By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis
Tom Foremski, the editor/publisher of SiliconValleyWatcher, has been reporting on the business of Silicon Valley for US and global newspapers and magazines since 1984 and focuses on an important topic: Why “Every Company Needs To Become A Media Company.” To use his striking summary, “EC=MC is the the transformative equation for business.” Hard to disagree! Traditional media is in jeopardy and companies will have to control their own future by setting up their own communication channels and a consistent social media strategy. Podcasts, videos, blogging, and micro-blogging are inexpensive means by which companies can get their messages out. But how will you rise above the noise? Creating a media department and selecting social media management systems (SMMS) are important first steps, but they are not sufficient by themselves. The key questions for companies will be: what message(s) do we want to communicate and who will be empowered to create these messages?
Theses questions are at the forefront of a few forward-thinking companies, and some of them have created extensive guidelines and digital IQ Programs. A great example of this is Intel, whose initiatives are very well described in Engage!, a recent book by Brian Solis. The reason for the success of the Intel program is a strong company culture, a long tradition of employee empowerment, and a strong network of satisfied users, developers, and customers. In other words, Intel did not just take on the opportunity of the social media trend overnight while starting from nowhere.
There is still a premium granted to early adopters of social media, and many companies still benefit from the additional publicity provided to them by social media gurus, analysts or paid digital ambassadors echoing their initiatives (basically like the press used to). However, the future will be far more complex. To rise above the noise – and get to be heard of the public – companies will not simply have to be fluent in social media, they will have to work hard at ensuring that what they say is synched with what they are, and that what comes across above the surface is consistent with lies underneath. The public, i.e. an enormous mass of individuals, will become the actual umpires of the game. As a result, a social media strategy compels companies to address the following:
1) Company Values. What messages does the company want to convey? Does its vision inspire and energize all the employees? Followers are not going to repeat marketing slogans just because they were cooked in a social media department. Followers want to relate to the people they follow – if not, they are passive followers of no bigger interest than all the names that already sit in corporate databases. If you mean nothing to people, people turn to your competitors.
2) Employee Empowerment. Today, you may have 15 or 20 people tweeting in your social media department. That’s fine. Yet, any solid marketing starts from within. The real scalability of social media departments requires that they ensure that employees from all departments are capable of representing the company meaningfully. This entails a whole different way of hiring people, training new employees, checking or building up their writing skills. Remember, engineers with a passion for what they do are ten times more eloquent (and more credible) than marketing folks (who usually can’t even demo what they talk about).
3) Customer Evangelists. It’s fine to pay digital ambassadors. It’s finer to see happy customers rave about your fabulous products and services. They speak about you truthfully. They want to share their experience. They are the most effective marketers you will ever have. So make sure that you know and pamper them! You will learn from them – and be able to readjust your messages based on what they say. Ergo: Retweet your customers instead of simply expecting to be retweeted by them. And, incidentally if, as a business, the number of people you follow is far below the number of people who follow you, you have it all wrong. Customers are your real amplifiers: nothing and nobody else.
Keep measuring the results of your end-to-end social media management process. The most comprehensive platform today (disclosure: I am also a Board Member) is Objective Marketer. Listening to customers is more than listening, it’s the art of continuously improving communication between the inside of the company and the outside world by not only managing and producing messages, but by also orchestrating the voices of others and increasing their reach. Build up an army of amplifiers – and not simply a retinue of followers and influencers.
Note: The notion of Company Culture and Employee Empowerment sounds kind of boring these days. Yet, you can’t be an effective Social Media Manager in the long run if you don’t dive into these areas seriously. I know, books on the topic are rarely exciting, but there are a few notable exceptions, such as the The New How, Building Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy by Nilofer Merchant. I wrote a post about it last December.