Google Wave, wikis, Basecamp, Ning, Zoho...
With all the collaboration tools the whole social media phenomonen has ushered in, you'd think the people who tout them would make better use of them. But one of the consequences of the fragmentation of communication activities is that the various departments, agencies and boutiques assigned to segments of communication operate in a near vacuum. The resulting communication from the organization winds up as splintered as the the various teams producing it.
This situation isn't new to social media. In fact, it's as old as the web. One of my favorite examples involves Ragu spaghetti sauce, which launched a site in 1999 called Mama's Cucina. You could get to it via either ragu.com or eat.com. Both URLs still get you to Ragu's site, but Mama is long gone. During her reign, though, Mama represented a very early example of innovation on the web.
Mama was a grandmotherly Italian with attitude. The balloon that appeared beside her head changed each time you visited the site, with statements like, "Get your laptop off the table, it's time to eat" and "How come you only come by when you're hungry, eh?" Mama's personality drove the content. Even the legal disclaimer read, "Mama's nephew, Peter, the lawyer, wrote this next part."
The site let you enter an ingredient that drove a database search for recipes that contained that item. You could learn to speak Italian, complete with audio, which was nowhere near as common in 2000 as it is today. (This wasn't Berlitz Italian, either, but phrases Mama would utter.) There was a message board and a variety of other features designed to engage visitors.
The problem with the site was Mama herself. For those who returned to the site to see what Mama was saying, to search for recipes, to play the audio clips for friends or to grab coupons, Mama became emblematic of the brand. But the website was the only place where Mama resided. She wasn't part of the print advertising campaign. Her face didn't appear on television commercials. And a trip to the grocery store would reveal Paul Newman's face on jars of spaghetti sauce while Mama's was nowhere to be found.
Mama's Cucina existed in a vacuum, fragmenting brand recognition. It was a great site and a lousy addition to the brand marketing effort.
Despite the fact that Mama was gone by 2002 and the ultra-bland site that replaced her is a mirror of the well-recognized brand.
Yet now that anybody who has ever created a Facebook page feels qualified to promote themselves as a social media expert, companies are embarking on all manner of social media efforts that are, at best, inconsistent with the brand and, at worst, counterproductive. (Just how, for example, did the Amp energy drink iPhone app support the carefully-crafted brand identity?)
As communication gets more and more fragmented, with the growing number of boutiques specializing in social media, SEO, digital marketing and a host of other niches, silo messaging is bound to get worse. Here's how to avoid it:
- Hire an agency that does it allâ€"Rather than pick a little bit of your marketing work from here, a bit more from there, find an agency with the skills and experience to manage the whole thing. By the way, this is one of the most compelling reasons for large agencies to get their act together and incorporate such no-brainer skills as search engine optimization.
- Coordinate from withinâ€"Scott Monty at Ford and Christopher Barger at General Motors are examples of social media managers who are also part of their organizations' larger communications departments. When they launch a social initiative, even when they contract with specialized boutiques to help out, they are fully aware of the context of the larger branding effort.
- Create a consortiumâ€"Using some of those collaboration tools, pull the various boutiques you're using into a common area where they can work together or, at least, share enough information to make sure everyone's supporting the brand.
- Check the boutique's credentialsâ€"If they know Facebook but don't understand organizational communications, it's time to renew your search for help.
How does your company ensure that mainstream and social media efforts don't work at cross-purposes?