Social media, corporations and changing markets

Applying for a job in Barack Obama’s new team forced every applicant to dig deep in their own past: those who aim at high-ranking roles faced a questionnaire including 63 questions. Among many personal questions the links to blogs and Facebook pages were required. You may think this is taking things way too far. Such an intrusive approach may be detrimental to a fruitful collaboration. A German friend working in Human Resources argued similarly: they would not google applicants for “we trust people”. And of course, you will need the resources to conduct such research: personnel who are skilled and know what to look for.

It does seem many organisations are not taking social media very seriously. My friend pointed towards the age of corporate decision-makers. This might be one aspect, others may be related to power, hierarchical structures and a lack of understanding communication as a 2-way process rather than the still widespread top-down trickle. Not to forget cultural practices – some of them unconsciously practices and reproduced.

Using social media in times of financial markets in turmoil, drastic policy changes, lay offs and plenty of rumours does not seem to loom large on companies’ to-do lists. Micro-/blogging is frowned upon in circles which have not even arrived at websites that offer more than carefully choreographed content and a simple contact form: banking is certainly among the least transparent and progressive industries in this regard. Information is money, has to be money – and profit has to be quantifiable. Or?

Whistleblower Cityboy managed to shake up things a little by breaking the Code of Silence strictly enforced in London’s financial district. His blogging activites in Fear and Loathing in the City provide great entertainment, raised eyebrows and a few voices – but he did not manage to bring about change to the long established culture of scarce flows of information.

Now in the era of bailing out banks – as if they were hostages – one may think things could change and transparency would be imposed by help of governmental bodies – and the public who paid a high price for a slice of all those toxic assets. But no, this is illusionary, as some of the stakeholders may well have changed now but the corporate culture remained the same. In this context, “YES, I CAN!” is not the banker’s mantra.

Net presence and staff activism, corporate blogging in a proactive attempt to manage and control change, shape opinion-making and bring about change in a way remotely echoing Obama’s extensive use of platforms and channels in the sphere of social media is something the banking sector is not even ready to think about. Dismissing social media as lacking a sound business model seems to be right if taking the short-term perspective.

On the long run though, social media offers opportunities to manage relationships with customers as well as staff which may well pay off: the worst in times of financial crises is to leave image and status management to traditional PR campaigns and the local papers. Generation Digital Native is mobile and targeted by those who don’t sleep, they might also be much less loyal to parties, corporations and brands than widely assumed. I can hear their “yes, we can”…

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About Britta Bohlinger, CFE

Founder and Director of RisikoKlár in Iceland. Native German, global perspective - previously in London and Berlin.
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