Avoid Misunderstandings: Corporations & Social Media

I’ve been meeting with many communications and marketing executives of large enterprises over the last several weeks.  The goal has been to introduce myself as the new SVP of digital/social media at Weber Shandwick and discuss social media.  It’s been a fantastic and valuable learning experience.

I’m finding three common threads:

  • Communications professionals at corporations are getting a lot of pressure to start using social media.
  • Corporations – especially the really large ones – have a hierarchical and bureaucratic structure that can limit the effectiveness of social media
  • Communications professionals have been bombarded with information about social media but don’t know where to start

The good news is that there is an eagerness to participate.  Most corporations are beginning to realize the value of communicating via the web.  While

Heres my social media risk assessment - with authority!

Here's my social media risk assessment - with authority!

they tend to get focused on single platforms like Twitter or Facebook, they do seem to understand that social media isn’t a trend – but a movement.  A shift away from the communications and marketing status quo.

Here is some advice for corporate communicators as they wade into the social media pool.  Please feel free to add your own advice:

1. Listen first

It is easy to open a Twitter account or create a Facebook page.  But doesn’t it make sense to first listen to what people – customers, clients, employees, analysts, pundits, stockholders, and partners – are already saying about you on these channels?  Wouldn’t it make sense to find out where people are talking about you? Why would you open up a brand-new communications channel without fully understanding the landscape?  That’s like jumping blindly off a cliff and hoping there’s water below you.

2. Learn, learn, learn

Social media isn’t marketing.  It’s communication.  That’s why it’s important to find out everything you can about social media and its different channels.  Etiquette and culture differ from Digg.com to MySpace.  Buy books.  Read social media blogs.  Hire a trusted social media consultant.  Talk to peers.  Go to a social media conference.  Experiment by starting a personal blog or Twitter account.  Open a LinkedIn page.  Participate and engage.  The more you learn the better off you’ll be when you’re company is ready to start using social media.

3. Strategy comes before tactics

When corporations embark on a new marketing or PR campaign they meticulously plan it — making sure to align it with business goals, create messages and talking points, review target audiences and then create the content.  Why then are so many corporate communicators tempted to just wing it with social media?  Why would you create a Facebook page without an overall social media strategy?  In fact, how do you know if Facebook is even the best place to begin?  Social media is like any other communications or marketing channel and works best when you have a strategy (and some specific goals and expectations) behind it.

4. Set realistic expectations

Don’t believe the hype.  Social media isn’t a silver bullet.  There are many examples of companies that have used social media to great business impact, but there are many others who have used social media to no effect at all.  Like any other communications channel, social media is only as good as the overall strategy, effort and content created for it.  Maintaining a Facebook page, creating a presence on Twitter and starting a thought leadership blog are all difficult, time-consuming tasks.  So set realistic expectations for maintaining a social media strategy and make sure your C-suite understands the benefits and the detriments to engaging in social media.

5. Understand the risks – and the benefits

As I’ve written before: the one guarantee about social media?  You’ll eventually make a mistake.  And you’ll get negative feedback.  But the true measure of a company isn’t the mistake or the bad feedback – it is how they respond to it.  So it is important that your corporate leadership understand how social media works – and that eventually there will come moments of squirming and discomfort.  Buy in from your executives is crucial and so is preparing them properly for any hiccups along the way.  But also make sure they understand the enormous benefits and share with them case studies from companies that have gotten fantastic results from blogging, tweeting and Facebooking.

2 Responses to “Avoid Misunderstandings: Corporations & Social Media”

  1. Hi George,
    First of all, congrats on your new position. Have you been finding from your conversations that companies are trying to replace established marketing tactics and metrics (# of prospects, lead conversion, # of PR mentions, etc) with a social media approach (keeping the metrics the same) as a way to save money? What advice have you been giving them? I have my theories and I would like to hear your experience.

    Have a great holiday!

  2. Thanks Joe:
    I haven’t observed many companies having the desire to replace marketing and communications with an exclusive social media approach. I’m in agreement with Weber Shandwick’s inline approach of integrating social media into existing programs and campaigns (which is one of the reasons why I joined the team here). And that’s the approach I advise clients.

    Measuring social media through an exclusive “ROI” approach also remains murky. While you can definitely measure web hits, downloads, views, mentions, etc., I don’t think that tells the full story of social media’s potential impact.

    For example, how does a retailer measure the effect of a polite and knowledgeable sales staff? How much do those attributes add to the bottom line? And to contrary how does a rude and uninterested sales staff negatively effect sales? We all know those things matter – but how much? And how do you measure it?

    Social media has some of those same intangibles. When you engage on a more personal level – good things tend to happen. But those good things can be difficult to measure.

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