Cultural Barriers to Social Media

Back in June, I had the pleasure of hearing Shel Holtz as the keynote speaker at the BlogPotomac conference. He described several cultural barriers to implementing social media, and I wanted to share some of the high points with you…

The Legal Department

Legal will often be like, “Don’t say anything so no one can use it against us in court.” Communicators can often say, “Let’s put everything out in the public.” There’s space in between.”

If legal says “no,” that’s only one lawyer’s opinion. Use statistics to convince other lawyers that the risks of social media are outweighed by the risks of not having a social media presence.

Shel quoted a study where in times of crisis, organizations that acknowledged the crisis, and spoke to their problems publicly and openly saw a bigger drop in their stock prices at the outset than organizations that kept silent. But months into the crisis, the tables turned; and only those organizations who engaged their communities (rather than solely issuing sterile press releases) were able to see their stock prices rise back up to above pre-crisis levels. Those who didn’t…never recovered.

Ownership of Social Media (SM)

Many organizations have disputes between IT and public affairs/marketing/PR regarding who “owns” SM. The organization’s leadership needs to coordinate the effort so everyone plays where they can bring the most value.

Don’t get into the trap of simply giving this responsibility to the employees who are most adept at SM. Just because they’re good at Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean they know how to implement a company’s communications strategy.

Identify the Return on Investment (ROI)

You need to speak the language of CEOs or they won’t pay attention to you. Translate SM to the goals they’re responsible for when they go before their board of directors to report out.


Don’t violate any regulations. Reinforce that the rules that apply everywhere else (e.g., state and federal regulations) also apply in SM.


It’s imperative to baseline how much effort you’re spending to do communications. Then when you implement an SM strategy, you can show people how much time it takes to do communications campaigns to reach people, and how you can now reach more people faster, easier and cheaper with SM tools. This is essential to justify the resources required to engage customers online.

Speaking with One Voice

Leadership wants the organization to “speak with one voice.” However, while it’s important for everyone in an organization to know the organization’s story, everyone has their own voices. And your employees are talking about your organization anyway.

People are afraid to release control of the message since they’re afraid of losing power. But releasing control of the message can actually make you more powerful since you can get better results and say your decision made that happen. “I see my role as making my client/boss look good.”

Other Insightful Thoughts from Shel

“Every organization should have at least one blog. The strategic motivation for this is rapid response – in a more authoritative, archived type of fashion.” When crises hit, the public and journalists should go to your blog as the primary source. Twitter, Facebook, etc. are important but secondary – they should drive traffic to your blog.

“There can be stand-alone SM campaigns. For example, the new Transformers movie has a tool that allows people to create Transformers avatars, Twitter wallpaper, etc.”

“Every employee is a front-line public relations representative. I believe Public Affairs/Public Relations needs to assume responsibility for customer call centers since this is the front line of the organization interacting with the customers. Companies can rise or fall on these folks.”


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