Create a Social Network Inside your Company to Succeed

Large corporations are beginning to give Social Media more face time, but it’s still well down the food chain for resources and attention in most C-Suites. There are good reasons for this; no reliable ROI, potential risk, medium not fully understood, don’t see how it can scale. It’s popular to say, “They just don’t get it.” I’ve heard that a dozen times. But these people wouldn’t be in the C-Suite if they didn’t get what business was about. Playing the “don’t get it” card puts the burden on the senior managers. It doesn’t belong there. It belongs with the the Social Media advocates inside the firm. Senior executives ask the same questions of all new ideas or concepts, “Where’s the value? How much can I get? How fast can I get it?” If you are championing Social Media in your firm then it’s you that has to “get it.” Whew, that’s out of the way. A single champion or interested parties sprinkled around the company may not be enough. So get organized.

To succeed in executing an Enterprise Social Media strategy outside the organization you must have a strong Social Network inside the company.

People who excel at E-Business truly love the digital world. It changes constantly and requires one to work hard at keeping up on what’s going on. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. Social Media is the same way. Finding the social media enthusiasts in your firm and inviting them to join a Social Network inside your company will pay dividends later.

Uncover the Value

No doubt your company has a pre-approved set of drivers and metrics that lead straight to the money. That’s where you should start. It’s somewhat easier for retailers and manufacturers to show results with Social Media in familiar ways; leads, response rates, conversions. Other verticals like health care and financial services measure things over longer sales and engagement cycles making it harder to show the value.

Just because there isn’t an obvious ROI today doesn’t mean you shouldn’t nurture this medium. I was recently in a meeting with some pretty senior folks who were debating whether or not to invest in an internal social community platform. I heard these comments. “What happens if somebody says something bad? Won’t it just be a waste of time?” No doubt those same things were uttered 20 years ago as people discussed enabling e-mail across the enterprise. I am continually shocked by how previously covered ground is so quickly forgotten.

One should never tire of tagging, tracking and cracking the attribution code of Social Media efforts to determine value. Without demonstrating value, resources will not flow into the Social Media cost center. But a fresh angle can jump start passive executives into becoming willing accomplices. That’s where this post comes in.

Resources devoted to more established channels like direct mail, phone and broad media, are not going to be drastically reduced any time soon because executives can get a predictable return on investment. So you either have to get incremental money or carve out a slice from other channels to fund Social Media. Here’s potentially a new way to get senior managers to lean in.

Companies want strategic advantage and a way to differentiate themselves that can’t be easily replicated by competitors. Brand battles are at a peak. AT&T and Verizon, Wal-Mart and Amazon. “Our product is better than the other product. It keeps you drier than… Whitens your teeth better than…” The soundtrack for today’s marketing strategy should be “Step Right Up” by Tom Waits. How effective is this? Brands complain to the advertising governing bodies and then claims need to be either changed or watered down. Marketing teams then spend time looking for ways to push the envelope on copy points. Frequently without consulting the customer. Not sure this is good use of resources. Certainly it’s not sustainable and does not advance the brand in meaningful ways as these tactics have a short shelf life.

Brands are trying to win on consumer perceptions. The thinking is if people perceive your brand is better they will buy it over another one. This only works until the competition comes out with a more compelling message. Believe me, they are working on it right now.

Go Big or Go Home

Social Media is a once in a lifetime opportunity for businesses to create value by energizing and mobilizing their customer base. It’s cheaper, faster, far-reaching and most importantly, more trusted by consumers. Social Media is an Interactive Customer Engagement Marketing Tool. It works to influence consumer perceptions about a brand, as told by other consumers, not by marketing departments.

Create Leverage For Less – CPSM (Cost Per Social Message)

Direct mail tactics are one-to-one. The thinking is when you sharpen targeting and refine champion creative your response and conversion rates will rise. But the company is still operating on a per piece and per customer paradigm. Social Media can scale very quickly once a large enough social graph is created; followers, fans, readers, etc. This is a new level of scalability. It’s transformative. CPM (cost per thousand- variable) can become CPSM (cost per social message – fixed). CPSM is significantly more powerful than CPM because the message finds the consumer where they hang out (personal social networking spaces) and then pass it along within their network and across other networks.

Be a Perception Influencer

Hyundai is not perceived to be a premium auto brand in the US car market. But the company has worked very hard on their products and the Genesis was named North American Car of the Year in 2009. What would executives at Hyundai give to be able to align consumer perceptions with product reality? You can bet lots of time is spent on trying to crack that nut. All businesses have key profit drivers that have associated consumer perceptions. When a firm executes well on these drivers they experience higher business outcomes and therefore better brand outcomes (consideration and recommend to a friend). Marketing wars and dot points are fleeting. Consumer advocates are worth their weight in gold.

The Social Media Molecule – SM²

The graphic below is an attempt to demonstrate how a well executed Social Media strategy is linked to activities and outcomes within the organization, Direct mail is a tactical campaign, and such has a defined set of metrics. But the form factor is static and it’s pushed. Social Media is an Interactive  Customer Experience Marketing Tool. It greets brand advocates and invites and empowers them to take the ball and run with it. Contrived marketing dot points are expected and frequently fall flat. Social Media conversations can surge with momentum and are re-energized along the way by consumers who are trusted more than brands.

I have defined the Social Media Molecule SM² as follows.

People within a company who have organized themselves in a self-selected arrangement, held tightly together by strong, common bonds to impact business results.

I specifically chose the word molecule to set it apart from other marketing channels and evoke the unbreakable connectivity of molecular chemistry. This idea seems highly transportable to the social world of human relationships both within and beyond company walls. It’s a framework to build on.

Here’s how I can see it unfolding. Social bonds are formed by members in three areas of the company; Marketing, Customers Service and Public Relations. Each one contributes unique skills to defining and growing the social network inside the company. They use best practices and customize them to meet their own needs. Each team establishes their own metrics but all work to achieve the higher level business results of the company. Once these things are established they unleash it into the wild world of Social Media. The Social Media Molecule’s objective is to influence consumer perceptions and increase customer engagement.

  • Consumer perceptions – What people gleam from other consumers is more trusted than from companies themselves. Getting validation from other consumers influences what consumers buy and use. The Social Media team can listen to what consumers are saying and reinforce it or correct inaccuracies. What consumers say is then fed back to the Marketing team.
  • Customer engagement – Customers who have an opportunity to interact with a brand vs. being acted upon will be more engaged and become repeat buyers and loyal customers

Frameworks are always easier on paper (or pixels) than in real life. I realize that getting it off the ground is more complex. Frameworks are also just that. A model that can be followed and adjusted to better snap into a companies’ culture. Would love to hear thoughts on this.

In the works:  The Evolution of Corporate Communications.

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