Championing Change from Within

Social Media is as revolutionary as it is evolutionary. It represents an important chapter in the ongoing saga and transformation of new media.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed that the 10 stages of social media integration in business are almost always set in motion by an internal champion who is determined and impassioned to engender change from the inside out. These champions emerge from different disciplines and departments and are typically role agnostic. Depending on the organization, champions exist in customer service, communications, marketing, interactive, as well as executive management. The change that these champions engender will ultimately represent a revolution in the spirit, philosophy, vision, and framework for organizations, one that increases market relevance and dramatically enhances the opportunity for affinity and fidelity.

Champions however, are the beginning of an important movement, a mainspring that needs the alignment of more formidable allies and platforms to impact the business overall.

Social Media champions are often referred to as change agents or trust agents as their dedication rouses and inspires trust within their organizations as well as within the social communities that define their landscape of influence. Monikers we haven’t yet seen to define these advocates are ones that actually reflect their next stages of growth and advancement. Inevitably all champions become politicians and ultimately diplomats in order to truly become change agents across the entire organization. The difference is that a champion represents a catalyst for defining and presenting the case for adaptation and experimentation. They either do so by acting now and apologizing later, and/or they review and curate case studies and success stories in order to earn support for an official, funded pilot program.

As experience is established and initial successes are presented, champions are then challenged by inspired believers or worse, the opportunists within the organization who realize that social media represents an opportunity for personal and professional advancement. Internal competition ensues and without formal governance or training, social media becomes a landscape that resembles corporate anarchy.

Change agents are not martyrs however, and their passion is not overthrown by the materialization of opportunists. Their fervor is only intensified as they earn and build networks of support within as well as outside through online and offline engagement. Eventually our champions realize that they must become politicians in order to stimulate and advance social media adoption across the entire company. To do so effectively and with meaningful results, it is critical that social media earns the attention, support and focus of the executives who hold the wheel for steering the current and future direction of the company.

Politicians understand that in order to reach the greater goal of the cause they so passionately believe in, they must also lobby on behalf of that cause among the policy makers and change agents that exist in key posts at every level. In doing so, a wave of validation and constituencies will rise and grow as it migrates toward the heart of the organization.

Through every experiment, success, or failure, the understanding of social media only intensifies. As such, social media programming will grow more sophisticated over time – representing a new age for social media. In many ways, the potential for social media is beyond the grasp of any one individual and as such, politicians become diplomats to introduce experiences across the organization in sensitive and effective ways.

While social experimentation starts and flourishes within one department, every outward facing group as well as those affected by inbound and surrounding influence, will need to socialize (whether it’s through engagement or simply by learning through observation, listening and research). What begins as a bottom-up movement requires a top-down directive to precipitate a formal renaissance sparked by champions, lobbied through politicians, and promoted through emissaries.

The socialization of media creates a vital, plugged-in business channel and as such, support from the C-suite is mandatory. However, many executives are not clear in how they should lead transformation and therefore require guidance from those politicians who have successfully lobbied for and earned support. As discussed in my next book, the creation of New Media Councils or Advisory Boards are imperative to the expansion of socially-aware programs and the departments and resources that can support and scale with them.

The question of who owns social media suddenly dissipates in favor of a discussion that is far more substantial and productive. It’s a collaborative process embraced by the entire organization with specific benefits defined and delivered to everyone involved, including those affected by our actions.

Over the years, I have participated in the creation of many Advisory Boards, both internal (current employees) and external (stakeholders, influencers, experts), within small businesses and Fortune 500 companies as a way of organizing efforts and resources around the vision of champions, turned politicians. This council essentially facilitates collaboration, addresses politics, secures buy-in across the organization, pools budgets, and promotes accountability.  More importantly, one of the council’s primary objectives and responsibilities is to ensure the education and advancement of employees to create an organization rife with ambassadors and advocates beyond the original group of champions. Advisors should include representatives from each division that requires a social presence, and let’s not forget legal, as well as those individuals who represent the people inside the organization as well as those who define our markets.

The path from champion to politician to diplomat is long and tumultuous, but it is however, essential to the furtherance of new media within the organization as well as to the career of those who remain diligent and sincere. While the word politician may evoke certain emotions, usually less than complimentary, the difference in goals, tactics, and objectives represents an intrinsic shift from proponent, promoter, and crusader to a new role as strategist, lobbyist, community builder, and campaigner.

Where do you see yourself in this sea of change?

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  • zenaweist

    Brian,

    Your commentaries are timely regardless of the company I'm with and the journey we are on. I'm that role agnostic who love to work internally in brands to develop and implement the overarching social media strategy. This piece is relevant and real. Thank you! Looking forward to catching up with you @SXSW.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Thank you Zena. See you next month!

