Taking sides: Should all companies be engaging in social media?

Cartoon courtsey of TomFishburne.com

Taking sides is a point/counterpoint series on Justin Case You Were Wondering. The following debate is  between Chuck Hemann, director of WCG insights, and me. Chuck and I were rapid tweeting about this topic on Twitter and Facebook as a result of Chris Brogan’s announcement he was going to sell blog topics and we thought the discussion deserved more than 140 characters. We hope you agree. Not with either of us necessarily, but that the topic deserved more than 140 characters.

Chuck: Organization, then participation

Should all companies be engaging in social media? First, let me point out that I’m generally distrusting of absolutes like all, but for the purposes of this discussion lets just go with it. The answer to the question, in my opinion, is “no.” The folks who do this stuff for a living, generally speaking, love it. We love interacting with people online. We love espousing its benefits to others. We want companies to love it as much as we do. In a lot of instances, that energy for the space translates to our bosses or clients. Trust me, I’m not coming down on being energetic about the work you are doing. Quite the contrary. What I am coming down on is misplacing that energy where it may not do the most good.

If you’re a fan of movies like I am you’ve no doubt seen Jurassic Park. In the movie, Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) says to John Hammond (played by Richard Attenborough) about his new dinosaur park that he was so focused on whether he could (create the park) and not as much on whether he should. Far too often, I think the social media world is imitating art. So how do you know if you should? In my view, of the answer is “no” to any of the following questions you should continue sitting on the sidelines:

  1. Do you have a dedicated social media team? - Trust me, anyone who’s been involved in enterprise social media will tell you it takes more than one person. It’s also not as simple as “re-purposing” someone from PR or marketing. This social media team should be cross-functional. It should include PR, marketing, legal, HR, the C-level, etc… If you don’t have such a team, continue sitting it out until you do.
  2. Do you have a dedicated listening team/provider? We’re so focused on “scaling” social media across an enterprise that we’ve forgotten listening doesn’t scale well either. Not only do you need a team of listening experts, but you need to setup the mechanism to share insights across the organization. Insights that come from listening are applicable in a lot of areas other then PR/marketing.
  3. Are you clear on measurable goals/objectives? This could be the most important question outlined here. What’s the point in developing a social media strategy and then doing the engagement if you have no mechanism to measure the final output? And before you ask, yes, I think you’re OK if what you’re measuring is not pure ROI. At least at the beginning.
  4. Does social media engagement further some greater business objective? This speaks to the measurement point somewhat, but engagement should lead to the solution of some other business problem. A great example of this is poor customer service and then applying social tools to becoming more customer-friendly.

Anyway, those are just four questions that I think you should ask yourself before engaging. If you’re answering, “I don’t know” to any of these questions then I think you should be sticking with your traditional communications activities.

Justin: Engaging = Building relationships

I don’t want him to get a big head, but Chuck is right. The best case scenario for companies to decide whether or not they should engage via social media is to answer the questions he’s posted above. But as all of us who work with clients know, too often we aren’t able to reach the best case scenario because of internal company dynamics, available resources/budget or a number of other reasons.

So I disagree with Chuck, but I agree with him. What’s that called - half agreeing? I think I’ve actually been told before that it’s called being wishy-washy. But give me a chance to explain before you give me the Charlie Brown label.

I do think all companies should have an end goal of engaging via social media. All businesses are about relationships. No matter whether you’re B2C or B2B, a regulated industry or not, building relationships is key to the success of every company out there. In fact, if you can think of one company where relationships don’t matter, please share it in the comments and I promise I will reconsider my position.

Engaging via social media is just another way to build relationships. When you throw out all the terminology and platforms, it’s word of mouth (WOM) and conversation online, plain and simple. And every company out there can benefit from it…if they do it right. So how do they engage the right way? Well, here are the three most common ways that come to mind:

  1. The process Chuck outlined above. Companies should NEVER just do social media to do it. Or because they think they should be doing it. Social media should be looked at like any other tactic — we should be asking “Can it help you achieve your goals and objectives?” Beyond that first line of consideration, which I would recommend you almost always use as a first line, organization before participation makes a lot of sense. IOW, social media is a culture changer. We’ve never been able to track WOM the ways we can these days thanks to the evolution of technology. But in order to facilitate a culture change your colleagues will buy into and that will best benefit your customers, a cross-functional approach is key. And if you can encourage your cross-functional team to spend some time listening to the social media landscape — your customers and competitors — before diving in, even better. After all, don’t we generally make better business decisions when equipped with research? Listening can provide us those insights.
  2. To meet department business objectives. Hopefully your company’s departments can work well together as a cross-functional team to listen and outline the best social media approach before engaging. But corporate culture doesn’t always work that way. How often do different departments have different priorities that keep them from teaming up or taking the same approach to a problem? Working together across departments sounds good, but we can’t always make good on it. Still, I don’t think that should stop your company from engaging via social media if you can show it will help achieve an objective(s) with which your department/company is tasked. Too many companies wait and wait for the perfect time before engaging. Guess what, the perfect time doesn’t come around that often. It may never come. Plus, one department’s case studies and successes can often help bring others around.
  3. When you would engage offline. The best example I can think of to fit this category is customer service. If you see customers posting a question/issue about your brand online and you know you can help them out by engaging, do it. I’ll caveat this one with the response protocol reminder — as in you should have one and you can’t help everybody. But if an opportunity to help a customer presents itself and it’s a situation where you would help the customer without a second thought if you were face-to-face (F2F), then I’d recommend you engage that customer online no matter where your company is at regarding a social media strategy. I think it also works if a reporter/blogger contacts you via social media as well with a question they might ask you via e-mail or over the phone.

