Social Media – A Threat or Opportunity for Organizations?

Michael LoBue writes: :  Just back from the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) Annual Meeting (aka:  annual gathering of the association faithful) and there were a fair number of breakout sessions on the various aspects of social media and the world of organizations.  In fact, I even co-presented one of the sessions with Jeff De Cagna of Principled Innovation.  Jeff is a self-described social media evangelist and thought leader on the subject. 

There seemed to be two general reactions, or schools of thought, about social media at the 2008 ASAE Annual Meeting.  One, proffered by a small number of evangelists is that we in the association world better understand and use social media – soon – or the consequences to our organizations will be dire.  I even heard the question:  “Will these social media tools render traditional organizations obsolete?”  The other school of thought seemed to be:  “Hmm?  Social media seems like a technology in search of a solution.”

I would argue that like most debates of this nature the truth lies somewhere in between and even at different points between the extremes for different organizations.  The important thing is for association leaders and executives to not loose, nor bury their heads over this situation.

I think the more interesting and useful domain in which to explore these tools is against the basic justification of an organization in the first place.  If organizations (or “firms” as the term was used in research on this subject in the early 20th Century) were formed because it was a more effective and efficient way to organize resources, including handling such overhead costs as communications and coordination, than the market, then it would be logical to understand how social media tools impact the “overhead” optimized by the organization itself when certain communications costs go to zero.

Clearly, communications is not the only element of overhead managed by the organization.  So, suggesting that social media tools will put organizations themselves out of business is naïve.  Conversely, it would be foolish to ignore the impact of social media tools on organizations.