Part 3: The Groundswell Transforms
Attaining Social Maturity
This final chapter begins with the story of how home improvement retailer-Home Depot- Social Media strategy evolved. The catalyst for Home Depot's foray into Social Media was a mandate issued in 2007 by the company's new CEO, Frank Blake. This statement was in response to a furry of overwhelmingly negative comments that were posted on an MSN article, severely criticizing the giant retailer. The article, entitled Is Home Depot Shafting Shoppers?, and written by Scott Burns, was a scathing rebuke of Home Depot's treatment of its customers. After articulating a list of complaints in detail, Burns summarized, "The result is that a once iconic, wonderfully American store has become an aggravation rather than a blessing." He concluded his piece by calling on Home Depot to increase its staffing and stop trying to improve their bottom line "by stealing our time at the check out counter or elsewhere."
As a result of declining sales, customer dissatisfaction, and generally poor corporate performance, Home Depot CEO Blake made a very public mea culpa. He admitted the company's past mistakes during a March, 2007 appearance on MSN following the publication of Burns' article. Blake also acknowledged the negative feedback in response to the MSN article, and went on to say, "We have dispatched a dedicated task force- working directly with me- that is ready and willing to address each and every issue raised on the [comment] board. Please give us the chance." (Li, p. 251) Social Media applications were a key component to the company's "repair" strategy, and have since evolved into an integral part of its business plan going forward. Social Media did not turn things around for Home Depot. Decisive, responsive management, led by the CEO, and a renewed focus on customer service are what shifted the tide for the company. By embracing the groundswell Home Depot revitalized their business, increased shareholder value, and- most importantly- restored consumers' confidence in the company as a leader in home improvement.
The Home Depot story illustrates how companies can successfully incorporate Social Media into their business plans, no matter what the impetus is to embrace the groundswell. The book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, presents a conceptual framework in which to track an organization's Social Media development. The table below, taken from the companion slides for this book illustrates these stages (pp 256-265).
How a company embarks into the groundswell, how smoothly they transition, and how quickly they progress through these stages vary widely. Some of these variables can be within a company's control, while many most likely will not be. This loss or surrendering of control can be disruptive to the corporate power structure and environment, at least in the short term. This is because it is a departure from the way most organizations generally operate. Traditionally organizations like to maintain control of every possible aspect of their business. In this age of Social Media, the ground has shifted and the "social" part of Social Media is in the driver's seat. The result is, as the often-paraphrased John Allen Paulos once said, "Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security."
Li and Bernoff observe that there are five stages of social maturity for companies who adopt Social Media into their business plans: listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing. Among these "the easiest applications to implement are listening applications, since they don't require companies to become visible." (p. 261) Figure 13-2 (p. 263) illustrates the variability with which organizations progress through these stages.
As this discussion has highlighted, Social Media has matured to the point of having some loosely defined constructs that are based on trial and error, real life experience on the Web, and events in the marketplace. Eventually as Social Media solidifies its place among integral business tools, any organization whose existence relies on on outside resources or customers will have to embrace the groundswell. Not to do so would be tantamount expecting a business to operate without a telephone in the twentieth century.