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New report shows how social media consistency problems can be overcome

January 9, 2012

Image of Red Page logoMarketing is one of those areas of business where everyone feels they have a stake; and of course they’re right. But consistency is more important than ever, especially when it comes to social media effectiveness as a recent report from the Altimeter Group has shown…

In any company, at any one time, different departments may want to say different things about the company and its product range.  Sales may want to talk up the latest product. Editorial may be concerned about writing quality in brochures or on the web. The MD may be concerned about ethics. The FD may be concerned about pricing policy online. And so it goes on…

Often, however, these issues are not controlled; despite the fact that message ultimately is a marketing responsibility, it is often the case that the message when written down is simply “put up” by the marketing team but written elsewhere. A lack of marketing ownership of message is therefore a major factor in the collapse of brand equity – and especially in the social media context.

The report by the Altimeter Group makes for fascinating reading but the findings are profoundly logical when you take time to reflect on how chaos grows within a business:

  1. Consistency can be avoided by knowing what business goals you want your social media activity to achieve. Best, as ever, to define these as SMART objectives so to avoid the usual “woolly” objectives such as “to achieve greater exposure…
  2. The companies surveyed had on average 178 social media accounts (excluding employees’ own accounts) – from Facebook and Twitter to Foursquare and Flickr. Companies need to reflect on all their social media touchpoints to reduce confusion and maximise “story”.
  3. Integration is crucial. Demands for newer and newer social media outlets creates stress points within a business: do you retain the existing and go with the new too? Do you drop the existing? Do you drop some of the existing? Management of system and message integration will be degraded by an unclear strategy.
  4. Reputation management will flounder if social media pages are not kept up-to-date, on-message and relevant. In the social field it is crucial to stay in contact with customers/prospects and ensure rapid response.

To address this problem – a particularly significant problem for larger firms and yet even small businesses succumb to politics – Social Media Management Systems (SMMS) have been developed.  The report highlights some of the issues faced by users of these systems including quality, features and price, and I recommend you read that part of the report carefully.

However, for me the report’s findings are particularly interesting when we look at how best a company can align its social media effectively. The recommendations are:

  1. Establish the business goals – “because playtime is over”
  2. Conduct a social media account audit and only keep those the company will support – you’ll find that many accounts have been set up and many of those are either dormant or ineffectual or were set up because an employee wanted to set it up but has now lost interest.
  3. Map out permissions and document workflow. Permissions in the hands of the wrong groups can lead to chaos and brand degradation. It is not surprising to learn that often those who have been in companies longest often have the least idea of marketing, brand and position.
  4. Develop a content strategy. The last thing you need is a social media centre which is a melange of nonsense. Every marketing asset must have a measurable output.

Selecting the appropriate SMMS system is also crucial. Here, the recommendations are:

  1. Rank your requirements before you talk to SMMS vendors
  2. One size rarely fits all – be sure what the offering is, who it is normally tailored for and whether it will fit in with your own company’s needs. Buying “the best” may result in buying something unaffordable.
  3. Try before you buy – software often sounds great but true service is provided by something which works logically, intuitively and well.

And finally, the report concludes with four implementation guides to ensure the social media strategy is adopted and works:

  1. Change management requires investment – ensure all participants are educated and trained to deliver effectively and consistently.
  2. Use third party suppliers to help accelerate roll-out. Many publishers would probably not seek to do this due to financial constraints; in which case having a “power champion” in-house will be essential to drive the programme.
  3. Conduct QA, test and learn – a particularly interesting recommendation: simulation of events such as a company crisis will help define social media effectiveness.
  4. Tie measurement back to business goals. Here, as we have said, it is important that these goals can be measured in a way which is acceptable within the management team of the company so that it continues to benefit from management support.

But when it comes to marketing outputs, consistency is what counts and this requires having experienced marketing professionals managing the message: people who understand message – properly. This is not a cry for territorial ownership by the marketing department, rather an understanding by senior management that message is too important to be left to territorialism.


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