Most corporate cultures are what they are. Some have been around for decades. Others have had the same corporate culture for a century (or longer). Change is never easy, but change does happen.
There's this old trucker saying that goes: "if you can't change people, you change people." The truth is that not every competent individual is right for every company, and there are also some serious nincompoops who manage to stick with a company longer than anyone can fathom. Beneath the many layers of individuals, personal politics, power shifting and HR is a corporate culture. The brand's raison d'être. It is not something that changes easily, but it does change. Mark W. Schaefer over at the Grow Blog doesn't seem to think it's possible. In his Blog post, Can social media change your company's culture? I doubt it (September 22nd, 2010), he calls me out for saying that Social Media is changing corporate culture during our recent Podcast debate on Ghost Blogging (more on that here: SPOS #214 - The Ghost Blogging Debate With Mark W. Schaefer).
Social Media can't change a corporate culture...
And, here's why Mark thinks this way: "The idea that you could transform a company culture just because it needs to create a Twitter account or YouTube channel is probably fanciful. I believe the companies who are succeeding on the social web are doing so because they already have a company culture that would enable and reward that success. A well-managed, market-oriented company with a legacy of customer-centricity is going to do well with social media -- and any other marketing innovation that comes down the line. If you look at a list of the most successful companies on the social web, there really aren't any surprises are there? Their cultures are pre-wired to succeed."
Social Media is not from within.
Mark is one-hundred percent accurate. A company that is customer-centric and open to innovation will probably be more successful in platforms like Twitter and YouTube, but that's not my point. Take a look at Dell prior to Jeff Jarvis and his infamous Dell Hell post. What made Dell turn the corner was not a proactive decision to embrace Social Media. In fact, it was the total opposite. Social Media did not come from within. It came from consumers leveraging these powerful sharing and publishing platforms to speak their minds, and the net result of this content scared Dell's top echelon enough to start re-thinking their corporate culture and how they connect with consumers. We're all quick to cheer Coca-Cola for embracing their consumer-generated Facebook page, but let's not forget how unhappy the company was when the Eepy Bird guys started mixing Diet Coke and Mentos for some volcanic fun. The company was not amused and reminded people that they would prefer if people consumed Diet Coke.
There are countless stories of major (and minor) corporate brands that over time have begun to understand how their brands now "live" because of Social Media and the brand ecosystem (Dell and Coca-Cola are just two regularly cited ones). A new Social Media marketing platform will not change a corporate culture, but enough voices in Social Media talking, sharing, creating and doing more is likely to get attention and force change. We have to remember that Marketers - if given the choice - would probably never want Social Media. They can't control a message and they can't keep others from speaking publicly about them. That's scary, but Social Media is forcing this change in corporate culture. Whether brands are doing this proactively or because they have no choice is a whole other discussion.
Push beyond Marketing.
Look at LinkedIn. People are posting their positions. Peers and customers provide recommendations. Companies now have their own profiles. All of this information that used to be so closely guarded against the corporate chest is now open for the world to see. I've had the pleasure of sitting in enough small, medium and large corporate boardrooms to know that all of this cumulative content (beyond Marketing and Communications engagement) and information is pushing corporate culture to change. From Real Estate and big pharma to financial institutions and law offices. Change is happening... and it's happening at the corporate culture level. It may be happening slowly for some or at breakneck speed for others, but it is happening.
What do you think? Is Social Media changing corporate culture?