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Forget Marketing: Social Media is a Communications Tool

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. 

Social Media Concepts EvolveAs 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.

Social Media Tech AdoptionIn 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."

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  • Bernard Martin's picture
    Mar 15 Posted 5 years ago Bernard Martin

    Thanks you very much Judy for your kind comments

  • Bernard Martin's picture
    Mar 15 Posted 5 years ago Bernard Martin

    Absolutley agree. YOU can SELL on Social platforms.  BUT, my question in the article is that if the customer is engaged on a given social platform and then subesequently turned over to a "person-to-person" contact who doesn't know about the platform, can't access it to review the discussion (because IT has blocked it) or flat flat out thinks it's a bunch of hogwash (worst case) then the customer is left with a feeling of "OMG! The right hand doesn't know what the left is doing" So, IMHO, you are spot on: It has to be organic, it has to be Ubiquitous within the organization.

    I think many companies need to still define WHO does THAT training. Is it HR? Is it Marketing? Who writes the SOP? Social platform evolution is happening so fast that the SOP would need to change. It's going to take some pretty dynamic organizational structures to address that moving forward.

    I'm thinking I need to finish up my Social CRM article next :-)

    I suppose that bottom line is how many more orders could be obtained if the company was working as a TEAM?

  • JudyCaroll1's picture
    Mar 15 Posted 5 years ago JudyCaroll1

    Exactly Bernard. Let's stop seeing social media as "another" platform where we can just advertise our product/service.  It is a communication tool and we should use it to interact with ther people, share ideas and add more value to the community.  Thanks for sharing.  

  • Bernard Martin's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago Bernard Martin

    'will not be as easy as one would hope or expect!'

    Oh My! From first hand experience I can say that YOU are 150% spot on!

  • Bernard Martin's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago Bernard Martin

    Ha! LOL. "shout-a-thon" I like that :-)

    Agree about the telemarketing analogy... But there are a god awaful number of agencies who purport... well, maybe it's best not to say.  You might enjoy this "What is a Social Media expert?"

  • Bernard Martin's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago Bernard Martin

    Thanks much, I'm glad you found it interesting!

    I'm not sure that Social Media is going to lend itself to oursourcing in the future. I suspect it's going to be more and more internal.  Absolutely, the set-up and initial builds, wiring of dashboards (or implementation of Social CRM) wil be someting that can be outsourced, but that amounts to training on the use of the tools.

    In keeping with the analogies in the article above, I tend to think of "outsourcing" of Social Media in the same way that the maker of a new weapon or rifle manufacturer supplies a military.  The Social "tools" are the weapons and since the weapons 'systems' need to work with each other, there are going to be agencies who can provide the training and discuss/recommend tactics. That will be valuable information. The Agencies would have broader backgrounds in various market segments which they could then bring that expertise to weigh in on a recommended new tactic of program. However, the crux of the problem with full blown outsourcing is that most agencies don't have the depth of breadth of experience of who to 'close the sale' and actually SELL the product/service and get an order: They've not done that firsthand. In other words, they haven't been in the firefight when the weapon jammed or the supply train has't arrived at the factory JIT to know whom to call to answer the question about a backorder.

    Social Media SEO: Mark your territoryThere may be agencies that evolve to meet those market needs. Indeed, my company provides oursourced Social Media to a select number of clients, However, it's in a B2B manufacturing marketplace that I lived in for almost twenty years in the field and behind the desk. I've been asked on a number of occassions during my speaking engagements "What's it going to cost us to just oursource it to you and let you handle it?"  My response has been "I don't know your market (health care, accounting, grocery, retail clothing, etc) well enough to know who's a competitor, who's a customer or even how to quailfy who's a BIG decisionmaker or a small one. I can get you started, I can sit down and review followers, likes, etc, and over time, I can learn it, but that's no better than me printing out your email, you writing a response on a legal pad and me typing it up... at some point YOU need to be participating"  But that is B2B.... and, of course, just like some agencies will eventually do, I could say "but if you pay me to learn..." :-)

    In B2C it may, perhaps, be easier to outsource the engagement but that's going to require a much higher level of interaction with the company itself: know it's process and how to 'touch' the channel partners (and get a response that isn't "who the hell are you again?") It's going to take implementation of a channel strategy that includes all the aspects of Social Media.

    I received a tweet in response to the article that said "Really? I think this may be controversial. What about the SEO benefits?" The reality that this issue I highlight in the article has EVERYTHING to do with SEO. in my message back I said "SEO is irrelevant IF it doesn't translate into sales & order fulfillment. SEO is driving traffic. Traffic w/o orders= " But that's not really the whole picture. IF the channel partners (and employees) are tagging tweets with geolocation (or using Foursquare, G+, or FB locations) THAT is going to drive up localized SEO values.  (Tough. to say that in 140 characters; my bad.) I would contend that those companies that HAVE their front facing folks within a company engaging and participating are leaving SEO breadcrumbs everywhere.... You can't outsource, cost effectively, localized SEO without a massive travel budget.

    Hope my long winded response wasn't too much ;-)

  • BilalJaffery's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago BilalJaffery

    Fortune 500 is engaged in social -- at  much deeper level -- tranforming how they conduct business. It is more than 'social media' and 'messaging' per say.

    It's about connecting the customer with the product/sales/service in an organic manner to close that deal. Heck, Avaya closed 250 million off twitter. (but it wasn't via a mapped customer service rep).


  • BilalJaffery's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago BilalJaffery

    Absolutely not -- that implies broadcast model which has yet to 'work' in the space. The shout-a-thon will fail shortly in 'social media'.

    And you know how well the telemarketing projects are working out so far, eh?


  • BilalJaffery's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago BilalJaffery

    I think it is beyond Marketing or Communications (communications implies consitentcy and control). It's social computing -- based on relationships and interactions.

    A different beast indeed.


  • Rasmussen747's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago Rasmussen747

    Good article. Good points. I imagine social media being something you outsource, like telemarketing, some years from now.

  • Jim Clark's picture
    Mar 14 Posted 5 years ago Jim Clark

    Good take on the state of brand driven Social Media in the coming year[s].  As clients begin looking at optimized approaches to who manages social media (tools, resources and the "voice") it still comes down to getting everyone in the sandbox to play nice with each other for the greater good...will not be as easy as one would hope or expect!

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