The Enterprise Still Confused by Social Media – Marketers, Where Are You?

A couple of years ago, we were hired by a global security software company to plan, write, distribute and implement a social media policy for their company – not a small job for an enterprise with employees in more than 100 countries across the globe, and products and technologies for over 300 million users worldwide.

Since that time, we’ve written a lot of social media policies for clients – and trained their employees on proper social media use in various divisions, but I still remember sitting in the board room during our initial kick off, going through questions to help us determine how much work was needed, when one answer shocked me: “We don’t know and it’s impossible to find out.”

This was the answer to the question, “How many social media accounts does the company have and where are they – who runs them?”

Now, while the answer stood out back then – considering social media was a bit of the “Wild West,” and companies were still struggling to buy into its value – I would imagine that today, businesses have a much better handle on who is representing their brand, where and in what way.

I’m wrong.

According to a report by Altimeter Group released yesterday, many of the challenges that we were navigating clients through years ago still exist. Jeremiah Owyang blogged, “Many companies have launched social media efforts with little planning. As social media spreads beyond corporate communications and marketing, business groups are deploying social media without a standardized process. In fact, enterprise class corporations (those with over 1,000 employees) have an average of 178 social media accounts and this number will only grow if left unchecked. Companies that don’t control these accounts are at risk of having abandoned accounts, lack of consistent experience, or untrained employees creating a crisis.”

Wow.

I’m shocked that the enterprise hasn’t caught on yet. How can companies be so lackadaisical about who is talking for them in a public form? How did employees feel the freedom and right to go create branded accounts without some sort of process or checklist? Are companies aware of non-affiliated accounts that have been established (read: hijacked) in their name? (One of my favorite examples I use in my conference speeches on this topic is Chapstick.) And what do these businesses do now in order to reign it all in and get a handle on smart social media for business?

Altimeter Group’s report – and pending webinar to review it – is a good start. It covers market trends, industry problems and data – as well as a buyer’s guide for some monitoring tools – but I’d like to ask one other question. WHERE IS MARKETING?

How can marketing divisions in these companies not be concerned with public discussions of their brand, company and industry – even if they are not the ones running the accounts/updates? Even if other business groups are deploying social media accounts, shouldn’t marketing – as the brand police – know this and help to manage the messages? I blogged on a related topic a few years ago – that with social media’s rise, we are all now in PR, all now brand ambassadors and customer service reps. Because of this, marketing should now – more than ever – be setting, defining, monitoring and managing those messages, regardless of which business group is using social channels. How did marketing departments and PR executives let this slide?

Are we still that far behind? I like to think not. But, if you’re working with a PR or marketing firm that hasn’t yet audited your social media presence – and provided strategic recommendations for improving it – now might be the time to find out why.

Yes, we are all continuing to learn as the industry evolves and new tools are introduced, but this is marketing 101, folks. You monitor who is saying what about your brand and where – and you put a plan together that includes some action around these conversations. There’s no excuse anymore – social media is a part of all business marketing – if not customer service, HR, business development and more. But at the very least, marketing should know about the “on average” 178 “brand” accounts – and reign them in. Reports like Altimeter’s can help you choose the best tool vendors for strategic monitoring and measurement in the future. Get the right vendors, hire the right PR and marketing partners or executives and get your employees trained right – but don’t ignore it any longer. I don’t think the proliferation of vendors is any excuse for letting your brand go wild while you try to make a choice.

 

No “I” in TEAM – why we’re all now in sales, PR and customer service

There’s an age-old argument that has traditionally taken place among the walls of corporate America regarding the relationship between marketing, PR, sales and customer service: who is responsible for (and receives credit for) leads? What is the process for turning leads into customers and who “closes”? Once that happens, who is responsible for keeping customers happy and informed? The traditional answers might look something like this:

a) PR – awareness that supports sales’ efforts; sales – responsible for actual leads

b) Sales

c) Customer service

Truth be told, now more than ever, each of these constituents must work together – in essence, sharing all of these responsibilities – to ensure a wholly positive prospect or customer experience. With the rise of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook for direct engagement and interaction, the lines are a bit more blurred – we are all selling or promoting to prospects and caring for our customers.

Take, for example, two recent examples from my own life:

1) I recently had to have GE come out to fix my refrigerator (again…but that’s a different blog post). The repairman came, said he fixed the part, took his check and went along his merry way. The next morning, I woke up to a freezer that still wasn’t fixed and a refrigerator that was 60 degrees! Now I had two problems instead of one and I was not happy. I called customer service. The woman on the other end knew I was upset. She said the repair (read: sales) schedule couldn’t fit me in for another week. I didn’t take kindly to that answer and as such, she quickly found an opening for me on the next day. This woman recognized a customer service issue that could have turned into both a negative sales experience (if I had patience and a lot of ice, I could have called an independent repair shop) and negative buzz (PR). She salvaged a customer and a negative Tweet or two… Now, I expect the repairman to come back and treat me as nicely as she did – and to apologize for the inconvenience. I’ll let you know how that goes. But if he doesn’t, which experience will I remember the most?

2) I went to St. Louis last week and Tweeted that I was searching for a good hotel. A PR rep from the Hyatt Regency St. Louis contacted me on Twitter and presented a really great offer. Although I received other recommendations from my online communities, I was impressed with the effort that this woman put into treating me as a customer who mattered. As a PR rep, she could have very easily just answered my question with “Try the Hyatt” and a link – but instead she took on the role of sales, securing a discount code and taking the time to interact back and forth with me to “close the deal.” She not only promoted her company and made a sale, but she set the precedent for my expectations around their customer service. I am happy to say that the remainder of the experience upheld the standards of expectations that she set in her interactions with me. As a result, I Tweeted about my gratitude and here I am writing a blog post recommending that you try the Hyatt if you ever visit St. Louis.

The definitive lines of responsibility are, of course, still important as business executives specialize in one area or another – sales, customer service, product development, PR, etc. However, at the pace of business today – and the public engagement that customers now expect – those lines need to be a bit more flexible within organizations. Different departments need to support each other more than ever – and communicate better than ever.

Be sure that you prepare your company with consistent and persistent messaging, clear guidelines for communication and definitive processes for working across departments. Lead with the attitude that every employee has the same goal – to make your company great and your customers happy – and be sure to rethink policies that might otherwise detract from that initiative.

As transparency continues to be expected and business is conducted in a more public forum than ever before, every employee is essentially selling, promoting and representing their respective companies in every move they make. Be sure you prepare your staff to represent your brand in the right light.