Time moves so quickly that it's easy to forget that social media is still incredibly new for many, many organizations. Was it only six years ago that Tim O'Reilly and a rag-tag group of media junkies developed the concept of Web 2.0? In human years, that's about the age of your average first grader.
In human terms, we are barely cruising into first grade. We've got tools, ideas and energy to spare, but we still have a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes to make along the way. Certainly there are best practices at a tactical level--whether you are talking about search, blogging, community engagement or even social networking--but what makes social media so confounding for so many is that its success has less to do with tactics than it does with organizational strategy and the ability to effect cultural change for a common goal. And that's a whole lot bigger than Twitter.
This morning I attended Why Social Media Marketing Fails (and How to Fix It), at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. The session was presented by Peter Kim, Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang, all veterans of Forrester Research (Jeremiah is an analyst there). I sat next to Jennifer Leggio, who was live-blogging the session for Social Business, her newly-renamed blog on ZDNet.
Here's a partial run-down of the questions and answers.
How do I get my culture to adopt social media?
All the participants agreed that social media requires cultural change. To paraphrase Charlene: the only way senior leaders see social media working is aligned to organizational goals. It may take years--it won't happen overnight--but you have to start someplace. Start small. But if you want cultural change, you have to get the big guns involved.
Peter asked the panelists whether organizations should appoint a "chief social officer," and there was general agreement that it's a bad idea: there are many people personally invested in these technologies, and the biggest fallacy of a "chief social officer" is that there is one person who will take care of everything: rather than encouraging accountability and participation, appointing a "CSO" sends the message that social media is somebody else’s problem.
At Charles Schwab, Charlene commented, the CEO has been leading the social media charge. The critical difference is that they don’t call it a social media strategy--it's a customer engagement strategy (which happens to be facilitated by social media).
Jeremiah thinks there are three primary organizational models for social media today:
- The Tire: Social media forms at the edges of the company. No clear leader. Upside: appears very authentic. Downside: one side has no idea what the other is doing.
- The Tower: Led by corporate communications, by executive mandate. The upside: Lots of resources. The downside? Not authentic, which saps participation and buy-in.
- Hub-and-Spoke: some central focus, but with clear ownership at the edges. Upside: this is the aspirational model because it combines resources and participation. Downside: the most difficult to establish.
How can I make my campaign work?
"The biggest problem is doing campaigns," Charlene quipped. "Don’t look at it as a technology. Some companies see social media as a Facebook page, but then you never hear from the company other than their press releases. Have conversations with people on the wall—so few companies do this."
Jeremiah added that some companies have actually turned off the comment features in their communities, reducing their communities to static marketing channels. And Peter said that the ways organizations think about their employees and shareholders, detractors and community members will need to be transformed. It's a difficult road.
Should marketing exist at all?
"Social media is a horrible tool for advertising," Charlene said. Added Jeremiah, "Marketers will have to evolve."
So what am I supposed to measure?
Jeremiah says that most marketers are measuring social media incorrectly; they're focusing on the measurements of yesteryear. There is no access to server logs on Facebook and other tools/networks, so you have incomplete data. And even if you had that data, it wouldn't tell you what is happening: there just aren't good enough automated methods to measure changes in tone. (As someone who does this regularly, I can attest to this: quality analysis doesn't scale that well.) A lot of companies are trying to tackle this problem.
Rather than a dashboard method, Jeremiah suggests measurement more like GPS, which tells you where you've been, where you are, and where you're going. (That starts to sound a lot more like business intelligence, doesn't it?)
So why measure social media at all?
Charlene says that if you are going to do it, measure it against the other things you’re doing with marketing. It can't be in isolation.
And finally, a fantastic question from a social media strategist at a financial services firm:
We are currently struggling with the challenge of risk assessment: if we engage in social media, what kinds of liabilities are we opening ourselves up to?
Charlene began by saying that the biggest concern among her clients is trusting their employees. But companies are moving beyond those fears into programs that can and do work.
Wells Fargo has been blogging for a while and just launched Ask_WellsFargo on Twitter. Their approach was to caution customers not to share confidential account information, and establish Twitter (as Comcast has famously done) as an open channel to help customers with service questions.
What made this less risky for Wells is that they have a history of blogging, so they have some institutional understanding about how customers will use the channel. Had they started with a Twitter feed, without the back-end processes (to address questions) and understanding (to have a reasonable understanding of what to expect) it would have been much more risky. Finally, my favorite question of the morning:
Does failure in social media matter?
It must, given that Charlene mentioned Walmart as one of the companies who does social media well precisely because they keep at it and have learned from their failures.
After all, she said, "If you're not failing sometimes, you're not doing it right."