The Catch-22 of Social Business

Photo by Stevec77 on Flickr

Photo by Stevec77 on Flickr

One reason I guess i'm taking a vacation from most things social media these days is that I couldn't stand the noise anymore. Now that social media and community management are mainstream, not to mention money-makers for businesses and entrepreneurs (myself obviously included), a lot of people have a lot to say about it. Not that this is anything new, of course, but either I've just become over-saturated with the subject because I put myself squarely into that bubble over the past few years, or there really is way more content out there about social media, social business, community management--- all of it. It's gotten to the point that I basically avoid Twitter now, dread blogging because the last thing I feel like doing is adding to the din, and spend my online time either blissfully pinning recipes and home decor photos, posting pictures of my cat on Instagram, or reading fashion or home decor blogs. Maybe this is just the natural course of things for me; maybe it will reverse at some point and my passion for social media will return with a vengeance. I guess only time will tell.

I think that one thing that may have led to my about-face about social media is the feeling that I started experiencing over the past few years that most of what's written about social media or social business or whatever the current buzz phrase happens to be seems to be the choir preaching to the choir in an endless circle. Books, blog posts, podcasts, webinars, panels at conferences--all of it about the importance of social business, the culture change necessary for a business to be social, the urgent necessity for businesses to start being social OR ELSE, etc. etc. Basically what I myself have been writing about for the past five years--and yes, I realize the irony of me criticizing those kinds of posts. Most of it ultimately leads back to the fact that management needs to change, C-level execs need to change, business needs to change, and details how they should go about doing it. Not that I don't believe it's true--it is. But just because it's true does it mean that it's ever going to happen? I personally think the answer is no. 

Why not? Because I think, for the most part, the people writing about social business are usually the ones also reading about it. The audience these missives are aimed at either doesn't read about social business or reads about it then immediately dismisses it. Also, even if they do read it, the bottom line is that people don't like change, especially when that change is the result of someone pointing out that they are wrong and need to change. Look at people outside a business context. People living their lives in ways that are not ideal or even healthy. Maybe they drink too much, or cheat on their spouses, or don't exercise or eat right, or they gamble or are in crazy debt, or who knows what other not-great behavior. How many people out there can claim one ore more of those kinds of not-so-great habits or behaviors? Pretty much everyone. And how many of those people take the initiative and actually do what it takes to change those behaviors, for good? Go through the expense of therapy, the mental anguish of confronting not-fun demons, the new routines necessary for change? And then commit to those changes forever? Sure, some people do, but isn't it human nature to just keep doing the unhealthy stuff because it's easier than changing? And how about relationships? Judging by the rates of divorce and infidelity, how many people confront the issues in those not-great relationships and subject themselves to costly marriage counseling, uncomfortable or hurtful conversations with their partners, and are willing to admit that they need to change for the benefit of the relationship? Not most people. The status quo is easier, especially when it's working ok for now.

So given that that's how people deal with uncomfortable issues in their individual personal lives, what makes us think that in a business context, executives are willing to confront the huge, expensive, uncomfortable task of changing everything? Because that's what social business requires. The equivalent of marriage counseling,but on a much larger scale involving way more than two people. It would involve those execs being accountable for being the bad guy and breaking comfortable habits that work on a personal level even if they're not what's best for the larger group. Especially if things are working ok the way they are and business is at least limping along, or maybe even doing great, why go to all that discomfort and expense? And double especially when all of us social business people are the ones preaching that they need to change....and are, coincidentally, also the ones to help them do it. How often do people make changes in their personal lives because someone is pointing out how they're doing life wrong and if they don't change, all hell will break loose?

Isn't the reality that most people go through life just coping, doing the best they can do without rocking the boat too much? Why do we think the executives that we're demanding "socialize, or else!" will be interesting in doing it? Change on a tiny, individual level is excruciating even when the motivation comes from within, and it requires commitment, ongoing work and probably expense. And even then it often--or even usually--fails. So change on an organizational level? An organization made up of those same individuals who fight change and crave status quo even when status quo is broken or unhealthy. How do you affect change throughout that whole stubborn ecosystem? Again, call me a pessimist, but I just don't see it, no matter how compelling the argument for the potential benefits.