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.