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  • http://lobenstein.posterous.com/ hubertus von lobenstein

    Nice one, particularly when you live in Germany: Right now social media is at best creating the first champions here.The Montys, Ziehs, Eliasons or Prestons have yet to arrive…(so do the German versions of a Brian Solis, a Chris Brogan or Valeria Maltoni). So your article pretty much maps out the road ahead for us!

    The one thing I´m not so sure about is the creation of outside advisory boards. A number of recent talks with decision makers has shown me again that the pure use of the word advisor( let alone consultant) creates rather negative reactions. And that is not only due to the current economic climate……Has there been any difference between “outside” and “inside” boards you´ve been involved with in the way companies have perceived and accepted them?

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Outsiders brings perspective and experience that may not coincide with existing budgets to bring them on full time. A small relationship to leverage their wisdom as an advisor seems to work in most cases (well all cases where that I've directly experienced.) It's a balance between external experts and internal champions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jmctigue John McTigue

    You're talking about larger companies that can accommodate Advisory Boards. For smaller businesses the transformation is much more direct if it happens at all. CEO's hear about successes at other companies and their radar turns on. Agencies come in and pitch their wares, and sometimes it sticks. In most cases there is only one layer of resistance that needs to be peeled away, but that layer can be very thick. We find that the impetus to change is most often driven by fear (fear of competitors winning, fear of being viewed as antiquated, etc). This is not the best environment for change, because there is already doubt built into the C-suite. In the best case scenario, the CEO gets it and drags his/her company into the 21st Century. We're seeing this more and more in SMB's these days. Surely the economy helps to push them along towards real change.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      John, very true. Although, if you're the owner/champion, the outside team also represents an option. If you're the owner and need convincing, then in the end, we earn dividends based on our investments. It's the a ha vs. the uh oh moment that serves as a catalyst in many cases as well…

  • http://www.brandonsutton.com Brandon101

    Very thought-provoking post Brian! This is a topic that particularly resonates with me and I appreciate the attention you give to this area in various posts you've written lately. You are one of the few bloggers that I've run across that articulates the essence of all departments socializing so clearly, which I believe will be a cornerstone of successful businesses of tomorrow.

    I had never really thought of the roles of change agents adapting into politicians/lobbyists, but it makes perfect sense, particularly as social media expands from experimental marketing or customer service programs into the deeper fabric of the organization. You've done a great job of explaining this need and how people in these roles can help grease the necessary wheels internally.

    Regarding Advisory Boards, I think it's almost essential to have a balance of inside and outside perspectives. As Hubertus mentions, there is often resistance to outside influence, but sometimes the things that make us uncomfortable are the very things we most need to look at. It seems that internal advisers can become too close to the business and fail to adapt to the bigger shifts in the landscape overall. Outside advisers bring a different perspective to the table and can help with the higher-level strategic thinking that will help keep the organization out in front as changes occur and opportunities arise with increasing pace.

    Thanks for the post Brian. Can't wait to meet you in Atlanta! :)

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Brandon, well said. It's about finding comfort outside of our comfort zones. This article is more important than we may realize today, but one that will resonate with those living this transformation right now….and over time. Looking forward to meeting you!

  • Rebecca Smith

    Unbelievable – we're up to paragraph 5 in our organisation. I was just reflecting on the events that occurred last week. Up until now, there have been very few of us true champions (all of us in the camp of try now and apologise later) and suddently there appears an inspired believer – an opportunist as you say – who brings to the fore the issue of ownership, policies, processes etc. And suddenly we have a political football. Unsure of how to manage this now – your concept of a council seems like a sound next step. Thanks for letting me know we're not alone in this bizarre adventure!

  • Teresa_0222

    There’s no denying how far social media has grown these past few years. It’s undeniably part of everyone’s lives, in some form or other. It’s sad that some exploit or abuse it to further their own intentions. It’s great, though, that there are others who advocate for its responsible and proper use. The growth of social media and people’s fascination with it just goes to show how the ideas and passion of some people for some things could really influence many. Where am I in this social media world? Oh, I’m what you may call a newbie. :-)

    P. S. Check out http://budurl.com/nhs8 and http://budurl.com/p262 and see how else the Internet can bring change and success to your business and lifestyle.

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  • iancleary

    I'm based in Ireland and we're behind the curve in terms of social media. Companies still see it as being twitter and facebook! My role is to get out there and present to large groups of businesses and inform them that social media is so much more than sending a tweet. It is changing and going to change how we run your businesses. You will hire staff through your social network, sell your products through it, find partnerships, improve communication and effectiveness of your organisation and so much more. So that's my role should I choose to accept and I certainly do…. fun times ahead. I'll stay off the Guinness for while! Ian

  • Tommyismyname

    This is so true!

    How you tell the story of the champion is, I think, exactly how it works… within an organization.

    As a freelancer, and when you're starting out, this seems to be a rinse, lather, and repeat cycle. It gets easier the more times you rinse and lather though…

    I don't know, you've made a pretty good name for yourself, when would you say, if there ever was a time, that this cycle was broken?

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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