Take a Systems Approach. Banning the BS from Social Media Part 2.

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A little while ago we established and shared our 10 Commandments for Banning the BS from Social Media.  Yeah, we think they make sense and we know what, we mean.  But, we wanted to explicitly explain each one, so that you’ll be able to understand what we mean when we say “Take a Systems Approach”, and, more importantly so that you can share your thoughts and questions with us.

This is Part 2 of a 10 part series exploring how to Ban the BS from Social Media. The series looks at some of the key elements for successfully implementing a Social Media and Social Business Strategy.

PART 2: Take a Systems Approach

In Part 1 of this series, “Strategy, Why? comes before Technology, How?” I wrote about the difference between Social Media and Social Business.  What my definition of Social Business and all other definitions have in common, is, that they require an increased level of openness and for the organization to “Take a Systems Approach”.


Two months ago I was trying to swap ISP’s, looking for a better option. I actually tried to swap for quite a long time – 23 days in total, making lots of phone calls, speaking to several departments, none of whom had any idea what the other was doing, and yes had calls where I was told the wrong thing and one where I was abused by the operator.  I was even offered over $300 in credit as compensation for an experience that did its best to rival getting a root canal.

So, in the end, I told them to forget it and retained my existing ISP, who, whilst a little more expensive, offers great service and the added bonus, I’ve never had to speak with more than 1 person to get something done or resolve a problem. The ISP I tried but failed to switch to, still sends me bills for $0 for a service that was never connected. Great example of the left hand not talking to the right.

If instead of the Left Hand not speaking to the Right Hand, the ISP had thought about the Whole System and how it impacts customers, how different my experience would have been?  If they had Taken a Systems Approach and the Sales, Finance, Connections, Tech Support and Escalations Teams had worked together to provide integrated experience focused on customer service, they would have undoubtedly gotten my business.

In nature, the System is one in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish.  Sounds a bit like some tree huggin’ hippy crap, but bear with me. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes, both internal and external to the organization that work together to make it healthy or unhealthy, read profitable or insolvent.

I was first introduced to Systems Thinking at a BioTech company in the Agriculture Sector.  They took a Systems Biology approach to improving the quality and productivity of Agricultural commodities, Beef, Dairy Cattle and Cereal Crops, like Wheat.

Eat More Chicken

What did this look like?  Taking Dairy Cattle as an example, the aim might be to improve the quantity and quality of milk produced. One approach could be, to just look at the Cow and try to breed better cows by sticking your best bull in a paddock with your best cows and waiting to see which of the next generation of cows produce the most and highest quality milk.

Alternatively you can explore the whole system and look for ways to improve and accelerate your chances of success.  The whole system, in this instance, includes the genetics of the animals, the bugs that grow in their gut , on the plants and soil they graze on, the food, supplements and water they eat, the temperature and other climatic conditions they are exposed to.

Carbon Tax

Taking this approach results in massive data sets for each variable that need to be analysed to look for causality.  Only recently have we had the computing power and technologies to start analysing such complex systems, giving more transparency and helping us begin to understand and find the pressure points to work on for the most benefit.

Similarly only recently have the Social Media tools been available for us to push a Systems Approach harder and faster within business.  This can help us work with a System, toward achieving our Strategic Goals, our Why?  For the Dairy Cows the Strategic goal is not just the highest production and quality of milk, but also a sustainable future for the Dairy Industry.

To take this to the ultimate conclusion it has to be recognized that the production system is also a system within a system, a commercial system.  There is no point in having a world class production system if the commercial system it rests within has no way of adopting and implementing the outcomes of the research and then marketing the end product to a consumer that is willing to pay a profitable price for it.

For more on Systems Thinking check out this video or head to the Wiki on Systems Thinking:


To take a Systems Approach you need to look beyond the Customer and consider all the other stakeholders in your system, the Employee, the Investor, the Supplier and how to achieve the best experience for everyone.

Zappos, takes Social Business and a Systems Approach to the next level.  Zappos is an online shoe retailer started in 1999 and sold to Amazon for over $1B in 2009.

Case Study: Zappos takes a Systems Thinking Approach by openning up Inventory System to Suppliers.

If you can Think about your System and how you can open it up, it can have great benefit.  Zappos looked at their relationship with suppliers and decided there had to be a better way. Something more than just screwing suppliers for the lowest possibe price and kicking them out the door.  It just wasn’t fun for anyone.  So what did they do …. they held a party (now a ‘must go’ annual event) for their suppliers to thank them for supporting Zappos.  

Zappos Powered by TweetsThen Zappos took the radical step of opening up their inventory system to key Suppliers and allowing them direct access to manage stock.  The impacts: instead of having 1 employee manage a few supplier brands they could manage many. Placing their trust in Suppliers, strengthened the relationship.  The Suppliers had a vested interested in working hard for Zappos. They also felt good when they did, as compared with other retailers with whom they had purely transactional relationship.  So guess who’s getting the best deals, special one off products and a whole lot of attention from their suppliers?

This in turn provided Zappos’ customers with a unique and valued offering, stable supply and increased sales for the business.

Zappos, has taken a Systems Thinking Approach, considering how to best motivate different parts of the supply chain to more efficiently achieve their desired result.

The advancement of Social Technologies has expanded the systems we live and work in and provides an opportunity for business to innovate and prosper within a rapidly evolving system.

You don’t have to take it as far as Zappos have, but, if for example your going to use Social Media for customer service THINK ABOUT THE WHOLE SYSTEM.  Make sure the left hand is talking to the right. Bring the people that man the phones, your bricks and mortar staff, the finance crew etc in on the plan, provide them with the tools to work together and support each other, so that they can play their part in promoting and supporting your program.

Top Tips:

  1. Take a Systems Approach. Think about both your immediate system and the systems it may rest within.
  2. Think about all of your people, Staff, Investors, Supply Chain etc not just Customers.
  3. Think about the benefits and impacts for all areas of your business not just Marketing and PR and include the appropriate people in the program.

We’ll be publishing Case Studies with great examples of Businesses being Social to benefit different components of their business and the system they exist in, so stay tuned!

Next up:

Part 3: Make sure the Boundaries are Clear.

Precious posts in this series:

Part 1: Strategy, Why? comes before Technology, How?

What can you do to “Take a Systems Approach” with your business?

As always we’d love to hear: What you think? Any questions you have? So, leave a comment and follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our blog or RSS feed to stay up to date with this Series on Banning the BS from Social Media and other blog posts.

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