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An enterprise dilemma – who deserves the social media golden apple: Marketing, IT, Business Development?

Who should own Social? I have heard this question asked many times, and though the answers given are nearly always the same “CMO, CIO or COO“, the fact that the question continues to be asked suggests that such responses are not satisfactory.  Most certainly the question is not the right question, after all who can own an adjective?  As soon as you add the noun the dilemma is not as  muddy but it is still far from clear.   Whether its social media, content, information, stream or network we still don’t have obvious answers although some of those nouns give us clues.

The fact is that we do not know what the golden apple of social media really is.  We do know that it is current, topical and massively popular.  Additionally the more we engage the more we realize that “social” is a mindset, a behavior and like the big data that is produced – extreme.  That last word should send a frisson of caution through any CEO or Board of Directors, enough to suggest careful consideration before any “engagement” let alone appointment of “social” responsibility.

“Social”  means different things to different organizations and communities, so before  delineating any bailiwick, the CEO or board must determine what “social” means to their business, their business culture and above all their customers. Customers are most important because the world of social is public, visible, and can act like litmus paper in highlighting public opinion, good or bad.  Like it or not customers are going to be influenced by an enterprise’s “social” reputation.  In turn customers and even the general public are going to influence business strategies and objectives to some degree.  Understanding the risks, opportunities and attendant costs over time is critical input for any plan, and social engagement is no different. However with “social” any implementation is more visible, and feedback is much more immediate and amplified.

The best way to get to grips with the issues is through experience.  The best way to get early experience is to perform Proof of Concepts (PoC).  Notice the plurality, which is extremely relevant to “social”, because it is a behavior and an operational style, not a function or a process.  PoCs allow you to apply “social” behaviors and styles to specific functions or processes within organizations.  At the detailed level that might be Customer Service Problem Management, Sales Force Automation Management or it could be Asset Control Process Improvement.  While these functions might not be the first in line for examination, they do illustrate that there is no division or department that presides over all the possible functions.  Of course Marketing, Finance and IT are going to be involved, as they should,  but the purpose of the PoC is to determine whether “social” behavior is a fit for specific parts of the business.  Further analysis and possibly additional PoCs can then determine the scope and reach of “social” adoption.  Some organizations will be better suited to “social” behavior, others may have to consider major organizational and or cultural changes.  However the decision to adopt, in part or in totality, depends on business need and business commitment at the highest level if anything other than discrete projects are being considered.

The Judgement of Paris is the myth of impossible choices.  In the story Paris, a Trojan prince, was asked to present a prize of great value, a golden apple, to one of three goddesses, Aphrodite/Venus, Minerva/Athena and Hera/Juno.  Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, the most alluring and beautiful of the three, securing her appreciation and support in the future war with the Greek states.  Alas he also incurred the disdain and wrath of the other two goddesses, who supported the Greek kings and princes, Agamemnon, Ulyses and Achiles in the conflict.  The apple didn’t cause the war, that was Paris committing another poor judgement call by absconding with Helen, Agamemnon’s daughter, and carrying her off to be his bride in Troy.  But the apple did establish  which godly powers belonged in which camp during and immediately after the hostilities.

“Social Media” is a golden apple.  Marketing, Finance, Business Development, Audit, Operations and IT are all potential recipients.  Giving the responsibility or ownership of “social” to one of these functions is fine if the business only wants to operate “social” exclusively within that function.  But here lies the dilemma in which Paris found himself, the business gains on one side but not on others.  For example allowing Marketing to direct and control “social” could require the subordination of IT (I have heard that said many times) which also provides service to all other functions, their processes and their data. Is that a responsibility that Marketing really wants to be accountable for?

Paris didn’t have the option, but he could have approached Zeus, the CEO of Olympus and either given him the apple or asked him to decide.  Social business is larger than any one department, it is likely that most businesses that depend on consumerism will become fully “social” both internally and externally.  It therefor makes sense, once the analysis of early trials has been conducted, to create a change agent at the most senior level, reporting to the CEO or Board of Directors who is charged with developing the “Social” strategic plan and the transformation, if necessary, of the enterprise culture.  Once the transformation is complete the change agent can withdraw and  the functions will run themselves as they did before, they will just do so in a “social” style.   In the “social” business, everyone should have a slice of the apple.

The illustration above is from an 1848 publication of the UK periodical “Punch”.  The cartoon refers to the famous myth and depicts the political dilemma faced by French voters in the 1848 French General Election.  It is easier to compare business departments to politicians than it is to enchanting immortals.

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In a very short time curation has evolved from a minor supporting role to a major or even leading role in Social Media engagement.  It is no longer sufficient to just share items of interest, breaking news and opinion, not if you want to be regarded as authentic and taken seriously.

