According to those authorised to say such things, social media encompasses a wide range of online, word-of-mouth forums including blogs, company sponsored discussion boards and chat rooms, consumer-to-consumer e-mail, consumer product or service ratings websites and forums, Internet discussion boards and forums, microblogs (sites containing digital audio, images, movies, or photographs), and social networking websites, to name a few (Mangold & Faulds, 2009). In a nutshell, it’s fragmented and it’s everywhere.
At a talk last week, Brunswick PR gave some examples of successful uses: real-time communication (Mastercard); driving online audiences to owned content (McKinsey); customer service (Fedex’s Twelpers); building targeted communities (HP Business Answers on LinkedIn). Maybe there is a bias because of the PR, but there was a sense of reputational risk management about all that was said. I read into this that corporates and their advisors cannot find the focus required to exploit business opportunity. The chaos of social media does not suit their linear structures.
Entrepreneurs on the other hand have grasped the nettle. In part because more of these applications were instigated by innovative entrepreneurs for likeminded people, but also because these forms of marketing are very cost effective. Entrepreneurs know all about the scarcity of resource that limits options, which in turn can actually create some sort of order/focus out of the options.
The old model for customer relationships is built around versions of the purchase decision-making process e.g. awareness – interest – desire – action. Such a linear view is very easy to mimic and measure within an organisation’s structure. But social media is about conversational networks and relationships, in which mistakes and weaknesses often beget trust. It is more emotional, much more chaotic and not so easy to align within a corporate.
But if small SMEs can do it because of focus and nimble feet, perhaps there is an answer: EMPLOYEES. Is it possible for a corporate to unleash the equivalent of a multi-million pound marketing budget by enabling a group of passionate employees to do their thing? I think so. As long as the right, supporting climate is in place and the volunteers are as passionate about the opportunity and organisation as they are about the social medium, there is rationale. Turning from an 800-pound gorilla into a herd of 800 collaborative gazelles is not going to be an easy transition, but I am certain that successful businesses of the future are empowering their employees now.
I think I am going to start tweeting about my company’s initiatives. And perhaps that is exactly why Brunswick talks of risk management!