Social working - keeping the likes on

How will everybody cope after the demise of their favourite social media destination? Farewell Facebook, Ta-ra Twitter, Toodle pip Tumblr etc.

Not going to happen? Sure it will, always does one way or another. The next big thing, a swing away from sharing and openness, a left field competitor, a marketing or operational blunder, or simply going out of fashion – remember BeBo, MySpace, SecondLife?

Although some may be bereft, tired and emotional, most users will simply shrug their shoulders and move on. Many will have already had that experience with another platform or seen other changes in their lives. Most will probably also have several social tools at their disposal and just substitute one with another.

For businesses it is a different story. Some take so long to catch up with and adopt any new technology idea that by the time they do, they have invested a significant amount of resources and time so are almost wedded (and welded) in to a particular approach. Just look at how long so many businesses took to get into using the internet, and sadly how many simply just manage to use it as an extension for something they’ve already been doing for years – the corporate brochure website being the classic example.

And don’t think that this is massively different in the gung-ho technology savvy US of A. Most American companies, large and small, are slow to adopt, have static, out of date or out of style websites and have no more sophisticated e-approaches than their European and Asian cousins.

This is what makes certain players stand out so much; some in the tech industries, colossi like Amazon and the odd player in other traditional sectors. However the majority of large companies are too slow or stifled by internal silos, and the small crazy named startups try to be so hip that their pants fall down. When they eventually get with a specific element of ‘the internet’, ‘m-commerce’, ‘social media’, the audience has moved on to another element.

The problem? Too much focus on the technology specifics, and not enough on how technology can map into the business and support its processes.

The manifestation of many corporate activities in the realm of social media is as clear as the old bad ways adopted in the late 1990s by companies trying to ‘go online’. Companies create Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and Twitter handles, but not strategies for increased customer interaction, how to build partner communities or how to use them to benefit the organisation ie ultimately sell more at lower cost.

For organisations that want to be remembered by their shareholders as more than just ‘nice, with lots of friends’, social media needs to deliver real value just like all other media and channels in marketing and sales. Building awareness is good, but building solid reputations is better and for all that great social connections can recommend, they can also destroy and sometimes they can be deceptive and distrusted – different friends’ views carry different weight.

The problem is that all too often, control of the social investment purse strings resides in the wrong place; CFOs who are prone to pre-judge most things through too narrow an ROI lens, and CIOs, who whilst becoming much more positive towards social media in general, are too often too focused on specific technologies and apparently less likely to be as ‘social’ as other members of the board. (According to recent surveys such as that by

While marketing should be much closer to the heart of the business it is also risky letting the CMO run away with the social budgets. Specific social platforms may appear to have immediate short term marketing appeal, but as outlined earlier, an organisation’s social strategy should not be led by a particular technology or social media site, but by the business outcomes required.

These may be marketing oriented, such as awareness generation, building partner ecosystems and communities of interest etc or they may be directed towards support and long term customer relationships. However, just like the huge IPO valuations of social media providers themselves, eventually the investment will have to be justified by increased value to the business ie significant cost reductions or sales growth.

Instead of fighting on a department by department front, just as social technology implies, a collaboration between different stakeholder groups within the business is more likely to achieve the best results. It might be marketing or IT led, but crucially it must have contributors from right across the organisation, working outside of their silos and comfort zones.

Social media exploitation by the business seemed like such a simple idea when so few we’re using it, but the arms race has moved on. Organisations need social media strategies, plans and multiple-faceted teams that acknowledge that social media is a permanent aspect of business that impacts many areas whilst specific social media sites are just isolated ships that may pass in the night.  Without an all-embracing strategy, all they might make is a few more friends, rather than adding more to the bottom line.