I’ve been reading a lot about how 2010 will be the year in which companies begin to take social media seriously – looking for bigger ideas, throwing real money at it and demanding greater proof of ROI. That’s great. It’s definitely time we moved beyond counting Facebook Fan Page friends, You Tube channel views or Twitter followers and presenting them as evidence of how the company has successfully ‘joined the conversation’.
I’m being facetious. Many companies are doing much more than this. Here’s a reasonable example of what’s currently in play in a Fortune 100 company near you. See if it sounds familiar.
The interactive guys in the marketing department are working with an outside vendor providing SM monitoring services to get a real-time view of who’s talking about the company, where, and about what so that they can engage key influencers with some high value branded content to create brand advocates. They have web-based access to the results. The PR department has that too – although they work with a different tool because they have different needs – real-time reputation and crisis management. They’re engaging with some key influencers too so that the CEO can get new outlets for the latest book he wrote.
At the same time the R&D team is building a community to engage key influencers in co-creation of the company’s latest service offering, and the insights and results are amazing. And then we just heard the Corporate Communications team (different from PR – these guys oversee the corporate magazine) have launched a new site to promote how green and sustainable the company’s production and supplier processes are and are engaging key influencers to spread the word around the blogosphere.
There’s also a rumor that HR has blessing for Twitter and community-type functionality to be built into the corporate intranet so employees can tweet and chat with each other around the ‘virtual water cooler’ (nobody’s really clear what that one’s about).
Meanwhile the IT department (Jeez are those guys slow or what, can you believe how many people they have down there?) is trying to figure out how to integrate the resulting 15 landing pages into the mothership site in a way that doesn’t crash the entire system while still providing all those non-techie types (Marketing, PR, Corp Comm, HR, etc) what they say they need (“consistent look and feel”, “a logical ‘pay off'”, links to the e-biz system and tagging throughout so they can each prove their ROI).
Of course there’s more going on. Some we know about, some we don’t. People in different departments have different budgets and different needs. They start different projects and report different results to different bosses. Nothing gets shared.
Guess what. The customer sees it all, especially those all-important ‘key influencers’. All this disconnected ‘stuff’. It doesn’t make sense. They’re confused, irritated. They say so on Twitter. Thousands retweet it. #FAIL in the lingo.
Some very smart people in the company see this going on (via their monitoring tools) and are worried and frustrated by it. But they’re not empowered to make a difference. Meetings are held at which presentations to this effect are given and senior managers discuss the idea of integration. Then they leave the meeting and think private thoughts about what ‘integration’ might actually mean for them. Loss of control, budgets, status. Mythical gain, real pain. And in any case nobody at a really senior level is demanding they figure it out. Yet.
We’ve said it before in this space. Change is hard. Companies are organized like they are for very good reasons. Unfortunately they’re very good reasons from 1990. The world’s changed – media, consumers, expectations. Companies are changing too. But is it fast enough? Is there a plan? A vision? A process? If what I’ve described above sounds like your company then I’d confidently (but delicately) say the answer is no.
So what’s to do? Here’s my favorite answer: it depends. Well it does. It depends on the company – size, business sector, customers, other stakeholders, level of CEO engagement, political realities (usually some function of how engaged the CEO is), etc, etc. There are, however, a number of constants that are true enough for all companies that they provide a solid foundation for beginning the process of ‘integrating social’. Here are 10.
1: First off, there’s no such thing as a social media strategy. The web is social, social is the web. There is such a think as a digital strategy. It expresses how the company goes to market online. In all forms and for all purposes.
2: The only thing that matters is how the customer sees the company. Companies exist to serve customers. To do that successfully they must understand them – their needs, views and context – and engage them. The ones that do this most successfully will win. The web provides enormous opportunities (and internal interest) because it’s where customers are researching, buying, congregating and sharing opinion. Becoming truly customer-centric is a transformational process for companies used to the command and control status quo. The need to ‘integrate social media’ can be the first step on a road to achieve transformation.
3: There are many internal stakeholders who legitimately believe they own a piece of the digital customer. The problem is that they’re not organized or thinking in a way that optimizes customer experience. One way or another, key silo leaders must come together and learn to collaborate and share in order to deliver the best customer experience. Initially this process needs a driver (digital expert), a mentor (enlightened silo lead) and a sponsor (ideally in the C-suite).
4: Form a small working group of department leads. Ensure a mandate is in place to deliver a working solution with deadlines agreed. Participants must include all relevant players – Marketing, IT, CSR, Corp Comm, PR, Business Units, Sales – anyone internally who oversees teams that interact with customers.
5: Agree clear goals. Ideally these should ladder up to agreeing a holistic web GTM plan for the company that includes all aspects including social, mobile, marketing sites, PR, the mothership site, e-biz – the works.
6: Establish a manifesto of shared beliefs. Start pure.
7: Work to a three-year rolling plan with agreed (initially monthly, then 6-monthly) milestones. The details will change as the technological circumstances do but one thing’s for sure – the customer isn’t likely to be getting any weaker in the future.
8: Segment the plan by stakeholders – both external and internal. What are their needs? How will those needs best be served? What is the digital ecosystem by which those needs will be served? How are those digital presences connected? Is it logical? What should our content strategy be to serve each stakeholder? How will these new needs be served internally? How will we ensure continual learning and optimization? What are the metrics that matter? How can we become collectively accountable? To what and who?
9: Don’t try to change organizational structure too fast. The current organization may be sub-optimal but it has the advantage of being in place and working. Use it as the basis for development. Establish an (empowered) cross-silo team of the best and brightest to execute the plan. That team will likely be the genesis of the future.
10: Here’s the self-serving bit. Work with an outside expert. Why? Because the nature of a company often means it’s difficult to think and act objectively, especially when trying to achieve significant change. An independent 3rd party can help guide and positively influence the process, building one success at a time to a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
The overall approach to this initiative should be to keep things do-able week to week but to be able to turn around in a year or 18 months and be stunned by how much progress has been made. Sooner or later every company will have to do this. First movers will benefit.