Business as Usual is Easy. Breaking Silos is Hard

This post originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of the College of Association Marketing newsletter.

More and more, producing breakthrough results in your marketing and communications campaigns depends on your ability to destroy the silos in your organization.

Yes, YOUR ability.

Every new communications channel requires us to confront the silos in our organization. For example, when we all were publishing our first websites 15 or so years ago, we knew we had to present a unified face to our members and the public. Mostly, our initial solutions were to build sites that looked like our org charts – department by department.

Eventually, though, we came to see the limitations of the org chart website – our members don’t know our org charts, and they don’t care. However, they DO care about getting something done on our sites – register for a conference, find some content, whatever. Eventually, we learned to build sites that reflect the way our members use websites.

But to get there, we had to break apart our department-centric mentality. We had to show how members had trouble finding content. We had to prove to business leaders that they get BETTER business results by organizing materials they way our MEMBERS conceive it, not the way the staff conceives it. It was a victory for silo busting, but the war continued.

Next, when we started employing enterprise-level email marketing and newsletters systems, and we had to have similar conversations. If we tolerated the silo approach, everyone could send email whenever they wanted, and we’d become our members’ worst spammers.

With a careful strategy that acknowledges our collective responsibility for treating the email channels properly, we get better business results through the proper use of email than by spamming; more is not better. But that required an intensive focus on business objectives, strategies and tactics. It was a tough battle, but silo busting won again.

Now, many of us are trying to develop an enterprise approach to social media – moving past the stage of experimentation to business integration. This again means that the association’s various business units must talk together, and align on goals, strategy and tactics. It means treating the channel properly. Without these conversations, our social channels devolve into a cacophony rather than a conversation.

Business as usual is easy. Breaking down silos is hard. It means reallocating resources and budgets – the currencies of organizational power. But if you want to produce breakthrough results in your association, breaking down silos could be the most important thing you do. It disrupts the core of our organization’s culture, and gets us working together smarter and better.

There’s no magic pill. There’s only one way revolutions happen – one conversation at a time. For example, talk to the membership marketing director and learn her specific business goals. Show her what’s working, and not working. Be the pathfinder – show her how she can do better, working in a new way. Address the worries and concerns – and resolve them. Then move on to the next person.

Do this meticulously early in a project, and get the important people on board, and you’re not swimming upstream anymore. You are creating a revolution – and the rest of the organization is on your side.


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