Laurence Buchanan examines the small number of firms that have pushed on from tactical social media experiments to achieve real transformational results.
The elephant in the social media room at the moment is that most corporate social media initiatives to date have been tactical experiments. Of those, few have generated meaningful business results. Sure, people have built up Facebook Fans and Twitter followers or they have launched the odd viral video on YouTube. They have claimed these as a success, but in reality these metrics should never be the end goal. The age of tactical experimentation has been characterized by:
- A focus on so-called “engagement metrics” i.e. likes, followers, re-tweets etc. over real business outcomes.
- An obsession with vanity buzz monitoring, with far too little attention given to data accuracy, data integration, insights and, most importantly, action.
- An explosion of rogue corporate social media accounts, created to support any promotion, product, department or individual employee who wants to add a social element to their portfolio (a recent client had at least 114 disconnected Facebook , Twitter and YouTube accounts).
- Silos between corporate social media accounts, silos between social media accounts and enterprise systems and silos between customers, employees, departments and partners.
A relatively small number of companies have pushed things further and achieved real, transformational results. Start-ups like Giffgaff
, who have pushed the concept of customer community in control
further than anyone else in the Telco industry with tangible results (their customer service costs are an estimated 4 times below industry average and word of mouth acquisitions are around 5-7k per month). Zappos
(now owned by Amazon), whose focus on service and experience pioneered an entire movement called Delivering Happiness
. Or large organisations like Proctor & Gamble whose Connect-and-Develop program allows idea co-creation with third parties and enables them to crowd-source solutions to fix some of its most complex R&D issues. Similarly, the Dutch airline KLM, who have embraced social with great success. Their KLM Clubs China & Africa
have allowed them to build communities for entrepreneurs travelling to emerging markets with KLM, creating additional value for club members way outside what you would usually expect. Their campaigns, like “Surprise”
and “Meet and Seat”
are both innovative and differentiate the airline’s brand in a crowded market place.
What ties these companies together is that:
- They are an over-used collection of examples – it’s sad but true; social business success is still not the norm.
- Their success has moved beyond a single social media campaign or departmental initiative – P&G’s success for example relies on connecting Marketing with Product Development, GiffGaff ties together Marketing, Sales & Service - all are led by their community. Zappos pioneered the concept of “everyone is in service”.
- They have not just adopted “social” technologies, but they have embraced a social mindset. One of outside-in, customer-centric thinking.
- Often they have not referred to the things they are doing as “social” – after all, we have always been “social” - rather, they talk about higher-principles like “customer in control” or “delivering happiness”.
Most large enterprise clients I meet acknowledge that the age of social media experimentation is now coming to an end. They want practical advice as to how to move from social media experimentation to social business transformation. Having worked for the last few months with a FTSE 100 client on just such a challenge, I can say with certainty that this is not an easy task. Social can be in direct conflict to many ingrained aspects of a firm, including:
- Business model – the ability to digitize products and distribute them at mass scale or to a micro niche (both enabled by social networks) can radically challenge an existing business model.
- Culture & mindset – one thing that is clear from the failure of many social media experience is that applying an inside-out mindset to social can backfire spectacularly. Think of the way in which some companies have tried to control everything that is being said about them online – deleting negative comments or worse still posting fake reviews. Inevitable this mindset of command and control has not worked in the digital world.
- Technology – The pace of change within social technology is so fast that it places huge pressure on the traditional IT operating model. See my post on “What comes next ater Facebook and Twitter. The challenge of keeping up in a constantly changing digital world.”
- Business Operating Model – perhaps the toughest and most under-appreciated challenge of social is to the business-operating model. They way people are incentivized, reporting lines, business objectives, ways of working can be placed under intense pressure by social. I have seen countless scraps between departments trying to “own” social media as well as finger pointing between silos each blaming the other for a failed campaign.
So how do you progress? Of course every company will be in a slightly different situation, but typically it’s probably worth at least getting a handle on all the tactical experiments you currently have in progress; at the very least understanding who is doing what, what’s working and where the dangers are. Secondly, any transformation requires a compelling need for change; one that is clear, visible and supported at both exec and employee levels. Often the compelling event may be external, for example from customers demanding change, from a new market opportunity that galvanizes action or from the threat of a disruptive competitor.
Thirdly, start with people, mindset and culture before tools (most people have over-invested in tools and under-invested in the complimentary capabilities required to obtain value from the tools – I know of a firm with 6 internal collaboration tools who still struggles to collaborate internally). In particular focus on the challenging mindset shift from inside-out to outside-in
, starting with the customer. Fourthly test, learn and iterate – another concept that is much easier said than done in most organizations where short term success is celebrated and failure punished.
The path to social business success is certainly not an easy one, as demonstrated by the lack of end-to-end examples that exist today, but as we move through the social wave of hype I have no doubt we will see more successes and less throw-away experiments.
Laurence Buchanan is director of digital transformation & CRM, EMEIA customer centre of excellence at Ernst & Young Advisory.