Reframing control in social media

We’ve been working for several companies facing how they and their markets change with the further spread of social media. It’s creating enormous potential for more democratic media production and sophisticated tools, but a lot of it will rely on companies understanding it and being receptive to it. We’re developing a framework to help companies do this, and one of the key considerations is not scaring the shit out of them.

I’m referring here to the control issue. Some have simply said “you must give up control.” J.D. Lasica puts it more gently: “We’re transitioning to a new kind of culture. More participatory, more open, more interactive where the locus of control passes.”

I agree, and yet telling business people they’re losing control isn’t likely to go down well. People like control. Managers like control. Control helps us survive in an uncertain world.

Jeff Jarvis frames it a different way: “The No. 1 lesson of the Internet whether you’re Howard Dean or a media company or a marketer, is that you have to give up control to gain control.” He cites a benefit, but still we’re left asking, “How much control does one give up? What do we really stand to gain?” Business managers aren’t an audience of socialists, they’re an audience that needs to make money to keep themselves and their colleagues employed in an uncertain economy. social media diagram I think frames that appeal to good old fashioned business drivers will be more effective, such as:

  • build communities of loyal customers
  • reduce content creation/acquisition costs
  • increase audience size through viral marketing
  • offensively compete with would-be disruptive media forces

…and so on. We outlined these in the form of a poster, Social Media and Value Creation. It’s a work in progress; we haven’t seen established companies pursue this course yet and everyone will be learning.


  1. Victor, I like your spin on the control issue because (1) it recognizes that as engineers of change we need to frame the issue carefully and (2) control isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    From the implementation side — building systems that help organizations maintain control — I’m realizing that systems that enforce a set of rules imposed by management are doomed to fail. Not because the rules are bad, but because the rules are fluid to accommodate a variety of situations. I can only speculate why we feel the need to build “control enforcement” rules into systems, but the result is the same: low adoption, frustration, abandonment.

    I’m experimenting now with a system that won’t enforce rules. The project is ripe for this sort of thinking because the users recognize that their rules — in this case a business process — demands flexibility to the extent that a computer can’t handle.

    Aren’t social pressures a much more effective way of exerting control anyway? Why try to do this in bits and bytes when a single glare from a manager can do so much more?

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