When it comes to social media for the enterprise, you'd be hard pressed to find a more qualified expert than Chris Barger. He spent four years as Director of Global Social Media at General Motors, served as IBM's "blogger-in-chief", and is now the Senior Vice President of Global Programs at Voce Connect. Chris also recently penned The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out. In anticipation of our Social Media Strategist webinar with him next week, we sat down with Chris for some serious social marketing Q and A.
What company most impressed you with their social marketing in 2011?
I continue to respect what American Express does in using social media to service small business customers. I also liked Heinz's Facebook campaign in the UK that allowed users to send sick friends a can of chicken soup. But my absolute favorite was how the Muppets were reintroduced to a new generation before the movie was released largely through social channels and YouTube videos. Follow Statler and Waldorf on Twitter? Brilliant. (Disclosure: while we don't work with the Disney movie or entertainment team, DisneyWorld is a client so I suppose that's in the family.)
What will be the biggest changes to the social media landscape to affect marketers in 2012?
First, social media marketing has matured into a 'mainstream' business practice, recognized by most organizations as a legitimate and needed aspect of the marketing communications function. This means an increased emphasis on metrics and measurement and key performance indicators (KPIs); the concept of conversations or engagement for their own sake will diminish in importance.
Also, consumers are much more savvy about social media marketing than they were even just a couple of years ago. A brand's mere presence within social networks isn't really going to impress anyone; we're going to have to be smarter and more creative about how we interact with people within these networks if we want to have an impact.
Your book - The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out, focuses on the social challenges for large companies. What were some of the more surprising hurdles you encountered when harnessing social marketing for these large companies?
There were several! What was interesting when I first got started at GM was the challenge of getting people inside the company to take social media seriously and to return my calls; by the time our program matured and I moved on, the challenge was getting people across the organization to coordinate their activities, and not execute disparate social strategies in silos. Which brings up one of the bigger hurdles I've observed at many large companies: turf wars over control of social. Social is hot right now, and between communications, marketing, web development and other groups within an organization, there's such a scramble for "who owns social". Some organizations are hamstringing their external efforts because they can't get out of their own way long enough to present a unified presence online.
Related to that: I'm always surprised at how often social is turned over to either someone in marketing or PR who's not even active in social networks (and thus can't really know the audience) or is active in social but way down on the food chain in the business (like an intern or a new hire) who can't really know enough about the business and its core spirit or messages. Would you have an intern calling the NY Times and managing your media relations program? Would you have someone running your broadcast media buys who doesn't even watch TV? No? So why turn over a core marketing or communications program to someone not experienced or knowledgeable enough to lead it?
Another hurdle is that measurement of social media success isn't tied often enough to actual business metrics. Companies can miss the ball because they're distracted by a drive to acquire a set number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Those numbers have to be a means to an end: what do you want those followers to do once you have them? Make a purchase? Repeat your messages to their networks? What do you want the affinity implied by a "Like" or follow to eventually do for your business? What is the desired business benefit? Once those questions are asked and the answers understood, it's easier to develop measurements that more accurately determine if your program is indeed successful.
Part of what makes social media unique is the 'human touch' that comes with one-to-one or one-to-many communications. In an organization with multiple social contributors, how do you maintain control and a unified voice while still allowing for autonomy and creativity?
It's a balancing act to be sure. You have to allow some of that individuality to shine through; we always had the photos of every individual who posted on Twitter for GM alongside the GM's Twitter page, and used our initials whenever possible (ended a tweet with "^CB", for example) to let people know which individual was responding to them. When possible, we tried to do the same on Facebook. We were all in the same meetings, had the same information and were aligned on what we wanted to convey through social networks... but we let everyone on the team do it in their own voice, in their own style. As long as you have that sort of centralized information distribution to the employees involved so that everyone knows solid what needs to be conveyed, you have to trust that they'll find their own voices to get it out to the brand's online communities.
As far as having that "consistent voice", that IS important -- but remember, people don't follow brands online (for the most part, anyway) to hear the consistent brand voice; they want to talk with brands, which act like real people. So between maintaining a unified voice and letting your people be themselves, the scale should tip a little bit -- not much, but a little -- toward letting your social team show individual personality and creativity when they put information out.
In Chapter 12 of your book, you review the social strategies for handling a company crisis. Why do you think so many successful companies do such a poor job of handling negative situations in social media?
I think many companies still haven't adjusted to the underlying reality of social media: that consumers not only have a voice, but they have the control too. A lot of companies still think and act as if Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the rest of the Internet were "just another channel" ,through which they can market and message the way they always have.
But the thing is, the platform is almost irrelevant when there's a crisis or negative publicity. Whether they're on Facebook, Twitter, a blog or in a forum, what people want from companies is candor, directness, dialogue and interaction. They want to see companies' willingness to be accountable, to answer questions, and acknowledge when mistakes are made.
Companies fumble crises and negative situations online because they try too hard to manage and control them instead of just behaving like regular people. Can you imagine if, in your private life, you reacted to a negative situation by simply trying to deflect blame and reduce risk rather than accepting accountability for your mistakes or simply apologizing to someone you've offended? People would think we were jerks if we handled negative situations that way. Why do we think it will be different when we're a corporate entity?
For more insights from Chris Barger, be sure to attend next week's free Awareness webinar: The Social Media Strategist. You can also download chapter 12 of The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out.