social organization

Connected Culture and Social Media Optimization

8 Comments 28 September 2012

Image courtesy of qbert72, Creative Commons license

As organizations move to strategic social media implementation, it’s not just the communication that changes; the organization begins to undergo a fundamental realignment and restructuring of internal communications, workflow and workplace culture. In cases where this internal restructuring does not occur, there are serious implications for the success of social media endeavors. When I work with nonprofit organizations, I assess their current social media practice by asking a series of questions focused around the social connectedness and information flow within the organization. What I’ve found is not surprising, and consistent:

From amongst a sample of about 10 organizations I’ve assessed, there appears to be a strong correlation between one’s highly optimized social media practice and an internally networked workplace, both in culture and practice.

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine wrote extensively about the importance of being a “networked nonprofit” in their book of the same name. In chapter four, they tout the benefits of creating a social culture, noting that organizations with social cultures believe that everyone in the organization, not just in one department, is engaged in conversations outside of the organization. Kanter and Fine note that organizations with social cultures “use social media to engage in two-way conversations about the work of the organization with people inside and outside of the organization.” They quote Geoff Livingston within the same chapter, who describes the organizational transition to a social culture as “one that moves from silos to hives,” allowing for “fluid information transfer and interaction between roles, as well as more open access to the outside.”

When I assess an organization’s social media practice, some of the questions I ask are:

  • To what extent are all staff aware of the organization’s social media activities?
  • To what extent is executive staff involved in the organization’s social media activities?
  • Do you share listening data about online mentions and conversations with the entire communications team? With the rest of the organization?
  • Do you share social media measurement and tracking data with the entire organization? With the board?
  • Are Board members involved in the organization’s social media? If so, how?
  • Are there stated concerns about using social media within the organization? If so, from which level of the organization or Board?

Organizations that are not practicing many of the activities as asked above, those scoring low in “connected culture” on the assessment, are also struggling with their social media activities and accomplishments. This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but I’m finding a strong relationship between the level of internal cultural “networked-ness,” and ability to successfully implement and scale social media practice.

Why is this? It comes down to four things:

1. The Ostrich Problem. Not only is the head in the sand, but the bird cannot fly.  When you are not sharing all of your online listening information, everyone within the organization that could utilize that relevant information is locked out. Optimizing social media performance is impossible if only some people know what’s being said online.

2. Data hoarding.   Information needs the light of day and the scrutiny of many in order to best serve the organization. Social media data is often parsed by the few implementing social media, though social media metrics and other social media data may impact many areas of the organization. The ability to maximize social media effectiveness is inversely related to the number of people who hold the social media data.

3. Everyone has to play ball. Everyone, from the administrative assistant to the Executive Director, to the President of the Board, must embrace social media use. There is an internal cultural shift that begins when the entire organization goes onto the social media ball field and gets up to bat (at the end of baseball season, the baseball metaphors slip in…) That something is the realization that others outside the organization are following what you are doing, that you can create relationships with out stakeholders through real-time social communications, and that sharing social media activities maximizes impact. Even if the Executive Director isn’t tweeting, he or she should be using some form of social media for the organization, whether it’s filming a 2-minute video, blogging, or participating in LinkedIn groups.

4. Trust. It is really all about trust. Trusting that it is OK to share and even critique the team’s social activities because the result means better results. Trusting that sharing social media responsibilities optimizes social media effectiveness. Trusting that “working wikily” ultimately enables the organization to better meet its mission in the connected age.

Organizations using social media focus first on “who has time to do this?,” “what should we measure,” and “how are we doing on Facebook?” Becoming an internally networked “social” organization will take your social media practice from merely an activity to activities optimizing mission.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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