Designing for digital and social media

Now I'm a member of the twitterverse, or 'twitscape' as my brother calls it, the organizational design challenge that social media in general poses to more traditional organizations have started to flash neon high alert in my mind. In my forthcoming book on organizational health I discuss social media but inevitably things have continued to move on since I wrote the chapter. As a colleague observed this week, "There is a clear need emerging, particularly among public service organizations, for skilled consultancy in digital communication and engagement, and the need to design around digital/social media engagement."

Accenture has three papers on the topic that, out of the many I have read, I think neatly summarize the issues. (Several others sources are referenced in my book)

The first "Are you ready for digital revolution" (2011) points out that "The ultimate promise of digital and interactive channels is personalization: bringing timely and relevant offerings and experiences to customers wherever they are, at that moment. … But many companies lack the technologies, analytics capabilities, leadership, and organization structures to capitalize on this seismic shift."

The second Harnessing the power of social media (2011) says that "The impact of social media is embryonic today but could ultimately surpass the predictions of the industry's most daring visionaries. Companies that actively experiment with embedding a social media mindset and capabilities in their business processes will transform their relationships with customers and create value in unforeseen ways. … its impact will be felt along the entire length of the value chain. Companies will be forced to reexamine outdated business practices and create opportunities to leverage these new capabilities in powerful ways."

The third paper Social Media: Enabling relevance at scale in an always-on, always-connected world (2012) tells us what companies can do in order to learn to use social media to a) transform how they engage with customers, b) collaborate with internal and external partners, c) align their operations to a common purpose and d) develop a new vision for high performance via embracing social media.

Summarizing the three papers I find that there are a number of aspects of digital and social media that have an impact on the design of organizations.

Relationships with customers

  1. App development enables new ways of interacting within and between organizational departments and customers, e.g. apps such as Find Starbucks also allow customers to locate physical outlets quickly.
  2. Organizational websites are being redesigned to foster straightforward online navigation with minimal number of clicks needed to complete a purchase or make a comment
  3. Ability to segment by customer spells the end for standard responses and one-size-fits-all offerings.

Internal structures, relationships, and operation

  1. IT departments have to be organized to learn and to cope with a very fast moving, unstable and complex environment, one in which new technologies and applications sometimes emerge and then disappear within a few months as strategies change, and where data volumes continue to grow exponentially.
  2. HR department similarly have to consider policies and guidelines for social media use – both welcome and unwelcome. And additionally work out who has authority to respond to customer comments and queries, all the while ensuring that data privacy laws are upheld.
  3. Employers will be compelled to recalibrate their own responses to the online musings of employees.
  4. Social media also offers new avenues for recruiting, allowing companies to spread a much wider net and to differentiate themselves to younger generations.
  5. Integrating social media will compel companies to make dramatic cultural changes,
  6. The once clear-cut boundary between marketing and sales continues to blur
  7. Companies are partnering with cloud monitoring services to track and respond to online complaints and comments that customers make.
  8. Social media creates the opportunity for much greater collaboration between departments, engendering more experimentation, faster decision making and more precisely tuned responses.
  9. Companies need a unified IT backbone and infrastructure that link data housed in the far reaches of the organization, often in different forms, as well as information held outside the company.


  1. Firms can engage employees, customers, suppliers and other third parties as active participants in the innovation process
  2. Innovative companies are using social media to be more proactive in seeking customer feedback and engaging customers to diagnose and resolve problems.


  1. Leaders need to pursue technology-based solutions-—sometimes across partnering companies-—that enable them to crunch data better and faster, as well as predictive analytics that make it possible to personalize the customer experience in as close to real time as possible.
  2. Strong, purposeful leadership also plays a critical role when it comes to design the organization for social media. Specifically in the area of integrating IT and marketing leaders have to make new investments in the talent, technology and processes needed to forge a new era of cooperation between marketing and IT-—and make this transformation an organizational mandate.
  3. Management team's knowledge and understanding of online technologies must keep up to speed with the rapid developments and they must be willing to make a financial investment in a holistic approach to social media deployment

So how do organizations start to redesign around the potential of digital and social media? Here are some pointers:


  1. Get a feel for the size and scale of the 'seismic shift'.
  2. Map out a detailed change path that redesigns the organization around social media
  3. Clearly articulate social purpose and harness the potential of the data captured by aligning actions accordingly


  1. Require CEO-level endorsement of, and engagement in, both the social media strategy guiding the change ahead and its robust execution.
  2. Find, attract and retain tomorrow's digitally savvy leadership by searching for people capable of dealing with high uncertainty

Structure and process

  1. Factor experimentation into the mix-—pursue small, manageable chunks of digital capabilities, which can enable measurement of business returns before making a larger investment.
  2. Create new organizational structures that are nimble and responsive to an environment packed with uncertainty
  3. Develop capabilities that provide an end-to-end customer view.
  4. Allow generation and sharing of ideas in an open, unfettered environment
  5. Incentivize, empower and encourage employees so they can become the listening posts for consumer signals to ensure a precise and timely experience is provided at every brand touch point.
  6. Integrate multiple sources of customer data using real-time analytics, and then make sure the right people are able to use the knowledge generated to support ongoing relationships and more personalized products and services.
  7. Create new ways of working based on alliances with previously isolated parts of the organization such as sales, service or R&D.


  1. Constantly anticipate and respond to evolving consumer needs across an expanding array of media and digitally enabled touch points.

As I read and integrate these types of reports and watch the upward trends of use of social media I come to the conclusion that organization designers must put digital and social media at the center of their agenda as they work with organizations. It is clear that the deployment of these technologies will fundamentally change the design of organizations as we know them.

Your views on this topic welcomed.