Two seemingly evergreen threads have converged in my mind: First, is social media measurable? And second, the notion that soon, there will be no use for social media directors (or managers or coordinators) in organizations.
I have written several posts on what it means to be strategic in your approach to any communication effort, whether it's social or traditional, internal or external. Others have taken up the cause, most recently Shannon Paul who elegantly reinforced my insistence that being strategic means you align your efforts with your organization's (or client's) business goals.
To be strategic ultimately means that you know what keeps your CEO and the members of her team awake at night so you can tailor communications that will help them all sleep better. That is, you know the business goals the company's leaders are expected to achieve and you're able to implement communications that move the needle in the right direction.
While some purists believe in their hearts that all such communication is trending toward nothing but social, a fragmented media ecosystem is evolving in which the efficacy of each kind of medium relies on the continued health of all the others. Smart companies now use traditional advertising and marketing to guide consumers to social channels where companies and customers can meet and engage.
The idea that social media directors are a species on the verge of extinction is based on the enthusiastic but misguided belief that every employee, top to bottom, will engage in social activities as naturally as they scratch their asses. No coordination will be required. This belief recognizes only one dimension of social media in business, one among three: organic, programmatic, and campaign-based.
Organic social media is the natural, ongoing, day-to-day engagement of individuals in the company with other stakeholder audiences. Lionel Menchaca, Richard Binhammer and the rest of the Dell communicators who engage routinely via Twitter are an example of organic social media, as are the kinds of employee blogs aggregated by companies like Microsoft, Thomas Nelson Publishers and IBM. When engaged employees enthuse about the company and its products on Facebook or other networks, that's organic too.
Which is all great and undeniably important. But t doesn't do much goodâ€"as US Airways learned when Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River or Dominos after the YouTube video surfaced showing employees doing disgusting things with foodâ€"to launch a Twitter account in order to communicate with people after news about you breaks.
Organic social media is just that: organic. The two other levels of social mediaâ€"programmatic and campaign-basedâ€"are where strategy is applied. Programmatic social media are the ongoing efforts designed to achieve measurable objectives. Those objectives are the foundation of strategies that, in turn, are the broad approaches taken to achieve business goals. If you don't know what the business goals are, you'll have one helluva hard time determining if your social media efforts are helping the company achieve them.
Chaos is not a strategy.
Dell's IdeaStorm crowdsourcing tool and Direct2Dell blog are examples of programmatic social media. They're focused on specific objectives. The Mayo Clinic's Sharing Mayo Clinic is another example, as is the Nuts About Southwest blog.
CEO blogs like those from Michael Hyatt and Paul Levy are also programmatic. The posts company leaders make to such blogs are carefully considered, as are those to group blogs like Southwest Airlines' which usually spotlights the company's unique culture but can also be used to address issues and crises..
Then there are the campaign-based effortsâ€"like Dewmocracy, Pepsi's crowdsourcing effort for Mountain Dewâ€"that have limited, defined lifespans and very specific measurable objectives.
Both programmatic and campaign-based social media efforts can (and often should) be supported by employees engaged organically.
In order for program and campaign efforts to succeed, somebody needs to know what business goals they are designed to achieve and coordinate with everyone involved in producing social content in order to ensure the efforts are crafted in order to meet those goals. I'm not talking about being a gatekeeper (although sometimes that's not necessarily a bad idea). While freedom to experiment and take risks is paramount in social media execution, some consistency is necessary to avoid embarrassing message conflicts. Besides, if everyone's left to their own devices, you'll wind up with six departments each paying separate fees for the same type of services. Imagine paying for two cision accounts, three from Radian6 and four from CustomScoop when if the effort were coordinated, the everyone could share data from a single account.
There's another problem with relying solely on organic social media. I've seen too many instances in which an enthusiastic employee launches an effort, but nobody picks up the ball when that employee leaves the company. I'm not talking about the Scoble Syndrome, in which a celebrity blogger leaves and takes his audience with him. I'm talking about a company- or product-branded effort for which nobody else wants to assume responsibility when the originator departs. It happens because it was not part of a strategy; it was not any department's or business unit's responsibility. It was just something somebody decided (and got permissionâ€"or not) to do.
In the end, social media can easily be measured by determining the degree to which they achieved the business objectives that were set for them. And they'll succeed a lot better if there's a resource in the organization who can guide any employee to the right tools, set objectives others can work to achieve, introduce the best new channels, make sure appropriate training is available and aggregate the results so management knows the time and money invested really is contributing to the execution of the company's business plan.
Social media is social and conversational and businesses need to learn that. But purists need to understand that business is still business.