Attending the Social Media for Government conference yesterday, a breakout activity occurred which had four groups discussing issues of access, measurement, governance and culture.  Not many people wanted to discuss access issues so four of us reluctantly took to the task.  I tweeted off-hand that access was really the lowest link on the chain of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Social Media Needs because that’s like breathing. Upon reflection, however, I don’t think I was correct.

What I’ve sketched here is how I think a social media strategy for an organization, public or private, small or large, has to work.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Organizational Social Media Needs

Goals (Physiological)

Quite simply, without business goals, you’re dead in the water when it comes to making social media work, internally or externally.  What is it that you want to do?  If you can’t answer this question, there’s simply no point in doing anything else because if you don’t know, there’s no way your co-workers, bosses or would-be customers will know either.

Governance (Safety & Security)

If you’ve figured out the things you want to do, the stories you want to see played out by the people who will use social media for (or with) your organization, then we get from the “what” to the “how.”  Chances are there isn’t ever going to be one giant tool that you’re going to leverage; rather, there’s going to be an ecosystem of tools that enable different capabilities — different plot points in your user’s stories — each telling the tale that gets to the goals you’ve set out.  A good governance model isn’t one (IMHO) that tells you what you can’t do — it’s a model that tells you HOW TO do the things you’ve identified as valuable.  My suggestion here is to not get too specific with the “tool” and be more specific with the activity.  This focus allows you to change tools later on, consolidate, expand, etc.  Focusing on the capabilities and what kinds of activities enable them here is the right approach.

Community (Love & Belonging)

If you have goals, then you know what you want to see happen.  If you have governance, you’ll have made it clear how you want to enable it. Until you have community, there’s no reason why any of it will stick.

Community is complex, and like with Maslow’s actual Hierarchy of Needs, there’s a lot of people who never get past this phase, so it’s not too weird to me that social media efforts don’t often get past this phase, too.  Even if all you have is one business goal and you’re using just one tool to make it happen, once you throw end-users into the mix, all “nature” of social forces come to play, because by definition, “community” is a collection of people who interact in the same environment.  A sense of “belonging” has to be present for people to stay in the community, and just like everywhere else where people inhabit, there will be a social economy, where people are the product and the “social capital” is respect and trust.

Bottom line is that if you have a community, that provides people with a sense of belonging and opportunity to earn social capital, you’ll have people stick with it.

Collaboration (Esteem)

Now you have goals, you have a means to accomplish them and a community that is clicking along, providing your members with a sense of belonging and the opportunities to build and exchange in some social capital.  Rock on!

Now what do the members of your community do TOGETHER?

Remember when I wrote Community is complex (like two paragraphs above?)? Collaboration is fuzzier, and that’s because (I suspect) many communities don’t get to this level, so there’s a whole bunch of us who may not recognize it on sight. So rather than give you my normal academic take, let me try and describe it in the wild.

The community that has formed on Twitter around #lrnchat is pretty vibrant.  Every week, there are now at least 150 individual contributors to three hours of schedule conversation around this hashtag, and who knows how many lurkers and readers of the transcripts that come after-the-event.  The community has matured as the #lrnchat continues, and it is now (hard to believe) almost two years old.  You have a lot of elements of community within it: participants feel a sense of belonging; there’s a strong sense of social capital being earned in a meritocracy of ideas; there are easy memes to catch onto and a seemingly limitless opportunity for new voices to emerge.

Something else has started to happen behind the scenes, though — evidence that out of the #lrnchat community, collaboration is taking form.  People are helping each other write blog posts and articles, find opportunities for public speaking and presenting, meeting up in real life, find employment — this is collaboration.  Individuals are putting themeselves and their ideas out into the community, and when others find that it scratches an itch, collaborations begin. I look at Marcia Conner’s book and Jane Bozarth’s book, and I see name after name of contributors and references of people we all know from #lrnchat.  This isn’t a coincidence.  The people who are part of #lrnchat are co-creating.

Win (Actualization)

When you can understand how members of your community are collaborating, then you are ready to harness the full potential of the community.  Collectively, your organization can tackle bigger and bigger problems and accept harder truths because you have an organization that solves problems all the time now.  I’m not implying this is at all easy — but if your organization has progressed this far up the ladder, all you can do now is help to remove the barriers the community sees to meet the goals you set out to do.

The Universe

In the above sketch, you probably notice that there are some forces constraining (and guiding) that path to “win.”  These are neutral forces that can accelerate, decelerate, expand or constrain the potential of your social media effort.  Again, this isn’t a solid thesis so please feel free in the comments below to question, extend or disagree with what I’m saying here.

Organizational Culture

Success in any social media effort (any effort at all really) is dependent on sponsorship by the most senior person you can get.  The higher up the ladder you get vocal, visible buy-in, the more likely the boundary conditions for success are.  Why? Because the scope of recognized authority that buys in to your social media effort creates the authority bubble that people can work within.  If it’s just your manager who’s bought in, then sure — the people under your manager might go for your microsharing solution, but you won’t be able to count on anybody else ever hearing about it.  If the CEO signs on and champions it, then you’re going to get all sorts of people from around the organization to want in, too.

Organizational Culture is more than just buy-in from executive leadership — it’s about the willingness to sustain and work through hurdles, complications and failures.  Because (and I still learn this lesson), even with the best laid plans, things are prone to just not go your way.  Your organizational culture has to be able to tolerate bumps in the road, and have the spine to forge ahead even when it’s not clear and easy.

Long-Term Vision

Many organizations want to get into social media because they think it’s a fast buck and a silver bullet out of the economic mess we’re in today.  I’m not saying it never happens that way, but…. it never happens that way. Social Media is a window into the soul of your organization.  It becomes clear really fast as to what the real goals are.  If the goals have a short time-to-live (TTL), then you’re going to get a lot fewer adopters and users and champions in your community than if your goals are far reaching.  People might commit their time and effort into a community where they see a long tail of return on their investment of energy and love.

Constraints of Reality

Some organizations that are looking to do Social Media are part of a government, and there are realities you have to contend with in terms of records management, access to tools or platforms (even those that are free).  There are always cracks and seams in these blankets of constraints, which is how change in the system happens — but it never happens if you’re not ready for it with identified goals, governance plans, etc.

I had a talk with a peer the other day about the differences between toys and games, and the difference he noted (summoning Wil Wright) was that a toy is just there — but when you put constraints on a toy, it becomes a game.  I like to think of social media in the same way. You can use it for lots of things, but when you have constraints to work within, it can become a powerful tool to transform you, the people you work with, the causes you work for and the lives that are touched by them.

4 replies on “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Organizational Social Media Needs”