As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand senior marketer, digital, social or innovation expert. I’m pleased to have Greg Matthews, Director of Innovation at Humana, as this month’s participant.
Here’s what Greg has to say about the future of health brands and social media:
The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that …
can fundamentally change the way they work, ceding control to their customers, suppliers and employees. The old “we make it, you buy it” way of thinking is fast disappearing, even in the health system. It’s our belief that customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders are going to have to be a lot more involved in making, selling and servicing products. That means that organizations are going to have to shift from a command-and-control culture to a much more open and trusting environment.
Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way that your organization conducts business?
I think that we’re just beginning to see the impact of the changes in our company. Unlike some other companies, we have elected NOT to do a top-down implementation of a social media strategy. Instead, we’ve created a framework whereby every department has the ability to use social media to improve their own business processes – whatever those might be.
We’ve formed a volunteer “un-committee” made up of social evangelists from 14 different departments around the company. We don’t have a leader, a charter, or an executive sponsor. But here’s why I think it’s working:
First, this group wrote Humana’s social media policy and the associated communication plan, and had it ratified directly by our Executive Committee.
Second, when we formed the group less than a year ago, there were only two departments (marketing and the innovation center) who have an active presence in the social space. Now there are seven.
I think this way may be slower, but in the end is going to be a lot more effective because each department actually owns their initiatives, and are dependent on their own results.
What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?
I think every corporation has to deal with two big issues: Control and speed.
Social media by its very nature is a grassroots phenomenon … the opposite of the top-down, control-oriented hierarchy of the corporation. Having enough trust to cede control is easy to talk about, but a lot harder to do. Corporate structures and processes are set up specifically to eliminate groundswells. Groundswells can reduce efficiency by producing outcomes that are different than those intended and create risk. So making this shift is more than just an attitudinal change; it’s a change in work structures and processes, too.
I think that speed is an issue because social media and community happen in real time … they don’t have time to wait for a decision to pass through multiple committees for a course of action to be agreed. This is a big switch, too.
What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
For me, there are four principles that have worked for us at Humana. They’re overly simplistic, but the best lessons always are, right? Here’s how I describe them (and you can see my visual presentation of these principles on slideshare):
• Be a vacuum. Always be learning. Always be reading. Always be looking for the next connection and the next smart idea. In social media, there is no such thing as “status quo.”
• Be a padawan. Talk to the best. You don’t need to get advice from Frank’s Social Media and Screen Door Company. The best thinkers in the world are giving it away for free every day on their blogs and on Twitter. And if you’re a company, there’s a good chance you can have a direct conversation with these Jedi; they want to work for you.
• Try stuff. No matter how much you read or how many Jedi you talk to, you can only really understand the power of social in your business by getting out there and trying it. That starts with building your own, personal social graph. Start a Twitter account, and follow 10 new people every day. Start a LinkedIn profile and join an interest group or two. Start a Facebook page and start playing games with your high school friends. Once you’ve gotten your personal social graph in order, find some low-risk ways to experiment on behalf of your company. There are plenty of experiments you can run that won’t create undue risk for your business.
• Be 2.0. Let the form follow the function. The form of social media is grassroots … groundswell … interactive. Let your work reflect that. It’s why our social media “uncommittee” is so unconventional. It HAS to be grassroots or it won’t work. It’s why our Web site (crumpleitup.com) has so little content … our content lives on the social web … on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. The Web site is just a hub with spokes leading out to all of that content. Before you try something in typical fashion, double-check yourself and ask, “what’s the social way to do this?” In our first uncommittee meeting, we decided to live-Tweet the meeting instead of taking minutes … which set a great tone.
Always remember that we’re still in the middle of this transition from an “information economy” to a “collaboration economy.” There’s not a single company that has defined the business of the future. And there’s nothing to prevent your business from being the one that does … so there’s no need to be afraid of a few little “failures.”