Corporate Bureaucracy and Social Media

It’s disappointing not to see brands leveraging the social media and mobile marketing opportunities awaiting their arrival. Unfortunately, we’re still having conversations about whether or not brands should be publishing, posting, tweeting or rewarding people for shopping at your store.

My wife and I discussed this topic on our way home from the mall this afternoon. She was asking me about why companies think themselves out of doing these things. A simple question with an unwarranted complicated answer. There are many reasons companies think themselves out of doing remarkable things, but the excuses I’ve listened to and observed can be described as follows.


The intent of a bureaucracy is to implement the actions of an organization in achieving its purpose and mission at the greatest possible efficiency and the least cost of any resources. A concept shaped during the Industrial Revolution nearly 200 years ago. In this context, its focus on efficiency and limiting resources makes sense. Industrial workers in factories exuded every effort to produce widgets as quickly as possible, while minimizing the possibilities of bottlenecks. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, technological advancements resulted in automation. Machines were created and more widgets were produced in less time.

Mission accomplished. Produce more in less time as cheaply as possible.

Corporate Bureaucracy

Companies oftentimes use corporate bureaucracy as the excuse for why they’ve yet to open up their brand socially. Social media and mobile accessibility worries these companies because it exposes a brand’s true meaning and its intentions. It forces brands to back up what they believe in through the stories they tell. It allows people to conveniently find reasons to believe (or not) in a company and the purpose it serves in their lives. According to them, not to what they’re being told.

Purpose Before Structure

The issue isn’t whether or not a company has the appropriate structure (e.g., bureaucracy) to implement the actions to achieve its purpose and mission. The issue is whether not the company has truly defined its purpose and mission. Without a purpose and mission, bureaucracies are irrelevant. There’s nothing to implement.

Bureaucracy and Social Media

Without a purpose, a brand’s possibilities are limited. The brand is vulnerable. And social media excites vulnerability. Which is where everything breaks down. There are always multiple excuses for not participating in social media. The fear of communicating in real-time. The worry that social media limits employee productivity. The obsession with getting every post approved by legal and corporate PR. But, contrary to popular belief, corporate bureaucracy is not to blame for your guarded social media efforts. As you may recall, bureaucracies are supposed to be focused on producing more in less time as cheaply as possible. Social media allows for this. It gives brands the chance to produce more in less time (real-time, actually). It also offers brands a potentially cheaper alternative to traditional communication means (assuming the brand drives content creation and publishing efforts, not your agency partner).

If you find yourself using the corporate bureaucracy excuse to justify your lack of progress in creating the social and mobile experiences people are looking for, stop. Start thinking about what’s holding you back and why. My guess is it’s because your company is having a difficult time self-identifying and adjusting to what people expect out of relationships with brands in today’s socially mobile environment.