On a Southwest Airlines plane flying over the U.S., Becky, a flight attendant, announced over the loudspeaker:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to bother you, but I think you’ll want to know that we have a star among us. Not yet, but it’s certain that one day, this young man will become a well-known artist. Abraham is nine years old and he’s created a superb drawing that shows his exceptional talent. I’m going to display it so that we can all enjoy it!”
Imagine the joy that the child and his parents felt when Becky hung up the drawing with the help of Band-Aids.
This enjoyable anecdote, reported in the book “The Now Revolution” by Jay Baer, is not a happy accident. It is an example of what makes a truly social company.
As IBM describes it, social business isn't just a company that has a Facebook page and a Twitter handle. A social business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.
Like any talented chef will tell you, great meals are based on quality ingredients. To become a social business, there are several recipes that principally, but not exclusively, use social media. Here are the five basic ingredients.
Without a business culture marked by openness, sharing, and experimentation, a social business is unthinkable. Everything comes from this. The rules and values of the business should offer a framework that encourages initiatives like the one by Becky. Does your business have this type of culture? Do your actions really reflect these values? Or do your values simply serve to pad your mission statement?
Today, every employee is a spokesperson, and a business should be happy to have so many messengers. Nevertheless, this is a non-negligible aspect during recruitment: you must find curious, enthusiastic, humble, patient employees with sound judgment. You must also instill in them the business culture, show them the behaviors that they can adopt and embrace, and, above all, trust and empower them.
Certain businesses think that a Facebook presence is sufficient for being social, and they often entrust this task to an inexperienced employee. The decision should come from management and be the focus of strategic reflection, to put into place the structure that will allow them to broadcast the principles and actions that are at the heart of the business. As with branding, unity and deftness are necessary.
Listening or observation.
To be able to talk about Abraham, Becky had to demonstrate a certain sense of observation. This seems simple, but numerous examples lead us to believe that this idea is a difficult one for businesses to master.
Management should have an ample dose of courage for choosing and maintaining this course, because there will be trials and errors. It also takes courage to demonstrate openness when all is going well—and when things are not going as well.
Certain businesses, like Southwest Airlines, know how to adopt a philosophy inspired by social media. They understand that the advantages of opening themselves up, of sharing, and of engaging with their clients surpass the disadvantages. They do not limit themselves to doing social actions; they are social businesses.
Marie-Josée Gagnon is the Founder and President of CASACOM, an independent Canadian public relations consulting firm.