Social Media Beyond Marketing

Social is moving outward, and everywhere. Capgemini’s new partnership with Attensity is a striking example of this trend. This is a natural outgrowth of the very idea of social: the behavior that underlies social media and social media marketing – collaboration in search of better information with which to make better decisions – is universal. It follows then that an entire organization must be aware of how this newly enabled collaborative behavior affects business.

What Is Social?

It seems as if every vendor of technical services is tacking the word “social” to its offerings and thereby declaring itself part of the here and now. The overuse of the term can cause more confusion than clarity. Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang wrote an almost comical – but characteristically excellent and well-timed – column] highlighting the lack of differentiation among taglines of the leading social media management systems.

Unlike TV, radio, or telemarketing, social media isn’t a point solution or tech-platform bolt-on; it’s an artifact of behavior, and of collaborative behavior in particular. The purpose of posting a photo or writing a review is less about making someone aware of that product (or even of the author of the post, A-list bloggers and publishers aside) than it is about contributing to a collective sea of knowledge. It’s a way of being recognized as an individual simply for having made a small contribution. Social is what people do.

Viewed this way, social is part of everything around us, so it makes a kind of sense that everything is being labeled as social and marketed as such. At a 30,000-foot level, it’s about the recognition that an individual consumer’s ability to connect and publish on a mass scale establishes a feedback loop that replaces the megaphone of mass media and the purchase funnel with a collaboration among business, its customers, its suppliers, and the community.

Who Owns and Controls Social?

All of this begs the question: Who owns social? One might respond “the customer” (and in a sense would be right), but this doesn’t help a social media champion who is trying hard to make sense of social and to make it work to drive better business results. The owners of social have typically been either marketing and PR – rightly concerned about the impact of conversations about the brand – or the CIO, terrified that some rogue Facebook app will wreak havoc if unleashed inside the corporate network. Both play a role in any social technology implementation, though neither, alone, has a complete view.

One way to create a more complete view is to do what Philips has done with its Consumer Business Unit, based in the Netherlands. (Disclosure: Philips is a client.) Marketing director Marco Roncaglio led a cross-functional implementation that incorporated research, marketing, HR, legal, and customer service. Another way is to use team-based workflow tools to collect posts of interest and then assign them to those charged with sorting them out and responding. Hootsuite, Radian6, CoTweet, Alterian, Zendesk, and a dozen others have some sort of basic workflow capability. Dell, Gatorade, and others have created “social media command centers” that act as necessary centralized starting points for cohesive conversation management.



Formal or informal, command centers serve a necessary function, but also come at a real dollar cost. The question of payback and return on investment is part of the process, along with the inevitable choices in technology that, outside of a basic listening platform investment, fall ultimately to the CIO. Dell and Radian6 recently sponsored a conversation with, among others, Jason Duty, director of global social outreach services (SOS) at Dell. Duty described the ways Dell is establishing the value of its social media program.

Incorporating Social into Your Business

Here are three things you can do now to make the adoption of social technology within your organization easier:

  1. Create a plan that looks past marketing and PR. Select among the various social technology tools – for example, Socialcast, Socialtext, Sharepoint Workspace (formerly Groove), Yammer, and IBM’s Lotus platform – and get your organization talking.
  2. Establish a centralized coordination point for social conversations. While you don’t need to control or approve every outbound post (in fact, don’t even think that way!), you want to ensure that your customer is getting a consistent message rather than being inundated with disjointed “solutions.” Brands can actually talk too much.
  3. Measure everything. Take a look at what Dell is doing. Be clear about how you will attach a dollar value to what you are doing, even if you fall back to an interim step like tracking the number of engagements or the resultant change in NPS, established through a pre/post measurement instrument that you implement. Just be sure to distinguish between metrics in general, specific KPIs (more useful), and a defensible ROI (best of all).

In the end, social is everywhere, and the term “social” may just go away (see a recent post by Esteban Kolsky. If you start thinking of social less as a tactical solution and more as a way of life, the social web, applied to your business, is likely to make a lot more cents.

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