Remember the movie Groundhog Day? Bill Murray had the chance to relive the same day over and over again until he got everything exactly right (that movie is hilarious, btw). If every company put in the effort to get it exactly right, then I agree 100 percent with Chuck’s POV. It is the best way to prepare a brand to engage. However, company’s cultures are all different and some are more ideal than others. But every company IS dependent on relationships, no matter the internal culture. And that’s why it makes sense for all companies to engage via social media…because “engaging” is just another word for “building relationships” online.

  • So which side would you take?
  • Do your clients have a dedicated social media team? Listening team?
  • Have you seen Jurassic Park and Groundhog Day?

So who is this Chuck Hemann guy anyway? Well, Chuck is currently Director of WCG Insights, a subsidiary of WCG, which is a global media services company focused on the corporate and product marketing and communications needs of leading healthcare companies. In that capacity, he has primary responsibility for creating and maintaining state-of-the-art analytics and monitoring programs for WCG’s clients. He also helped to build the company’s social media practice via active engagement in online activities, new business development, client and account management, and the creation and implementation of annual plans and project plans. Prior to joining WCG, Chuck was the manager of research and online reputation for Dix & Eaton, where he was responsible for supplying research and information for all of the firm’s practice areas including media relations, marketing communications and investor relations. He also co-chaired the firm’s digital communications practice.

Additionally, Chuck is a Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research, a global, nonprofit research and education foundation think tank focused on the latest developments in media and communications. During his year-long fellowship, he will be exploring how social analytics are gathered, and then processed within an organization.

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Shonali 1160 pts

JGoldsborough and chuckhemann , until late last year I would have agreed with you blindly. But I was on a panel with a few folks discussing SM and Twitter specifically at one point, and one of the panelists made the point that if nothing else, you can learn a lot simply by listening. He made it clear that he doesn't actively use it, like you guys and I do. But he watches streams, listens, and by doing so, gathers a lot of intelligence. And this is not a non-tech person; far from it.

I think the key difference is what companies *think* they are doing when they say they are *in* social media. If they're not actively using it, beyond the listening function, IMHO they are not really "in" it but testing the waters. That's fine. Then they've got to figure how and when they're going to do all the above (points you guys have made).

It may be a question of semantics, but if you asked me, "Should all companies engage WITH social media?" I'd say yes, based on what I wrote. But "engage IN"? No, not until you know why you're there, how you're going to do it, and how you're going to measure it.

JGoldsborough 238 pts

Shonali chuckhemann And this is why I love this discussion. Agree with you and Chuck in premise, Shonali. But think about how corporations work. Often times, someone sets out to answer "Why you're there?" "How you're going to do it?" and "How you're going to measure it?" but they can't get any traction or cross-functional buy in. At the same time, that person sees opportunities to build relationships with, help the customer via social media. Should he/she not take advantage of those engamement opportunities -- via his/her personal accounts or the company account -- and use the results as supporting evidence?

Not necessarily saying yes, but I think it's a hard question because so many people are visual learners and can't see the value of engaging without actually seeing it.

Shonali 1160 pts

JGoldsborough chuckhemann I think using personal evidence to build a case is a great way to go. The other thing to do is to look for case studies and use those in support as well.

But I do think that the most fundamental thing they can do, regardless of active engagement, is at least to test the waters by watching and learning. There's a lot to be said for that.

chuckhemann 7 pts

Hey Justin - Glad we were able to do this post. Hopefully your readers get something out of the discussion.

JGoldsborough 238 pts

chuckhemann Thank you, sir. I'm sure they will. It's an important discussion with several diffferent sides.

I think it's a good idea to mix in some new blood every now and then so people don't get sick of my rhetoric. And puns. I know the puns can be annoying. Plus, we were able to get a Jurassic Park, Groundhog Day and Charlie Brown reference in one post. And for that, I am proud :).


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