Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Company Wide Social Media Engagement: A Bridge Too Far

After a successful and momentum building invasion of Normandy, the Allied forces in World War II went for a knock out blow with an ambitious offensive called Operation Market-Garden.

The costly defeat at the hands of the Nazis led British Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning to refer to the failed mission as a "bridge too far."

Lt. General Boy Browning
Would Browning say the same about a Chief Marketing Officer's (CMO) plan for a well integrated social media program that extends across an entire organization?  My experiences during the past four years point to a "yes."

The vision of an enterprise-wide social program is certainly compelling.  It would harness the combined resources of an organization to enhance impact, while delivering efficiencies and cost savings. 

It would directly align with key benchmarks in sales, customer service, recruitment and investor relations to produce a measurable return on investment.  And it would increase market awareness and credibility, while enhancing organic search engine optimization (SEO).

Yet, Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) work on social media campaigns for some of the world's largest technology companies have steered us to the conclusion that, at this point in its maturation, social is most effective when viewed as a tactical and project-oriented function.

Allied Forces during Operation Market-Garden. Image may be subject to copyright.

Social for the Enterprise - Why We're Not There (Yet)

The reasons are three fold.  First, unlike traditional communications activities like advertising, public relations and direct mail, there are no extensive and well proven best practices that marketing executives can lean on to develop and internally validate a social approach.

Corporate usage of social media is still new and remains the province of earlier adopters.

Second, the Web 2.0 communities, tools and technologies that form the foundation of social media engagement continue to evolve.  Consider the rapid rise in buzz earlier this year about social question and answer site Quora.

This shifting landscape leads to confusion about applications and approaches.

Finally, the very nature of social media -- a near one-to-one interaction in an online environment -- is most effective when its participants are untethered from corporate constraints.  Authentic engagement and interaction typically exists outside the structured walls of messaging and organizational positioning.

For Social Success, Think Tactically
So, how can today's CMO overcome the risk of taking on a bridge too far with social media?  We suggest they get tactical to ensure success in a manageable environment. 

Here are three proven approaches:

1.  Piggyback on an already prioritized and funded initiative.  For instance, Strategic is in development of a soon-to-launch campaign for a global IT services provider that will leverage content created for an advertising campaign and series of executive-level events.

2.  Align social media with the day-to-day activities of the sales team.  Who are their key prospects?  What challenges do they face in the sales cycle?  What are the key issues that stimulate buyer behavior?  Utilize social as a channel to address these tactical requirements.

3.  Put a portfolio of existing content to work.  I've found that most marketing teams have a myriad of high value content pieces lying dormant on the server.  White papers...sales decks...presentations from industry conferences...re-purpose these materials through social media to solidify a leadership position in a specific segment of the market.    

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