A 1966 White Plymouth station wagon.  Not exactly a sexy car for a teenager, but when I got that first car back in 1978, I thought it was somewhat beyond the realm of cool – like Sydney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. Placing a large plastic lobster on the dashboard gave me the feeling of being even artistic.  The great American gas shortage of 1973 had come and gone, and gas was still under a buck a gallon.

That gas shortage drove a lot of Americans to buying the smaller more fuel-efficient Japanese cars.  “Made in Japan” had been synonymous with being less than stellar – but bit by bit, that reputation was being overcome by this new generation of automobiles.  Ford’s Pinto and AMC’s Gremlin did little to bolster American’s enthusiasm for the home goods. By the early 80’s, Japanese automobile manufacturers were building plants in the US, and by 2000, Japan was the leading manufacturer of cars in the world.

How the Japanese transformed not only the automobile industry, but consumer electronics and other segments, is a story that actually links back to my previous blog posts about the scientific management movement. In Italy, all roads may lead to Rome, but in the history of American business, all roads lead back to the telegraph, railroads, and electricity.

Western Electric had evolved from the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, which in turn evolved from Western Union.  Besides the manufacturing of telegraph equipment, Western Electric even had a contract for a brief period manufacturing an electric pen for Thomas Edison. An interesting side note: Western Electric was the first company to join in a Japanese joint venture, investing in Nippon Electric Company in 1899.

The company was also a pioneering advocate of the scientific management methodologies of Frederick W. Taylor.  In the 1920’s, an engineer Walter A. Shewhart developed the first “Control Chart”, a tool used still used in business process and manufacturing for the modeling statistical controls. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) adopted Shewhart’s charts, and even advocated their use in World War II to improve production.

Do I dare add yet another side note? The ASTM was founded by Charles Dudley, a chemist who worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The metallurgical and chemical makeup of rails was becoming a large factor in premature rail breakage. That’s how we get the railroad in the story, along with the fact that the telegraph became widespread due to the railroad, and Thomas Edison worked on the railroads as a telegraph operator.

Two Americans, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran were heavily influenced by Shewhart’s works.  Independently of one another, both were invited to Japan in the early 50’s to lecture on quality control. The concepts of quality control were well-received in Japan – and were partly responsible for kicking off a quality revolution in Japan.

Some of Juran’s thinking could be valuable in our thinking about processes for social media.  The main points of his “quality trio” were:

  • Quality Planning: from customer needs to product/service to meet needs.
  • Quality Improvement: developing and improving capable processes.
  • Quality Control: making the process work in normal operating conditions with minimal interruptions.

W. Edwards Deming’s also provided many valuable thoughts to be applied to social media process.  Here are some selected points from his book, “Out of the Crisis”:

  • Create and communicate to all employees a statement of the aims and purposes of the company.
  • Adapt to the new philosophy of the day; industries and economics are always changing.
  • Build quality into a product throughout production.
  • End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone; instead, try a long-term relationship based on established loyalty and trust.
  • Work to constantly improve quality and productivity.
  • Institute on-the-job training.
  • Teach and institute leadership to improve all job functions.
  • Drive out fear; create trust.
  • Strive to reduce intradepartmental conflicts.
  • Eliminate exhortations for the work force; instead, focus on the system and morale.
  • Eliminate work standard quotas for production. Substitute leadership methods for improvement.
  • Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship
  • Educate with self-improvement programs.
  • Include everyone in the company to accomplish the transformation.

These thoughts could have come right out of the ClueTrain Manfesto!

Social Media Process is a newly developing area of thought. Fortunately, while the discipline is new, we can stand on the shoulders of these giants. The different schools of thought, or approaches, such as Total Quality Management (TQM), Sig Sigma, Lean, and Capability Maturity Model (CMM) all have something to teach us about our process development.

Back in the day when I drove my white Plymouth with the plastic lobster on the dashboard, the concept of social media wasn’t even, as my Father used to say, “A glimmer in the eye”. That car’s metal was long ago recycled (probably), and when I go shopping, the goods I buy were most likely manufactured in China, and are driven home in a Japanese car, partially manufactured here in the US. But as we “grok and suss” out the processes needed for social media, we’re looking to attitudes and processes that were developed to help the railroad and telegraph industries, and that then played pivotal roles in these transformations.

If you have any thoughts about the development of Social Media processes,  I’d love to hear from you! Please!


This entry was posted on Monday, April 18, 2011 and is filed under Digital Advertising, Social Media in Marketing.

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