Sunday, January 24, 2010

Social Media Remains an Innovator’s Game

Dive into the trades on the topic of social media adoption and the read is confusingly mixed.

Surveys say it’s a priority for corporate marketers with spending expected to jump this year and beyond. Other research points to interest, yet a lack of investment in social media marketing programs because of unproven ROI.

I live in the trenches of social media adoption as I’m charged with selling comprehensive programs to senior corporate executives. Unlike the mixed message from industry surveys and pundit banter, my experience has been remarkably consistent.

One set of prospects are intrigued, yet have failed to engage in social networks in any organized and meaningful fashion because it is not consistent with their corporate culture. These “slow adopters” are comfortable resting on the sidelines until there is a more extensive portfolio of best practices and lessons learned.

A second group of organizations have followed a bag of tactics methodology to integrate social media into their communications program. There may be a Facebook fan page. A Twitter account may have been set up. Someone in the organization has a blog.

While this is certainly an initial step, these companies typically lack a defined strategy, an alignment with corporate goals and any type of measurable benchmarks for success.

Plus, it’s often a junior member of the corporate marketing team tagged with social media responsibilities. Their intentions are admirable, however they fall short on strategic credentials and decision-making authority.

There is little doubt that we are still very much in the early adopter phase of corporate use of social media marketing in a professional and disciplined manner. This immaturity is understandable because there are significant risks when an executive champions something new and unproven.

If a social media marketing program misses the mark or (equally distressing) is perceived internally to be a waste of resources, the executive sponsor tends to be in a world of corporate hurt. They may even find themselves ushered out of job and into the worst unemployment environment in three decades.

For most, the horror of social media failure is too great to confront.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have been fortunate to stumble across a group of corporate marketers who savior the opportunity to prove new ways of promotion. We’ve found this elite class at Microsoft, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint, Monster, TANDBERG, Inmarsat and Avnet.


They cast aside the safe play for what they believe is the right thing to do to help their employer more successfully compete in the market.

Social media marketing remains an innovator’s game. The business case for adoption is compelling though because of the measurable tie to lead generation and other sales benchmarks. It will be a slow adoption curve, however I do anticipate more marketers will think it through, raise their handle and embrace what’s possible.

7 comments:

Newswise Staff said...

That's a thoughtful assessment of the current situation, Marc.

Eric said...

This is a thoughtful assessment, Mark. Thanks!
In our experience, the biggest impediment to adoption of Social Media Marketing, or SMM, is Return On Investment; or rather the perceived inability to calculate it for marketing activities such as SMM campaigns.
But given how much time SMM campaigns do take, and especially because these campaigns should involve your executives, we believe it's essential to measure precisely what your ROI is.
Our clients kept asking us how one does this, however. To answer their questions, we wrote 3 posts to cover the range of situations in which one may wish to calculate ROI. These approaches sacrifice 100% accuracy for simplicity. They work well enough to use with confidence and because they're easy enough to use, you'll use them. Here's what they cover:
1) How to calculate the ROI of your website as a whole: http://bit.ly/6bFSvs
2) A list of the 10 best free ROI calculators on the web: http://bit.ly/7fwBkF
3) How to build your own ROI calculator (perhaps for your social media campaign): http://bit.ly/6IGZQh

Jonathan Ressler said...

Marc-

Great post, but I would have to respectfully disagree. I do not think that Social Media is an innovator's game any more. It was a year ago, but these days if you are not in the mix, you are not in the game. Now that all of the search engines index the social media sites, brands are missing huge SEO opportunities if they are not in social media.

We counsel many clients on social media and let them all know that while their organization may be "too conservative:" for social media, the conversation is happening anyway. The only real question is do they want to get into the conversation?

If someone else were talking about my brand, I sure would want to have the opportunity to make a comment or a correction. It is fact that 25% of all the results on a Google search of the top 20 brands, are pointing to user generated content! That is a wake up call to most brands that they need to get in the game, even if they are just dipping a toe in the water.

Generally we find that if we set up a social media guidelines document for the company to share with their employees ... so everyone is on the same page ...they are much more comfortable moving forward. They feel like they have some control, even though it is only an illusion as they can't control what non-employees write.

Keep up the good work and get those brands into social media. Social Media today is like the web and online advertising were 10 years ago. By the time some brands get in the game, the clock has wound down to 0:00.

