or how he’s working on a hot new product that will jump start sales in this sluggish economy. His communication with employees is direct, unfiltered and and in real time. This holds great promise and possibility for employee engagement. And President Obama obviously understood the value of this platform in directly connecting with Millennials during the last election — many felt connected to the Obama cause, even if, in some cases, it was only a staffer who sent the Tweet, and not Mr. Obama himself.

But for Twitter or any Web 2.0 next-gen medium to work the organization must be committed to open dialoguing, direct connection and two-way communication that leads to consensual decision-making. To me that’s the real issue: how transparent does the CEO or organization want to be? I think generally, owing mostly to generational preferences/differences, there is a definite line drawn in the sand when it comes to transparency at most legacy-based organizations. The openness has its limits — whereas outside the firewall, no such limits exist. Legacy-based organizations may not be as comfortable making decisions based exclusively on the wisdom of the group, or waiting for complete consensus.

I’ve heard consensus-driven decision-making explained this way: Google works by arranging the organic searches that receive the most hits in their order of precedence. So… if there is a consensus that Twitter is the top organic search result returned for those who Google the search term “micro-blogging,” well then, Twitter, by consensus, must be the leader and best choice in micro-blogging. It seems to extend to other areas of life as well, at least for Millennials. Rather than “deferring to the expert,” as Baby Boomers (and Gen-x cuspers like me) were trained to do, Millennials bow to the consensus of the masses. They won’t move forward until there is a consensus.

I would say that trying to deploy a Twitter-like application (or any social networking strategy) at a company that does not have buy-in at the top for consensual decision-making and transparency is like, in the immortal words of Seth Godin, trying to put a meatball on an ice cream sundae. My feeling is that increasing and encouraging two-way communication through vehicles like Twitter will only be successful if senior leadership is committed to acting on the wisdom of the preponderance of employee feedback.

Photo credit: xotoko’s photostream licensed by Creative Commons.

Have you seen this? Joe McKinnon of DailyBeast weighs in on Twitter. Well actually he trashes it — one of many victims of the over-information highway and, I admit, the panoply of options from MySpace to LinkedIn to Twitter can be confusing and overwhelming.

While boomers settled into and embraced e-mail, millennials and Gen Xers embraced social networking. In some ways never the twain shall meet. While I respect Joe’s communication expertise, he shouldn’t make the mistake of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
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Read the full story here: Journalist who does not understand the value of 2-way communication, collaboration, trashes Twitter http://tinyurl.com/cdjr6f
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Joe does have a point and an interesting point of view, and we do need to sit back and judge the strategic value of new communication platforms. But I disagree with his assessment. He doesn’t understand the value of two-way communication and directly connecting with people. It all depends on how you use Twitter and what your goals are. It’s also a generational thing, I believe — no one can stop Milennials from communicating through texting or micro-blogging, their preferred medium. I agree that the proliferation of other communication options can get mind boggling. But some may find them useful. It’s always a challenge to find the right balance, but this author is wrong in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Weigh in, what do you think?