Innovation Trends

Book Review: The Social Organization: How to Tap the Collective Genius of your Customers and Employees


Hello! I’m Morgan, a newbie at Jama (just had my two month “Jamanniversary!”).

I’ve just finished The Social Organization: How to Tap the Collective Genius of your Customers and Employees by Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald and I’d like to share what I think are the significant take-aways. The book is dense with information about social media, implementation, best practices and case studies. It’s a worthwhile read for any organization looking to bring more mass collaboration to their team and work. Thanks for joining me for my first blog post!

In the very first sentence of the book Bradley and McDonald acknowledge that theirs isn’t the first book written about social media technology. I’d wholeheartedly agree with this statement; there are boundless artifacts touting the benefits of social media, “how to guides” to help you get started and analysis of countless case studies detailing social media blunders as well as successes. Bradley and McDonald, both of Gartner, posit that their book fills the, “significant hole,” that exists in explaining and outlining how organizations should go about executing successful social media campaigns, rather than simply detailing the benefits of social media. Bradley and McDonald aim to answer the question of how an organization can achieve, “broad and sustainable success.” They do so by elaborating on three areas: forming a vision, developing a strategic approach and refining your organizations purpose for social media.

What is Social Media?

Social media by nature is designed specifically for mass collaboration. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, blogging, etc. are all devices used in a virtual “circling of the wagons,” to bring folks together to collaborate. Organizations today are smart to utilize social media and harness the collaboration of their employees, customers and vendors . In our world today there are countless modes of social media technology designed to facilitate mass collaboration. YouTube = social video sharing, Facebook = social networking, Instagram = social photo sharing, etc. The technology you choose needs to fit the vision you have for your organization, and your vision is shaped through a strategic approach to fulfill your organizations purpose. Bradley and McDonald agree that tools to enable mass collaboration have existed for decades, but web-based, community driven social media technologies make possible mass collaboration on a much grander scale.

Social media and mass collaboration can re-introduce the element of community to organizations that have found market success and therefore grown into companies with formal structure and procedure. Success often begets more rigid structure and less time to collaborate; social media can level the playing field and connect employees, customers and potential customers to foster the kind of mass collaboration and idea sharing that leads to an organizations success in the first place.

Forming a Vision (Launch)

What do you hope to achieve by implementing social media in your organization? Direction and leadership are more necessary than one may think for the development of successful mass collaboration. Yes, communities and connections will likely form organically (that’s what you want) but Bradley and McDonald encourage the presence of loose guidelines to help direct mass collaboration in the direction of your intended purpose. Forming vision for your use of social media includes understanding when mass collaboration is appropriate, knowing your community and where they are most likely to deliver value and keeping in mind your organizations goals and culture.

Developing a Strategic Approach (Guide)

Why does your organization need social media? How do you intend to implement? Often, organizations look to social media because they know that the smartest person in the room is all of us. Through social media a CEO can form weak-tie relationships with their customers; employees from opposite ends of the supply chain can collaborate on new and better ways to work—it is not the traditional way of thinking when it comes to organizational structure. In order for mass collaboration via social media to work an organization cannot afford to think traditionally.

Bradley and McDonald point out that not every problem should be solved by the masses, and choosing mass collaboration over a traditional approach may challenge an organization and the managers within it. Involving your community of employees, vendors and customers provides better intelligence for decision making (the contributions of early adopters often attracts others’ to participate) and fosters more rapid adoption of change because participants already feel invested in the effort, but when developing your social media approach Bradley and McDonald recommend vigilant attention in the planning stages to insure that community members maintain focus on your organizations purpose.

Refining Purpose (Refine)

If community is the people who collaborate and social media is where they collaborate, then purpose is why they collaborate. Knowing and understanding the purpose for your organizations mass collaboration will both help you to develop a strategic approach as well as formulate the vision of what you’d like to achieve through social media. Bradley and McDonald suggest the development of a purpose roadmap to guide collaboration. A community may begin down the road of mass collaboration via social media only to find their purpose changes. Bradley and McDonald stress that evolving purposes fuel communities and keep them growing; a purpose roadmap “is a set of related purposes that flow into the future from the original purpose, are aligned over time and identify options for how the community can evolve.”

To get the most out of your social media campaign you need to understand that these three steps are cyclical. Purposes will constantly evolve, necessitating a re-launch of your campaign along with consistent guidance.

Keep in Mind

Mass collaboration via social media can lead to great ideation and collaboration for your organization, but it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t happen overnight. I think Bradley and McDonald do an excellent job both detailing the “what” and “why” of social media as well as outlining the “how.” Their cyclical method of launch, guide and reform is straightforward and easy for even the most traditional executives and managers to understand.

Good luck!