Social Media is a communications TOOL just like a fax machine, a cell phone or email
Lately I've been seeing more and more articles discussiing which department controls the message of Social Media: Marketing or PR? I actually was asking that question a year ago in an article entitled "Who leads the charge in Social Media? Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, Who Knows?" It's a year later and the various Social Media platforms have evolved with massive increases in adoption rates and a larger glaring problem has emerged: The very concept that Social Media is 'Marketing'. It's not. It's a communications tool.
As the platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and now G+ have evolved more and more marketing people have started to develop strategies to utilize the various platforms functionality. Strategy is useless without a tactical implementation plan. So marketers have developed Social Media editorial calendars that are built with the hope that the platforms don't change their API's and the dashboards actually post the message. The concern is more about will the technology continue to work when the real tactical quesiton is "how will it be utilized by our COMPANY.
This is where large company heirarchical structures tend to impede rather than help the effort. The reason Social Media works so well for smaller companies is because of the mere fact that they are smaller. The decision making and internal communications structure all lie with one or two people wearing multiple hats.
Large corporations tend to silo who controls what. The idea that "that's not in my wheelhouse" is taken for granted. Every department knows better than to stick their nose into someone elses 'area of expertise" That's where the problems begin with Social Media implementation.
But really there are two problems and I have to acknowledge the first before getting to the bigger problem facing Social Media implementation today. So here goes
Explaining how Social Media works
I had a discussion with the President of a pretty large organization about what he wanted to do with a specific Social Media platform. When he was finished explaining what he wanted to make happen he asked me "Can it do that?" I explained "Yes, it certainly could", BUT, the problem was the limited understanding of the "tool" he wanted to to do it with and how it functioned. I explained that if we compared the Social Media platform he was talking about to the the Navy he was essentially saying that he wanted to float his aircraft carrier up the Straight of Hormuz and then drive it into Baghdad. "Can it be done? Can you put wheels on the carrier and drive it?" Sure. But it's not the best solution. There's another platform that does that function you want better. So the first problem is a lack of understanding of the capabilities of the various platform amongst company managment. Anyone who manages Social Media for any amount of time realizes this. Just like the Navy has it's core competency so does the Army, Marines and Air Force. Getting them to work together in a unified front faceing effort is the key to success. That's the first problem. Unerstanding which tools are best suited to which capabilities and then which departments are best suited to perform the requirements.
Weapons upgrades and usage
In classical SWOT planning the "W" stands for "Weapons" not "Weakness". Social media platforms are tools or, more aptly, communications "weapons." Just like there needed to be an adoption and learning curve on the use of a fax machine, or email and now smart phone technology, the 'front line' customer facing force needs to be able to use the 'tech'. This is a massive undertaking and undermines the very foundation of corporate structures. We're talking about each business unit now being upgraded from flintlocks and wooden hulled ships to automatic weapons and smart bombs. As a result, the tried and true tactics by THOSE departments needs to correspondingly chnge and adapt.
In early 2011 we faced the dilemma of convincing the King to try out the new technologies and tools. In 2012 we now face the problem of convincing the warfighters in the field that the technology is good, but this makes many middle managers push back. It makes them uncomfortable. They see that lining up rows of their people with flintlocks is no longer viable with the new technology which they don't fully understand. They want to control the message and fear pushing down that messaging to the people in the field.
Let's take an example. If you're at a trade show the best thing you can do is post live from the show, Yet many of the people staffing booths have no idea what their companies twitter name is let alone if they have one. The person or team running the Social Media effort may not even know the people on the trade show floor let alone how to reach them for real time conversation.
We've seen B2C companies latch onto Social Media much faster than B2B companies. They've embraced it and started to use it. However, the online conversation is many times completely disconnected from their sales force, the customer service detpartment or their trade show staff. Those traditional front facing employees or channel partners have no idea of the message or that the online conversations eist. Imagine a company spending millions of dallars to advertise during the Super Bowl, engaging wonderfully with consumers in Social Media and explaining product features and details in online conversations. Consumers follow those discussions yet when asked about during a trade event about something that was read on Facebook or Twitter the response is "I don't have time for Facebook" or "We have a Twitter account?!?!"
What does that say to the consumer? Imagine in 1991 someone telling you "No we don't have a fax machine" or in 2001 saying "Our company doesn't use email" The customer loses confidence in the product. It sends a message that "marketing talks a good game but you guys don't really practice it"
The first hurdle is getting to managment and middle managment to understand what and how the Social Media tools function and their unique capabilities. The next hurdle facing companies using social media is getting their entire team on board and using these new communicaiton tools.
But in order to get over these hurdles managment is going to face some pretty touch decisions in how thier heirarchical structures are currently set up. They will probably need to adapt and change who gets "in the wheelhouse."