THE BLOG

#Winning at Social Media

04/08/2011 03:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2011
  • Brett King Startup Founder and Bestselling Author

It's interesting that whenever a major disruptor like social media, the Internet, etc. comes along, inevitably there are many traditional managers and practitioners who don't understand it and label it as a 'fad'.

Just because you don't understand something personally, doesn't mean it is a fad. That's the realization that industry is going through right now, that is -- social media isn't a fad, it isn't going away, we need to deal with it. Just because we don't understand what the fuss is about doesn't mean our customers won't use it, and if they're talking about us we better be listening.

No Facebook allowed here, unless you're a marketer
So the first trick with social media and how it's going to effect the business is learning about how it works. The knee jerk reaction for most banks when social media came along was two fold; The first was to try to figure out how to dump traditional advertising and PR campaigns down the pipe. The second was to shut down any access internally within the organization because it was risky for employees to talk directly to the public, and also because it was feared there would be wholesale time wastage from staff playing Farmville and other sorts of unproductive, non-work related tasks.

The problem with this mindset is that is was fundamentally wrong. Primarily, the organization was prevented from learning about the real capability of social media, and this hampered the brand from creating advocacy and engaging customers. Additionally, the reality was that employees were simply pushed away from the desktop internally to their mobile device and the risks that employers were hoping to prevent by shutting off access weren't prevented they were simply pushed outside of a controlled environment.

Social Media ROI is not a marketing metric
The marketing-led thinking about attempts to control or spin the brand message out through social media characterized as just another broadcast channel, are also fundamentally flawed. Social media is more akin to a dialog with your broader customer audience, not a channel for slamming more corporate comms or campaigns down customer's throats. Thus, the traditional marketing metrics don't apply either.

The ROI of Social Media is that your business will still exist in 5 years -- Erik Qualman, Socialnomics

I was pleased to see the response of Hakan Aldrin, MD of the Benche at SEB in the recent Finextra Social Media conference when asked if he has numbers to prove the value of his social media community platform he replied, "No. That's not what it's for."

What is Social Media for?
It's a dramatic opportunity to listen to what your customers are saying and form useful strategies for advocacy, to inform product and marketing strategies based on real-time feedback from customers and it is increasingly a very powerful servicing tool. While there has been some viral marketing success on social media, if it social media is classified as a marketing tool or channel within your organization it means two things:

  1. You don't understand the two-way dialog nature of social media, and
  2. You have too many traditional marketing people in your marketing team today

So now that we know social media isn't a fad - what happens next?

Who's responsible?
One of the biggest challenges is figuring out who is going to manage social media internally in the business today. Often this falls to some junior marketing staffer, maybe someone in the online team or perhaps a corporate communications or PR team member. All of these decisions would be wrong.

Social media can be used to build brand and advocacy, support and service customers, research new strategies, design new products, create new markets, and to educate and inform. This is going to require a whole kaleidoscope of supporting skills sets and capabilities underneath to do this properly. So if you limit it to being pigeonholed into the current organization structure, somewhere along the line your social media strategy is going to be deficient.

Do you have a head of call center? Where does he sit in the organization chart? The head of social media should be at least equivalent in the organization chart to this resource. Why? If a customer like Ann Minch, David Carroll decides to target your brand because of poor service, bad policy or just plain ignorance, your share price is going to start to take a hit.

The strategy shouldn't be to try to shut it down or attempting to force employees to refrain from social media activity. When Commonwealth Bank attempted this it backfired badly. The strategy needs to be one of informed engagement and encouraging positive use.

Mobilizing the forces
Jaime Punishill of Thomson Reuters made some fantastic points at his recent SXSW panel on Social Media. He showed the tricky balance of building budget for the rarely understood medium, and protecting the organization from risk and itself. While realistic in his reflections on how Citibank, his previous employer, dealt with social media, his musings showed that every major organization needs a more open engagement approach on this front. This is exactly the sort of thinking we need from major brands like Thomson Reuters.

The biggest risk businesses face today is clearly reputational risk associated with a social media blowout. You need someone in charge with common sense, but also with the organizational wherewithal to actually get something done. This is not a junior role. You need a policy that encourages participation across the organization, but that provides strong guidelines, supported by training, on how to engage customers and how to support the brand through social media. But most of all you need a mechanism to take what you hear from your social media listening post and inform strategy, change policy and improve customer experience. That is the potential of social media that is so underutilized today.