Jonathan Ressler
The Mouth That Roared
The Big Fat Mouth
www.thebigfatmouth.com

Social Media For Brands

Ed said...

"Social" media (hmm, isn't that redundant?), as with any type of medium a business marketer selects, ought to be chosen based its connection to the customer, right? If so, then, why not a Facebook page? Your customers are already there, the community is ready-built, and they are talking about you.

Search engines now include social media site activity in rendering search results; it would then seem that any self respecting brand manager, SEO specialist, or CMO concerned wtih being found through a positive association should be all over this...now!

Your customers are talking about you now - behind your back, if you're not paying attention. Give them the forum and permission to continue the dialogue in front of you, become part of their discussion, and you will have gained a tremendous insight channel. It informs R&D, product development, staff recruitment, sales, customer care, etc.

Ed
www.fanfoundry.com

Minter said...

I think there is a third category: the CEO who is passionate about social media and, having found out about it one way or another, leads the company into the fray whole heartedly. A good example is Michel-Edouard Leclerc (LECLERC) in France or any number of people on a smaller scale; one I like is Larry Gaynor (CEO Of TNG; www.larrygaynor.com).

Evangelical social media CEO's are, however, rare outside of the techy world.

And, of course, there is still work to be done internally to create the right environment to render a social media strategy successful. I agree with the "social media guidelines" to which you refer @JonathanRessler. And to your point, I believe that there are certain countries and, within them, certain industries and companies, which are ahead of the pace... where it may no longer be an "innovator's game." However, I would have to say that in mainland Europe those that are making efforts in SM are typically perceived as being more innovative -- in part because there are fewer participants (language being one of the barriers).

Chelsea Irwin said...

I agree - great assessment.

I find that the value of social media varies depending on the size of the client. For example, you mention success with large providers and public enterprises. There’s no question that a company can benefit tremendously by frequently blogging and keeping in touch with investors and customers on a more personal level. The corporate blog is also a great tool to inform the public about security concerns/breaches without issuing a press release. Obviously a blog won’t cut it – you will also need to work directly with your customers on a private level to keep your integrity in the face of security issues or large corporate announcements. The blog is also a great place for video (moving more into the digital media arena) allowing CEOs and executives to reassure customers with their own voice. A human face.

Most of my experience is with start-ups and privately held companies. For start-ups, smaller equipment providers and SMBs, a blog has one primary function – to drive traffic to the site. How do we measure ROI? When I was working at my last agency I launched 2 corporate blogs. Each week I sent a chart showing the daily blog hits and where they originated from. I propagated the blogs on Twitter, LinkedIn groups, industry forums and worked with friendly analysts to contribute guest blogs.

The weekly charts were compared to corporate Web site hits. For a start-up there are few ways to consistently drive traffic to your site – and a blog can be one. But you need to invest the time.

Don’t get me wrong, social and digital media are suspect due to the amount of time required to implement successful programs. You’re right on the money (literally) that without direct results, clients are quick to cut the cord on the digital/social media programs. I enjoyed your article.
-Chelsea Irwin

Marc Hausman said...

@Eric -- thanks for your comment and for sharing the articles.

You raise an excellent point about the relation between ROI and time to execute. At Strategic, we've taken a pilot program approach which typically requires funding for only an initial 90 to 120 days.

My take: an important first step is just getting a company to engage in social media in a well defined and disciplined manner.

@Jonathan -- good overview of the value proposition of social media for forward thinking organizations.

I have to tell you though, I'm in the trenches each and every day trying to convince marketing executives to allocate budget. It's still early adopter from what I have experienced.

@Ed -- yes...yes...yes...I agree. Why aren't brand managers all over social media in a strategic and carefully crafted manner?

I suspect it is happening more in consumer-focused companies, yet in the BtoB world it's still very much just the innovators.

@Minter -- excellent point. I think Tony Hsieh at Zappos is another example of a CEO leading the charge when it comes to social media.

@Chelsea -- thanks for the comment and for raising the issue of social media adoption by SMBs and emerging technology companies.

While I referenced a couple of our global brands in the blog post, we are working with a number of emerging growth clients like GovDelivery and BroadSoft.

Agree with you completely...they tend to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to trying new approaches and tactics.