The Impact of Social Media on Doing Business

Social media are changing the way we are doing business, that much is true. But did it also occur to you that this movement may be eroding our own profession at the same excruciating pace?

In the below One Minute Interview features Clo Willaerts, the author of the book The Conversity Model, as she explains how social media are changing the way we do business. According to her, social media will cause fundamental changes to business because of a unstopable movement: the outside world is coming in.

The Typical Journey

For most companies it starts with following (monitoring) what people are saying about their products online. This is a way of listening and picking up the cues of your audience. This is when companies start to pick up feedback, stories and ideas from real people who are purchasing and using their products.

In a next step, these companies may be on the outlook of the need or desire of their potential customers. For instance, a car seller will shift the monitoring focus from the brand (“look at me, me, me!”) to conversations about stuff people do prior to purchasing a car (in other words: “look at you!”)

As they dig deeper into the conversations, the listening shifts from passive to active. And if they are really good, they shift from sales pitching to real authentic conversations. Before you know it, these companies have changed their way of working, created new roles (note: I did not say ‘new hierarchical functions’ or ‘new department’).

Finally, companies start crafting a social media strategy, deciding on centralization or decentralization of these new roles, recruiting the right people inside the company (note: I did say ‘inside’). Home Depot is a good example of a company that is traveling this road. They are using social media to get their customer service to the next level. Needles to say: this is a huge change.

What This Means for Organizations

When Willaerts declares that social media will change business completely she may be overstating some facts, but as long as the dust hasn’t settled, there is no way we can tell. Earlier I have cast some predictions on what this means for middle managers: their role will shift completely from a “tool for compliance” into a “partner for co-creation”.

Social media are maturing from a ‘danger to productivity’ towards ‘tools for productivity’. Yammer is a good example of that. People are quickly adapting to a new form of literacy by collaborating and sharing information via Facebook and other platforms. As a consequence, the scarcity value of information is close to zero. The laws of gravity for information have shifted: it is the extent to which information is shared and tagged with meaning that determines its value (not the amount you keep to yourself).

What This Means for Organizational Change Practitioners

What does this mean for organizational change practitioners? From my point of view, our profession is practiced though 4 work-streams, they are: communication, learning, organization and performance; each of them addressing  a basic need of people confronted with a change.

Now here is the thing: when social media are changing the laws of gravity for business, there is no way  organizational change practitioners can stand aside and pretend that their methods and tools should not be reviewed. What’s more: social media are specifically affecting the core of our business. In other words: the streams remain the same, but the focus needs a radical change. In my opinion, this is how social media is requiring the focus of each of the change management work-streams to shift:


  • Communication >> message & audience >> story & community
  • Learning >> content & collection >> context & connection
  • Organization >> hierarchy & positions >> social architecture & roles
  • Performance >> control & compliance >> trust & co-creation

The only way to make this shift happen is by declaring and installing a social architecture, i.e.: a platform on top of your hierarchy that allows for co-creation. In my opinion, this is the new role of organizational change practitioners: building platforms where compliance and co-creation can meet.

First Things First

If you are an organizational change practitioner and you are still labelling social media as a hype, I would like to encourage you to seriously reconsider your point of view. To be honest, I was skeptic too in the beginning – and I still am.

Finally, a few more words about the book. As I am not a digital native I have been actively searching for the best books in town to help me around. I have been particularly lucky to come across Chris Brogan & Julien Smith’s Trust Agents. Their book is packed with welcome advice for beginners in social media, but also for people who are ready to take the next step, i.e.: to become a platform of whatever they are good at.

In my opinion, Clo Willaerts’ book The Conversity Model is a complement to Trust Agents; a ‘field guide’ if you will. She has done her homework; using, analyzing and categorizing the social media and social networks that are available for all of us today. So if you are still searching for a starters’ kit on social media, my advice would be to purchase the pack: Trust Agents and the Conversity Model.

Note: the book links I mention are Amazon Associate links.