I spoke at a Tedx event on Wednesday. The theme of TedX 2011 Silicon North was the path to innovation. In my world, innovation means the application of new ideas, technologies, services and approaches to our client’s business. It is where the rubber hits the road.

At SMG, we are fortunate to work with some of North America’s leading brands and organizations in applied social media. Each of our clients is unique. They do have some things in common – they are established enterprises full of legacy structures, models and processes.

I am a strategist and a dreamer. I love the potential of digital media and have tremendous passion for the power of new communications models to establish connections and patterns. I love my work and jumped at the chance to share in the Ted-style format.

A bit of a late addition, I had days to put together my remarks. As a rule, I do not discuss client work publicly without explicit permission from my clients. So, I decided to write a fable to highlight some insights on the path to innovating with large organizations.

The Fable of the Enterprise Elephant and the Social Media Butterfly

In this fable, I am of course the Butterfly. Those of us who live and breathe innovation and the new can easily get caught up with ideas and excited by the next big thing.  Today it might be group buying and location based marketing. Tomorrow, it could be social gaming and branded content marketing. Innovation with new technology is our passion and these are exciting times.

And many organizations are like the Elephant. They see the world changing and are unsure of what path to take.

A couple of insights from the fable:

  • Obviously, it is crucial to listen first and enter engagements with curiosity. Organizations become really good at being big; and as much as we’d wish it to be so, they do not turn on a dime. Like the Elephant, they are very wise, have developed their own innovations and achieved greatness.
  • Where innovation is needed, we have had success with pilot projects. The successful pilot project needs to be brought into the organization’s structure for ongoing execution. This can be a difficult and disruptive transition. The application of emerging paid social media marketing is an example. What we see with new ad formats like Twitter’s Promoted Platform, is the real-time convergence of owned, earned and paid media. We butterflies, say, “bring it on” “the results are incredible. let’s go”. The clients while enthusiastic, need to deal with that fact that for decades, their paid advertising and their public relations functions (which manage earned and owned media channels) have operated in complete silos. So yes, an incredible opportunity, but things need to change inside the organization to capitalize.
  • Cookie-cutter approaches to what worked for other companies are not likely to be accepted. It is far better to invest to understand the client’s organization – their objectives, plans, previous successes, culture and appetite for change. By all means, cite examples and refer to best practices, but that’s not the ideal place to start.
  • There is potential and appetite inside large organizations to evolve to meet new markets and opportunities.There are some common barriers:
  1. How to measure efforts and integrate the new with their existing KPIs
  2. Lack of knowledgeable staff and the requirement to build capacity and capability in their organization
  3. Technical complexity and the need to reconcile the new with legacy systems
  4. Also nomenclature – “social media” is an ambiguous term. The clients understand retention marketing and CRM. Is that not what we’re talking about?
  • How do you position a new idea so that it gains acceptance? Is it an internal collaboration technology that is going to drive increased knowledge management and productivity? Or, is it easier to grasp that we’re going to transform the Intranet by incorporating social tools like profiles and spaces where people are co-create and share?
  • Culture and the shift from command and control. Who owns the new? The politics of driving innovation inside an enterprise can be staggering. Again, the best thing to do is to listen carefully, stay curious and positive and help the client sell the innovation to their stakeholders.

I closed my remarks with a challenge – consider how you as an innovative butterfly can move the Elephants and change the world in the process!

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