Office Culture As Social Media (AKA How-To Become Part of a Culture)

I’m working on site for a new client this week. We are thinking about online and social media strategies (officially), but I am thinking (actually) about working in an office environment versus working in my own office. I’ve worked on-site for clients from time-to-time and it’s very disorienting initially, then it becomes very comfortable – just about the time to leave.

Interesting that this week we are working on social media strategies. Because the culture of an office is definitely a social structure – i.e. a media – and it offers some lessons about how to think about a social (or any other) media strategy. Here are 5 ways that you can become a part of a culture (online or otherwise):

1. Learn the language. Every culture has a language all its own. Duh, I know this is a bit obvious. But it’s not the English vs. Spanish kind of language that makes a difference. It’s the knowing that on a movie set a clothespin is called a C-47 kind of language that matters. This goes way beyond just knowing the text messaging shortcuts that your kids are using, and into the nomenclature of an industry and the secret handshake language of particular departments in large corporations. It’s how we spot newbies. And if you are new, you will say the wrong thing. Humility says to ask first. And humility works in almost all cultures (any culture you’d want to be a part of anyway).

2. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Going with learning the language is asking people about themselves or about topics you know they love or are knowledgeable about. How will you know? By listening. This is the most powerful technology is the social media ecosystem – listening tools. From Google Alerts to radian6 to Motive Quest, these tools help you listen to the conversations going on. It is de facto understood online that people are listening. It’s a public space. If you are invited to the party, then you are welcome to mingle and listen in. The web gives you tools to listen to all the conversations. And you should. If you care what people are saying about you.

3. Get to know people. But just listening without engaging is a bit creepy if you do it for a long time. We call them stalkers in the real world. People who hover around just watching you, but never introducing themselves. The online space has some Orwellian possibilities to be sure, but smart companies, brands and people (was that redundant?) are now listening and finding the relevant conversations to join. Then they are coming in graciously and finding out what is going on, learning the language, and seeing who is leading the conversation (because it’s not them).

4. Learn the stories of the place. Language and literature (i.e. the stories) are the foundations of all cultures. It’s how identity, values, beliefs, etc. are passed from generation to generation. Every culture has its stories – especially the web. Urban legends are almost exclusively born on the web these days and now pass H1N1 like through social media connections. Origin stories, war stories, failures, successes – these are the classics of any office culture. Bloggers all have posts that are all time favorites of readers. Knowing what stories are being told in a culture – especially if that culture is about your brand/company – is critical.

5. Then introduce yourself (in more detail). Only after you have an understanding of the people, the language, and the stories in a culture will people want to really know who you are. People want to know you get them before they will want to hear anything you have to say. People want to be listened to, to be understood. This is universal and not unique to any medium. It’s the human medium. It’s relationship 101. And it’s important if you are introducing yourself that you are a person vs. a brand. People can like a brand, but no matter what marketing gurus tell us, they cannot have a relationship with a brand or an organization. They may relate to it, but that does not make it a relationship.