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The social media problem for companies

Why Corporate Social Media Fails. I am constantly surprised that posts like that need to be written, but then again, if a Wiki entry on social media starts off like this - "Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media use web-based technologies to transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues", I probably shouldn't be.

I can't recall how many times I have written this when I'm thinking about social media - digital technology simply shortens the distance between us. I first brought up that idea in June 2008 in this essay. Here's an opening extract - "The far-sighted response will be to make it easier to gain the benefits of social business, and to rethink the organization and management of work around human nature instead to [sic] persisting in trying to ‘rise above’ what makes us people in the first place.” - Stowe Boyd.

That paragraph, linking human nature to the benefits of social business, is a good jumping off point as any for how to discuss an online brand strategy with clients. Social Media has often been offered as a panacea, or a “solution” to a “problem” that doesn’t actually exist. Good strategy requires that hard questions be asked of how people, when using the social web, will interact with your brand. What would they naturally do? [If you have time you can read the rest of this essay here.]

Those of you who follow my writings will know by now that I am a strong advocate for getting marketers to understand the link between anthropology, technology and online communities. Just last week I wrote a post about this connection - Anthropology tells us why online communities for brands may not work. The strategy that should be applied to any company's online ambitions should begin with at least a modest amount of anthropologic research.

Simply put, we are all soft-wired for social media as Jeremy Rifkin points out in his RSA speech. [Video] By nature we all want to communicate but this does not mean we automatically want to join a brand community online. Olivia Knight rather succinctly points out in a recent post that - "brand communities are not made up of a number of people who have given you an email address."

[BTW - there's a list after the jump, we all love lists, right?]

One main problem that still persists is that of the self-styled social media "gurus." These are folks who strongly believe that they, and only they, can "fix" your company's online problems. It doesn't matter if there may not be any problems, they will surely find one or two and help you "fix" them. These people are the latter day snake oil merchants. I used to often attend social media networking events or panels, but not so much now. And that's because I would leave disjected, usually because I would hear this too often from the social media "expert" addressing a question from an audience member asking how her company should get started in social media - "Just jump in. Until you are playing in the social media world you don't exist and you can only learn by being there..." or something to that effect.

Utter rubbish..

Anyway, back to the original article that I read today on why corporate social media fails. There's nothing really wrong with the piece except that it shouldn't have needed writing. The reason it has been written is because companies are confusing themselves over how to engage with people online. For the most part they still see digital as somehow separate from the overall brand campaign. A good brand campaign, as we surely know, tells a great story across all media - TV, Print, Digital et al. It may not be necessary to even have a "social media" component. If the brand strategy determines that that's what's required though, then the first step is to grasp a fundamental understanding of how people actually interact with each other online, how they use their mobile devices, what interactive games they might play. Aka - How do they use the Web?

Anthropology helps. Consider how you yourself use the web and mobile digital devices then ask your office colleagues how they use them too. Everything may become startlingly clear..

Back to basics though. What follows is the "list" because social media posts always need lists. And this is from the aforementioned article on the Sysomos blog. 1, 3 and 4 are important, 2 and 5 are ok. What this list doesn't really point out is that social media is just media and as soon as you open a web browser on your laptop or mobile device you are being "social.." Media is far larger than Facebook or Twitter, they are just two large and famous networking platforms.

The Sysomos "why companies fail at social media" list:

1. The lack of a strategic plan. Far too many companies run before they walk. As a result, they jump into social media without a well-articulated idea of why they want to do social media, what they want to get out of it, what success looks like, and what rivals are doing.

According to a recent study by Digital Brand Expression, 78% of respondents said they were doing social media but only 41% of companies said they had a strategic plan.

2. The lack of a tactical plan. This is more than just knowing how to use Twitter, Facebook or a blog because they’re not that difficult to learn. Tactics has more to do about best practices, knowing when and how to engage with other people on social media, and using the best and most effective tools to be as productive and efficient as possible.

3. The lack of resources, or hiring people who lack the right skills or experience to get the job done. Too many companies get excited about a social media program but don’t or won’t allocate enough people to actually make it happen. Another mistake is they hire people who are too inexperienced but hope that their enthusiasm about social media will compensate for it.

4. The lack of content that is compelling, engaging, interesting or valuable. At the end of the day, great content and stories make social media be successful. Truth be told, social media services are simply tools to distribute content. In other words, content and stories and the ammunition that makes the weapons (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) effective.

5. The failure to build relationships. Social media is not a one-way street or a one-way conversation. For social media to work, you need to build relationships with people, have conversations, engage and connect. It’s work that requires time and effort.

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