Friday, November 6, 2009

The Twitter Tail Wagging the Corporate Dog

This article also appears in

Social Media Are the Means, Not the EndsWhile scanning through a long list of Twitter posts the other day, I saw a link to TechCrunch, a blog “dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies.” An entry by MG Siegler, “Comcast: Twitter Has Changed The Culture Of Our Company,” caught my attention.

Sure, technology can help drive cultural change. Think of the tools of war over the centuries or what the automobile has meant to society. The examples are endless. But the culture of a company?

Yes, according to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. In response to a question about the role Twitter was playing with the cable communications giant at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, he said “It has changed the culture of our company.” He backed that up by saying that Comcast uses Twitter to scan for complaints and engage with customers.

OK, maybe Mr. Roberts got caught up in the moment. After all, he was at a social media conference. And, it’s great that Comcast is using new tools (Facebook and other networks were mentioned) to address issues around customer service. However, this does not a culture make.

Tools support the strategy (and, thus, the objective), not the other way around. The tools of war support the policies of government. The automobile supports our mobility. You get the idea. Comcast delivers communications products and services. Its culture should be wrapped up in service delivery and excellence whether Twitter exists or not.

So, if Twitter really did change the culture at Comcast – all of a sudden becoming a company focused on customers and what they want – I wouldn’t be crowing about it. I’m guessing, but what may have happened was that seeing thousands of Twitter-fueled complaints was Comcast’s wake-up call. Twitter makes it easy to sound-off – much easier than having to find a telephone number to call, listen to the prompts, press 1, listen to some more prompts, press 4, and so on. Seeing this groundswell may have acted like a cyber-mirror and forced them to look at themselves, and reflect on who their customers are and how they conduct their business.

Web 2.0 offers us wonderful tools. We’re nowhere near realizing their potential or knowing how they will evolve. What should be known (and written in stone), though, is what our companies, institutions or organizations stand for. The decision to adopt a particular technology should only be made if it helps us achieve that end.

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Anonymous said...

As we all know, company "culture" is a complex thing and, as you point out, the use of new tools does not necessarily translate into a new overall strategy or even better every-day customer service. Perhaps, like too many CEOs, Mr Roberts is so insulated from the everyday that he simply doesn't know.

As an aside: If Comcast has changed its culture, this customer has not yet seen a difference.

Alan said...


I've posted in the past about how sometimes with social media - particularly Twitter - I can't help but get that old "1999-2000" feeling. Remember that time? It's when companies scoffed at the idea of profits. It was the "new economy" and everything was changing.

I think Twitter is a neat communication tool. But it's just that. It isn't changing corporate culture, or culture, period. It's just speeding it up.

Unknown said...

I don't see the problem with referring to Twitter use as a change of culture. I think it depends on the definition you want to give it, but I personally find this one to be pertinent:

"Culture = The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group." (source:

Using Twitter is a practice and perhaps even an attitude, so the shift from other channels to Twitter could be considered a change of corporate culture.