Information Filter

Knowledge Condenser

Curation has many definitions, including my own: “Curation is the acquisition, evaluation, augmentation, exhibition, disposition and maintenance of digital information, usually centered around a specific topic or theme”.  The Digital Curation Center (DCC) in the United Kingdom puts it more succinctly

Digital curation, broadly interpreted, is about maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital information for current and future use. (DCC)

Both definitions infer an information lifecyle process, that manages the digital objects from creation to deletion. Both suggest that capturing and adding value, whether by commentary or related material, is vital to the end product which is knowledge or information that can be referenced now and in the future.

Message Amplification

However the evolution of digital curation is experiencing some fragmentation.  Not that this is bad, but it does suggest the differences should be understood  as curation tools will differ in features and capabilities as each tries to satisfy its target customer base.  So far I have  identified 3 major distinctions in curation:

  1. Marketing Content: comes in several forms as marketeers move away from landing pages on Facebook and web sites, and seek to amplify brand presence through curated content.
  2. Information (or Knowledge Content): More focused on collecting and condensing information to support a topic or subject. Most commonly a reference site usually set up for either internal or external collaboration
  3. Personal Content – less dependent on content management features and capabilites: can either be used for amplification (self-branding) or condensing (information).

The question I would like to pose is who visits these curated sites and what are their preferences.  The following poll offers choices in the style and content of  curated sites.  Please let me know which sites you prefer to access for either information or shareable content.  I have made a further distinction for sites that are the result of either employee or community collaboration as they possibly differ from information sites in the degree of social participation (ie more social).

Taking the Plunge into the Social Media Swim

Image: vorakorn kanokpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It takes about 6 months of immersion and splashing about  in the waters of Social Media  to feel  comfortable and confident enough to not just tread water but make strokes that might lead to reaching one of the other sides.  That is of course if any of the other sides are visible, as the social network is far larger than any public amenity previously encountered by a an order of magnitude.  For those about to jump in for the first time – do not be afraid – the temperature is fine and its predominantly shallow water.  You wont get into difficulties and the worst thing that can happen is a little bit of personal embarrassment, but then nobody is really watching that closely.

During those months of familiarization, learning how to engage with Facebook, posting to your wall, writing up your “resume on steroids” aka Linkedin, pinning your curated content on Pinterest or taking the bolder step of blogging or tweeting you may have wondered a little bit about this medium, the proximity of millions of people all swimming about much the same as you.  What is it?  Rushing through the list of possible descriptors it’s a club, a hangout, its a place to share your thoughts and life with friends , it’s a knowledge pool, it’s the maker and breaker of news. it’s the university of life, the crucible of change even revolution, it’s a marketing paradise.  Finally a reliable source on how commercial brands can track the public success of and reaction to their products and identity.  And that is how it is viewed today.   At a recent Social Media Week event in New York the main topic of conversation was how to use the social network for competitive advantage, with the focus almost exclusively on the marketing advantage.   One of the biggest discussions of the week was who owned Social Media – marketing or PR, and ancillary to that was the often expressed sentiment that CMOs owned Social Media and the strategy around it.  Furthermore that ownership and the technical budget that accompanies it indicates that the CIO should now report to the CMO.

Social Media spoils, Marketing versus PR, or Google versus Facebook or Apple

But before anyone stakes a claim on Social Media, shouldn’t we first understand more about Social Media, what it is, how it is structured (or non-structured) and what are the economics of the model(s), who are the principle players, what are the constituent parts, and what are the appropriate standards and rights that should attend the use and access to this massive data universe.  And the questions do not end here.   Most importantly what is the value of the Social Network to the individual, the private citizen, the corporate or public sector employee, the community, the enterprise, the nation, mankind?  Without doubt it is worth far more than the sum of its parts, but the largest opportunity of all lies in collaboration.  Being able to reach out and share is the fundamental behavior of the social network, and millions upon millions of people do so every day.  They participate, contribute and collaborate freely and willingly, and it is manna from heaven for the marketing profession, who understandably have sharpened their knives to capture the likes and dislikes of the masses.  But if that energy and effort is properly channeled, if tasks can be performed by social network teams, if thoughts and ideas can be evolved and extended to stimulate innovation then marketing will be just the tip of the value iceberg.

In the end no-one can or should own the social network, money will be made from it, reputations will be won or lost, but ultimately the social network benefits and belongs to all of us, to Everyman.  We are all contributors, we are all curators, we are all custodians, and our first task as stewards is to define and describe the infant that is our charge, so that we may nurture and care for its health and growth.  This blog will attempt to start that process, and with a lot of help from others (both a plea and an invitation)  hope to bring some focus and understanding to the ever expanding pool of knowledge and resource that is the social network.

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