Are you just managing social media or are you a social organisation?

To some Marketing Directors and Managing Directors, social media is seen as a set of tactical tools that sit within the Communications Department. More often than not, those tools are handled by digital natives on their behalf, those people that have a familiarity with social media, that they themselves do not.

This means there is a significant deficit of understanding at the heart of many management teams and at the core of brand and businesses strategies about how to really adapt to, and make the most of, social media.

Social media is an experiential medium, iterative and generative in nature and it asks for human, hands-on involvement. This means that many brands and businesses have yet to appreciate how large a difference there is between an ‘organisation that uses social media’, and a ‘social organisation’.

The difference has a direct bearing on the level of success one can expect from social media. The social web offers the advantages of friction-free connectivity and real-time, impactful engagement, but in return asks that brands and organisation are socially relevant and involved in a conversation. This requires new perspectives on brand positioning, strategy and management.

To generate value-rich relationships and long-term user participation, brands must develop social leadership skills that can encourage them to engage with people, and not just manage them through social media. This reframes marketing communications and requires new storytelling and content management capabilities.

The social web asks that businesses are lean and agile, without being slowed down by the ‘middle third’, the layer of management that sits below the parapet in terms of the strategic vision and is also disconnected from the groundswell and group of people ‘formerly known as the audience’. This asks for new perspectives on business modelling.

Socially smart brands operate with minimal slack, in a way where every key contact connected makes a positive impact. They are networked. This asks for new perspectives on enterprise technology and how human resources are developed.

Organisations that are not digitally calibrated beyond being in the game of social media, run the risk of adopting 2.0 platforms to deliver 1.0 broadcasts. What we’re seeing today is just the beginning of a fundamental shift, one that a great deal of business and organisations aren’t ready for.

Without having the strategies in place to develop user participation, inbound communication, distributed, collaborative growth or the social skills to create network effects and cultivate communities of influence, these are organisations that run the risk of being completely unprepared to compete well for the minds and hearts of users and consumers in a new, connected, social marketplace.

For social media to have an impact, the adoption of social media by brands and businesses has to be much more than skin deep. Being a digitally networked organisation, able to take full advantage of the opportunities that social media brings, requires looking at an organisation’s positioning strategy, establishing of new business benchmarks, new ways of working cross functionally, deeper levels of insight gathering and user-centric research, digital commerce, new marketing methods, as well as cultural skills, corporate competencies, technologies and user experiences. Most organisations have quite simply never been calibrated to be digitally effective businesses.

For businesses and brands that struggle with digital adoption, most that resistance comes from not having the time, being too busy or not being able to see the operational benefits – all valid arguments given the pressure of managing a hectic pace of change. But a lot of the pressure of change itself comes from managing the shift from old model to new model businesses piecemeal, without having a fully integrated and inter-disciplinary digital strategy. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Organisations need to develop bespoke migration strategies for this that can deliver returns with minimal disruption.

As digital integration becomes sore to marketing communications and business management, one challenge is how to maintain stakeholder relationships as things scale. At Visceral Business, we work with large organisations to develop strategies on just this point, that deliver the answers to these challenges without compromising the strength of the brand. Brand strength can be diluted by outsourcing the brand’s social voice or by taking a too-technical approach to data management. Each of these can end up stripping the organisation of its ability to add value by creating deep, visceral connections with users.

The networked organisation offers one big advantage beyond just using social media, in that networked organisations are sustainable. They’re sustainable because they help people connect where they buy and buy in to the business in new ways. Networked organisations offer more than automated transaction, they have human business principles embedded into their core values. They grow their social influence, the strength of their community and their operational productivity on the basis of intertwined and inclusive objectives, in tandem and in real time, with users.

For many organisations managing digitally, the Achilles heel is still, as one client put it recently, ‘Heaven help anyone who wants actual conversation!’ It is true that we get the return on digital media we deserve.

My colleague Steve Bridger puts it this way: ‘The so-called failures of social media to deliver are misplaced; rather they are the result of our own failure to commit – to sustain an online presence in more than a fleeting, one-night stand.

Digital media today may fail to deliver that campaign result you had pre-determined, but it might, if used well, instead unleash a series of promising relationships, connections and surprises.

