Thursday, August 26, 2010

Departmentalization and the Death of Discussion

When I say the word department to myself, after worrying about the fact that I am talking to myself, two things come to mind. First, of course, I think about departments in a company. Next, I think about department stores. The general definition of "department store" is a retail organization that offers customers a wide range of products. A department, however, generally brings to mind a piece of a greater whole that probably just specializes in one thing or a handful of things. Department stores have departments just like companies do. If you work in the women's clothing department, you are not also responsible for selling lamps. In the marketing world, at least up to this point, if you work in the PR department, you are responsible solely for PR. If you work in a marketing department, you are responsible for "just" marketing.

Departments in companies that are responsible for marketing are experiencing something that department store departments are not, and that is revolutionary change. One would never expect women's clothing to turn into bags of candy, but in the world of marketing, that's sort of what is happening. PR is finding that a lot of their shelves are getting filled with stuff they think of as "branding." And those marketing folks? They are finding that their little island is being invaded by everyone.

If you were told that you were responsible for a department in a store and someone suddenly started putting their inventory in your section to take care of, how would you respond? Most likely, you would resist this change. "How can I sell lamps? I sell dresses. I've sold dresses for 15 years. I know nothing about lamps, and more to the point, I don't want to know about lamps. Women's fashion is my "thing." And I want to stick to it."

Well, similar conversations are happening in the marketing world. The more things change, the more people want to grasp their specific department, their departmental titles, and their departmental ways of doing things. Eyes are shut. Ears are plugged.

Hello, good to meet you, please buy this hat.

The problem is that Social Media serves as a company's mirror as well as its magnifying glass. These little blemishes of departmental prima donas become much more noticeable in the Social Media world, and there's one simple explanation for that. When you only can speak from one point of view, your ability to fully engage with people, the key to success in Social Media, diminishes. Moreover, your desire and/or ability to engage as part of an integrated team on behalf of your company also falls by the wayside.

Let's say, for example, that you work for a manufacturer of chicken coops. You've only ever worked in customer support. You feel pretty competent and you feel comfortable with how you've been doing things. Now, all of a sudden, your boss tells you that you, like everyone else in the company, need to start building the company's presence in the world of Social Media. You go to Twitter, start your account, and one day someone tweets you about an offer they saw in one of your ads. You have no idea about that. Advertising is a different department. You tell them to go to that person. A month later, someone tweets you about a new product announcement they saw. You saw the announcement too, but can't offer any more information. That's PR's job. You direct them to that person.

As time goes on, the number of tweets you receive continues to decrease. Now why would that be? Isn't it good to direct people to the person at your company would know the answer? Well, the problem is that in this new world of marketing, if you are out there representing your company, you lose credibility, you lose trust, and you look incompetent if you can't answer questions about what your company does or doesn't do. Customers no longer care about departments. They care about the fact that you list in your profile that you work for Smith Chicken Coops. They care about the fact that they need a new coop or that their coop needs to be repaired.

It's often easy to tell in the world of Social Media who is still operating from a departmental point of view. If you are a sales person who has failed to integrate with other departments, you may simply go out into the brave new world and tweet your wares. If you're a PR person who refused to learn the ways of other marketing channels, you may feel inclined to simply upload all of your press releases to your blog. Individuals who are failing to integrate are afraid to converse because they can't be sure what the company line is. Are you allowed to talk about your personal life? Are you allowed to mention the competitor? It seems safer to squawk at people rather than talk with people.

Signpost, Engagement, Discussion

Mitch Joel recently wrote a post he titled "The end of conversation in Social Media." I ended up conversing about it with two of my Twitter friends, Paul Konrardy (@PaulKonrardy) and Andrea Townsend (@AndreeaC_T). In particular, we discussed the fact that we were conversing (yay), but also that we were not conversing in the comment section of the blog that had inspired us to talk. The author was not involved in the discussion. We were also not engaging with the numerous other people who had commented on the blog.

This raises a lot of questions in my mind. I'd be interested in your input.

First, as Mitch Joel asks, has there ever really been conversation in Social Media? Is a trading of tweets a conversation or is it swapping semi-related sound bytes? For people who do not know how to integrate and engage, the folks whom I refer to as signposts, conversation is not what they use Social Media for. Are they winning the game?

Second, even if we are succeeding in dissolving our company departments, are we now departmentalizing our Social Media presence at our own peril? We are outputting. We are sharing. We are building bigger and bigger networks. As Eddie Izzard asks when he talks about reading food labels, "Is that good?"

Third, who is the more successful Social Media user, the person who receives a ton of comments on a blog post, resulting in a great conversation, or the person who receives a few comments on Twitter, a few on the blog, a few here, a few there, creating lots of molecular (departmentalized) discussions?

Departmentalization Versus Integrated Marketing

That's right. These are two diametrically opposed concepts. If you work in a company where departments are about territories, competition, ownership, and resistance to change, there is no point in learning any more about integrated marketing. You will not be able to do it. The Social Media example above, hypothetical though it may be, is just the beginning of why such a company will not come to a happy integrated ending. Integrated marketing is about integrated thinking, integrated planning, integrated systems, and integrated actions. All of the millions of parts in a car work together to get you where you need to go, but a key is required. If you are fortunate, all of the millions of body parts you have work together, but the key is a brain that orchestrates everything.

In a company, integrated marketing means that everyone must work together, and there must be some over-arching force that ensures that the cooperation lasts and grows. A philosophy of departmentalization is removing the key from the ignition. It is paralysis. It is a loss of functionality in the new world in which we live.

The existence of departments is not inherently evil. The philosophy of departments, however, will be one of the obstacles that separates companies who succeed and companies who fail.

1st Image by Jyn Meyer.
2nd Image Credit:
3rd Image by ilker .
4th Image by Gabriella Fabbri.


Paul Konrardy said...

Wow - this is an amazing topic. Not only are you calling out human nature (resistance to change) but also the reality of how important buy-in to the integration necessary for a company to find success in the post social media world.

All too often people find it way too easy to put up a barrier rather than try to figure out how to be part of the solution. I see this not only in departmentally structured companies (that's not my job) but in our day-to-day living situations (that homeless person is not my responsibility). I'm not saying we need to give up our Western living standards and all move to a commune - I'm just saying we should view our online life as we do our "real" life and start acting like the humans we are - sans the barriers (or at least lowered a bit).

I'll be thinking about this post for awhile, Marjorie. Thanks for that.

BTW My fav quote:"These little blemishes of departmental prima donas become much more noticeable in the Social Media world...." Wish the context of that could be conveyed in 140 characters.... maybe help me out there? ;-)

Andreea Townsend said...

Paul, You are absolutely right about people putting up barriers. It's much easier to put blame on other departments or team members.

I worked in a company that did not communicate at all. Customer service had no idea what marketing was doing and come roll out of a new product, they were lost. Needless to say, eventually, customer service was reorganized and reported to the marketing director.

We participate in social media but then again we don't. As Mitch Joel mentioned, we are broadcasting our own messages with very little regard to others...very selfish. And yet, one of the first things we learn as social marketers is to listen and comment on other blogs first.

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