Innovate IT, Management, Employees and Social Media With Empowered

If you buy something through our links, we may earn money from our affiliate partners. Learn more.


Now that everyone has received the memo – or tweet – on social media,  a new memo has arrived on your office table: How does an organization manage employees who daily use social media to get things done?

That’s the question Forrester execs Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler answer in their fine book, Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business (Bernoff co-authored the bestselling book Groundswell with Charlotte Li). I met both authors at a New York mixer, and had also listened to Bernoff on a Harvard Business Review podcast.

Just as it has empowered customer choice online, social media has also empowered employee productivity. Empowered encourages businesses to make the most of that power shift.  A quote on page 16 sums up the authors’ mission:

“The tools to change your business, to become more responsive to these empowered consumers, aren’t the problem.  It’s the way your business runs that needs to change.”

Explaining the nuances of social media’s impact on customers

Empowered is a great read for the informed business owner. It’s grounded in Forrester research, naturally, and studies from various sources, but not excessively academic.  The insights are splendidly clear. Take the following quote on the traditional customer acquisition funnel, for example:

“In the funnel people became aware of your company, consider its products and then a few of them buy.  But now the mass influencers among your customers are broadcasting information about your products … This suggests a different view of the funnel, one in which sales is no longer the endpoint.  Once you have sold a customer, good service will create happiness.”

The first chapters elaborate on mass online influences, differentiated by social media personae called Mass Connectors and Mass Mavens.  Mass Connectors are people who share links in social networks, while Mass Mavens share opinions through blogs and discussion forums.  Examples demonstrate how success connecting to personae can come in unexpected ways.  For example, read how Ford’s well-regarded Fiesta Movement campaign had to create Fiesta enthusiasts first:

“Ford’s challenge is this: The people who talk about cars are well-off and influential, but rarely own Fords … Ford had to create customers by letting them drive the cars for a while to prime the pump and get the discussion going.”

The examinations have the right depth and scope to explain why certain social media contain nuanced opportunity. Mobile and text message topics are a welcome delight, advancing the social media discussion to territory where other books have failed.

How HEROes can save your business

Here come the HEROes, employees who take initiative to solve customers’ problems through the same social media tools customers casually use. As a result HEROes are in the best position to engage customers, increasing brand value, improving customer service and elevating awareness that leads to sales. Anyone can be a HERO, such as Leonard Bonacci who developed GuestAssist, a text messaging system to manage disruptive Philadelphia Eagles fans.  Fans with a problem send a text to a short code that matches their seat so that a rep can arrive to discreetly resolve the issue.

“Despite the ease of the system, only a few hundred messages get sent each season, few enough that they’re far more likely to help with satisfaction than to overwhelm the staff … Two years later the NFL made what the Eagles were doing a leaguewide practice.”

Although the case studies involve corporations, the ease of implementation implies that small businesses can use similar techniques.  Read the segment “If you sell to small businesses, marketing and customer service need to connect” to gain some ideas.

Create accord between IT and management to best serve your customers

Later chapters examine the implementation of HERO activity organization-wide, as Empowered offers solutions to help innovate and collaborate on HEROes ideas to create effective strategic advantage.

“The problem in a HERO-powered business isn’t coming up with ideas. The problem is figuring out which of those ideas should be nurtured and which should not.”

One definitive step is to not block social media usage among HEROes.   You’ll hurt your business more in terms of productivity and costs by trying to block a genie that is already out of the bottle, according to Bernoff and Schadler’s interviews with employees.  Instead, the authors advocate “speed and collaboration” to systematically:

  • Build collaboration systems that extend existing tools
  • Make sure anyone participating gets value instantly
  • Dedicate people to the rollout
  • Solve 80 percent of the problem, then stop and listen
  • Build adoption slowly and virally

The authors also suggest aligning HERO social media usage to business objectives through management’s assessment of project risk and IT’s re-imagined role as educator and risk mitigator. Here’s a quote about the role of the IT department in a HERO environment:

“IT has two new jobs:

  1. Train and educate information workers about how to keep themselves safe
  2. Help HEROes assess, manage and mitigate risks associated with their projects.

Note what is included here: IT is not responsible for risk. Instead, people in IT must advise workers to keep them safe, and help them to improve the security of what they do.”

Savvy insights on IT and management roles abound, particularly useful in a world now acclimated to cloud computing and SaaS. Cross-organizational councils are also suggested, as well as a HERO “compact” to best promote roles and responsibilities.

If you want to grow your business, read this book

I love the potential Empowered has to teach small businesses the nuances in social media, marketing and customer service to profitable result.  The book complements other social media and marketing books, as well as service books like Service Innovation, but it truly stands alone as a resource for how an organization can be revitalized from within and in the eyes of its customers.

Get discounts and special offers on new and classic business books with an Audible Premium Plus membership. Learn more and sign up for an account today.

Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.