Consider our failure of exposing our meeting culture (or our advertising) to the same rigorous demand for immediate return that we demand of social media.

What digital technology does is it lifts a mirror and reflects back on our own failings to make time for other people. When contemplating the failures of social media, we need to first look at ourselves.

  • Very interesting read. I wonder if the shift to become a social organisation will be too great for some organsiations and brands. Some organisations and brands don't trust staff and feel safe in controling conversations and communciations. Social media and a social organisation break down these control mechanisms.

    As your quote says “Heaven help anyone who wants actual conversation!

  • Brilliant article, thanks for this!

  • Hi Anne,
    By trying to keep abreast of the latest and greatest we have allowed tactics to get in the way of what social media should be about. As your client says it's meant to foster conversations not kill them with thinly veiled attempts to sell or attract traffic.
    Essentially all we are really saying to our customers is “talk to me”. So why not keep it simple?
    There are some highly successful sole trader businesses out there managing to attract, interact with and hold audiences in excess of 24,000 just by posting great content on their blogs.

    • Anne

      Thanks for these great thoughts and comments, I appreciate them.

      Bernie you've raised a key point, and a big issue for larger organisations is many people working within them have been schooled in specialisation and complexity because that's how industrialised oragnisations have often created value. The net result is the innate tendency that comes with it to take a process mindset and make things more complicated than they really need to be.

      It's interesting that many social media solutions are focused on abstracting customer data, far more than getting deeper and closer connections with customers, and to try and close the 'us and them' gap.

      This is 'social' in name only, momentum in terms of going through the motions, such is the disconnect with human business.

      • Hi Anne,

        Have you seen what I suspect is Gap's recent attempt at starting a conversation using a logo re-design that has got passionate Gap followers up in arms? Of course they would have know that loyal Gap customers and the design community would be up in arms about the very average re-brand.

        I've posted about it here and asked them the question direct via FB and Twitter.

        Although it's generated huge buzz around what the brand stands for and means to its' customers I wonder if this was the best way to start the conversation?

        • Anne

          Well Bernie, if that's the strategy it will be interesting to see what kind of conversation they really have.

          I tweeted @gap 17 hours ago about it!/Annemcx/status/26589095456

          …and it appears they don't seem to feel like responding, let alone initiating, quite yet. In any case the answer is no, it probably isn't. It would be taking a big risk with the brand equity they already have.

  • Hi Anne, I agree with Bernie, social media should be kept simple and not seen as the panacea for business recovery.

    The companies I come across who want to know how to “use” social media all seem to believe it will help them grow and by “connecting” with their customers they will increase revenue and success.

    The nub is, before social media they were mostly dull. They had nothing of interest to talk about. They had nothing to add. Now having adopted social media they still have nothing to say other than good old sales pitches! We need to get away from the term “social media” and try to use “social content” in its place.

    Media are tools or channels used to transfer information. Companies should not get hung up on the transport but more on finding interesting things that stilmulate conversation.

    As Chris Brogan once said, “social media is like your local pub”. I'll drink to that!

    • Anne

      Cheers Bill.

      Getting to the simple, compelling truth of a brand identity, social or otherwise, and delivering great content around it is one of those things that's much easier to say than do. It requires single-minded focus, almost to the point of brutality of thought. It takes a brave management executive to strip stuff out.

  • Sue Pine

    Hi Anne –

    Thanks so much for writing this article. The concepts help me convey many thoughts that I have tried to articulate within our own little Social Networking Task Force that we have initiated to help our company dip our toe into this arena. We decided to jump in the shallow end of the pool and wade out to the deeper water as we continue to learn and embrace the opportunities that abound!


  • Superb post, Anne- you've actually managed to change my worldview significantly with this! I'm especially intrigued by the concept of “socially fit brands”, and the implication of “socially unfit brands” that are out there in droves.

    It's interesting to watch companies try to force the issue, to place oh-so-80's sales pitches into media that inherently reject this approach out of hand. And yet they still keep on trying!

    Trying to “use” social media seems to me to be intellectually and emotionally lazy, and I thank you for your vision of how much more we can be…

  • Pingback: Visceral Business()