I’ve been thinking about writing this post ever since reading a fascinating piece by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker a few months back. Titled, “The Open Secret of Success“, the article used the lens of Toyota on the edge of overtaking GM as the world’s largest automaker to explain a pivotal contributor to that success, the Japanese concept of kaizen. Surowiecki explored how kaizen has come to define innovation,

As an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis.

A short time after reading this piece I was preparing to speak at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, followed a few days later by a talk at Blogpotomac in Washington, DC. I’d also been giving a lot of thought to SMG and what we do. We’ve been around since 2006, and used to position ourselves as “one of the worlds first dedicated social media agencies”. After a time, that became less of a meaningful differentiator, and as a venerable member of our advisory board pointed out, yelling “FIRST!” is not exactly strong or insightful branding. For the last six months or so I’ve been thinking about exactly who we are and what we do, and posting about it as a way of crystallizing and making a commitment to some of these ideas.

Thinking about that New Yorker article and the stuff I was going to talk about at the conferences, who we are and what we do suddenly became clear: we transform companies. We don’t just deploy some fancy new social media tactics in support of a campaign and walk away when it’s done. When we form a new client partnership and start helping them take the steps they need to form meaningful relationships with a broad group of their stakeholders, we start the process of changing them from the inside; changing what they communicate and the ways they interact with their audience (whoever that might be – customers, partners, employees, the media, etc.).

As you can imagine, this takes time, and the challenge is that, particularly in North America, we are very much conditioned for what I call the “fireworks” mentality, often embodied in the phrase, “Let’s make a viral video!”. In other words, we want a hit, a big hit, and we want it now so we can show our bosses what a great job we did before moving on to the next thing.

But what happens when fireworks are over? The sky goes dark; and all the energy funneled into making the big display dissipates.

The work that we do is the exact opposite of that. It is our objective to fundamentally transform the ways companies think about the behaviour that motivates the millions of people online all talking to one another, and the impact this can have on their business. Reaching out to these communities via tactical brilliance is definitely a component, but the last thing in the world we want to do is let the sky go dark afterwards. So we take the long view, focusing on incremental improvements. Things like including digital influencers in traditional events and maintaining those relationships, connecting with appropriate communities of interest in sustainable and meaningful ways, getting firms to pay attention to what people are saying about them online and learning how to respond and engage in a way that improves their bottom line.

Because, in the long run, based on the examples so clearly articulated by James Surowieki, what wins: fireworks or glacier?

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  1. “Let’s make a viral video!” Great idea. I wish I’d thought of that. Nice post; I enjoy your tweets too.

  2. Maggie

    I love the proposition; we transform your company. I have been going through the same dilemma and with a bit of help from some trusted advisors(!) we our proposition more simple – not quite as good as yours yet. Social media is just an enabler that helps us achieve some things e.g. employee engagement a lot quicker than the more traditional methods.


  3. “Kaizen”-gradual improvements over giant transformations. It’s a philosophy more of us should adopt. Great post!

  4. Very good, Maggie. So many of the articles & online palavers about “What’s the ROI of social media?” make the mistake of assuming that it will be a fireworks-style ROI, rather than a sustained, ongoing process of growth and change. Yes, there *will* be a positive ROI over time, but it’s not like winning a hand of blackjack in the casino.

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