When companies adopt social media, they get more than just the marketing juice they’re typically seeking: they’re inviting in a Trojan Horse full of questions about their offering, their approach, and even their fundamental value proposition. My recent blog post for Harvard Business Online looks at how companies can best engage the Trojan Horse of social media, and it’s drawn some insightful comments. Here’s a sampling:

  • Samuel cites the cases of several companies…[who] wound up having to retire from the social media playing field. [T]hat it is because the companies went in with the wrong attitude. They weren’t really looking for a dialogue. They thought they could control the conversation. It doesn’t always work that way. 
    Les Blatt
  • As social media is enjoying the spoils of a bubble, more people are focused on the promise than the reality. Perhaps this is why many organizations choose to build online communities where the communication is more collaborative.
    Vanessa DiMauro
  • [When companies get negative comments, they need to:] 1) learn from them: what is the collective voice telling us and how can we use it to further the customer experience and 2) answer the comments right away, offer respect to the writers and think from THEIR perspective when addressing the issue. Result? Happy Greeks, happy Trojans, and a Trojan Horse that can win the Kentucky Derby!
    Loraine Antrim
  • [T]his all does have to do with company culture and marketing directors who only think about advertising and not more holistically about the company brand. This trend is not going away. Social media will look different years from now as traditional media and marketing theory morph to meet the desires of the consumer.
    Rick Hardy
  • It is arrogant to think that social media is either a gift or a threat to your agenda. It is neither. It is a mirror. And it sometimes reflects things that you don’t want to see. So rather than blaming the mirror for revealing ugly things, let’s look at the truth of what it reveals.
    Melanie McBride

Social media is a powerful catalyst for reflection and change within organizations. But the Trojan Horse goes anywhere social media goes: your home, your favorite bar, your state legislature.

Conversation is the engine of change; online conversation simply makes that change possible on a scale the world’s never known – or needed more.  It’s not just marketing sites or business intranets that build relationships of trust; it’s the fan sites that foster cross-cultural connections, the photo-sharing sites that unlock the creativity and innovation of closet photographers, and yes, it’s the big picture, Save The World commmunities.

Whether a conversation is built around world or work, relationships or individuals, its success depends on three kinds of participation. Someone has to conceive of the conversation: to define the purpose (however vague) of this new conversational arena, and the audiences (however varied) that will be engaged. Someone has to convene the conversation: to invite people to participate, and to help build momentum as the conversation unfolds. Most crucially, someone has to contribute: to write the blog posts, post the photos, ask the questions, upload the video, or whatever the content is that will make up the substance of the conversation.

Conceiving, convening, contributing: fulfilling any of these roles effectively involves connecting tangibly and meaningfully with other people. We suspect that the key to harnessing the power of online conversation lies in playing each role, in every conversation, with careful attention to the work of connecting with the other person (or people) involved. But the surest path to that connection depends on what role you’re playing, and what kind of conversation you’re having. The moderator of an environmental campaign site has a very different job from an employee posting a note on a corporate intranet.

My post about businesses encountering the Trojan Horse of social media focused on one particular domain (work) and one particular kind of role: that of online convenor. When companies jump into social media, they’re typically asking one particular kind of question: What conversations do we need to have with our team, customers or supporters?

We’ve mapped out the questions that encompass the broader impact of social media in catalyzing change — not just at work, but at the individual, family and even global level. And we’ve broken these into the questions that should be asked by people who play different roles in the conversation:

  • Leaders and marketers and communciators conceive online conversations. They do the work of envisioning, designing and building a conversation venue, group or space.
  • Community managers convene online conversations by animating, facilitating, moderating or gardening.
  • Community members participate in an online conversation by posting text, images, video or audio.

I’ve added links to blog posts on our site that speak to the questions for each domain, and each role.

Twelve questions for meaningful online conversations

When you create an conversation, ask…

When you animate a conversation, ask…

When you participate, ask…

e.g. ChangeEverything, Care2

If you are engaging in a conversation with a social or environmental purpose you need to ask….

What issues can we help address?

Who needs to talk together in order to address this issue?

What does the world need to hear from me?

e.g. Dell IdeaStorm, Share Your Story

If you are engaging in a conversation to support your organization’s mission you need to ask….

What conversations do we need to have with our team, customers or supporters?

Who needs to talk in order to solve this problem or take our organization to the next level?

What else can I bring to my team or work?

Family and friends
e.g. Kinzin, Facebook groups, fan sites

If you are engaging in a conversation to make new friends or bring your family or friends closer together you need to ask…

Which groups of people could benefit from closer connections?

Which of my friends or family could benefit from deepening relationships with one another?

What do I have to offer to the people I love?

e.g. delicious, 1000 Uses

If you are engaging in a conversation in order to exchange information or resources, you need to ask….

What kinds of support do people need to achieve their goals?

Who has the information or resources we need to complete this picture?

What information or resources do I have that could help other people?

Download this table as a much prettier PDF.

How have you been challenged by the Trojan Horse of social media — at work, in the world, at home or personally? How are you managing the changes it brings? Leave your comments here, or back on the Harvard site.


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