Rag-tag band of merry men: making Social Media Marketing official

If one were to chart the arc of corporate blogging – aka Social Media Marketing, aka SMM – over the past three years, I suppose some consistent milestones could be identified, something like Erikson’s Eight Stages of PsychoSocial Development. Right now I’d say SMM has reached its majority among technology companies within the early adopters like Microsoft, Sun, IBM, Dell and Lenovo. And elsewhere, probably is entering puberty, cracked voice and zits included.

The indications of SMM going far more formal into the organization are:

  1. Emergence of third-party tools, agencies, consultants pushing SMM solutions from buzz meters to blog detectors
  2. A lot of theoretical hand-waving by consultants banging the Cluetrain drum on blogs like this
  3. Debates over metrics, ROI, and formal placement in the org chart
  4. Conferences devoted to best practice exchanges

Last week I was in a conversation with our CMO and he challenged me to take Lenovo’s social media activities to the next level, from what he termed “a rag-tag band of merry men” to a more formal organization than the current loose federation that informally crosses teams and departments. This opens up the fundamental issue of where Social should live in the organization. Three owners are obvious.

  1. Corporate communications
  2. Customer Service
  3. Marketing

Since #s 1 and 3 are basically in the same domain under a CMO, I think the partnership is pretty obvious and tracks exactly to the current structure at Lenovo. Two groups – Service and Support/Marketing – collaborate on the common goals of increasing customer happiness through listening, fixing, inviting and collaborating with a massive constituency traditionally relegated to private conversations on service calls and angry letters to the CEO. The drivers of the customer revolution – the rise of the Better Business Blog instead of the Better Business Bureau as it were – are obvious, but what seems to be occurring with more frequency is the importance of the operation for a new model of outbound corporate communications, using the corporate blog (especially if the organization has settled on a canonical approach around a single blog such as Dell and Southwest Airlines) or blogs (the dispersed model adopted by Sun, IBM, Microsoft, etc.) to right a wrong, or notify constituents of a change, announcement, or other piece of news.

As Corp Comm comes into the picture, I think the first phases of SMM – monitor, detect, respond and fix – progress to the point where suddenly things need to get buttoned down for the simple reason that outbound communications needs far more management than quick give and take activities with customers who need resources, updates or fixes, leading to a model of — monitor, detect, respond, fix, and push messages.

I won’t digress into the canned vs. authentic messaging – my perspectives on PR are too skewed from the receiving side of the Press Relations model as an ex-reporter, versus the new model of Public Relations where corp comm evolves beyond mass media management to public perception management.

Communications isn’t the only catalyst towards formalization of what was two years ago a guerilla operation in many companies. From the earliest manifestations of employees with personal blogs, to customer service people reaching out, without permission to quench negative posts …. Social Media Marketing is no longer the two-headed chicken of 2005, an anomaly and revelation verging on revolution. Okay, okay, it is exciting stuff, the shift from one-way message manipulation marketing and customer communications to this new upside down world of transparent engagement and nekkid conversations … right, we all get it. Now let’s move to the next phase, where a rag-rag-band of merry men, as my CMO puts it, moves to a formal team with responsibilities, goals, budgets, and the other trappings of organizational life that spell the difference between skunk works style business development to the stuff of which business school curricula are based.

It was inevitable that corporate blogging would get to this point, I’m not sure what happens when it gets formalized, when job descriptions are settled on, and best practices are established and the operation becomes semi-standardized. ROI isn’t the driver –that will be the source of constant tension as companies try to justify their investment in people and tools – nor is brand reputation, whatever that intangible is. What drives formal adoption after informal experimentation is results, and the number of success stories are now so pervasive that no one can reasonably express doubts that a Social Media Marketing practice is an option. Today it’s a must-have operation. The questions that needs to be clarified are:

  1. Can SMM survive as a function crossing internal organizational lines?
  2. Is SMM a strategic function that innovates new revenue opportunities?
  3. Is SMM a service/utility like IT that every department needs?

This is stuff the recently launched (and disparaged) Blog Council needs to tackle. I feel a Harvard Business Review article coming on.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Rag-tag band of merry men: making Social Media Marketing official”

  1. Dave,

    The one thing in the world that would tempt me to come back from retirement would be a SMM program with a reputable company. I find it fascinating and love listening to students at colleges talk about it’s market and organizational impact.
    For a real hoot, get out east to an ag class and get them to talk about ag and ag business marketing out reach. the students at on of the colleges I’m involved in came up with three great student bis plans, mostly SMM related that instinctively drew wxisting and potential customers into product planning. What amazes me a lot is that the students assume transparency wins and gross commercial marketing loses. the take away is this: specificity draws potential customers in.

    Great post Dave!


  2. You’re right on the money, David, but I suspect you’re two years ahead of the market. Very few companies outside of the tech markets even have blog at this point, much less a “rag-tag band.” Your thinking is more evolved than that of the average marketer, who’s still got that deer-in-the-headlights expression. The latest data actually suggests that social media marketing is still not growing very fast as a percentage of overall marketing budgets.

    I’m glad you’re thinking about the next step because then marketers will have someone to turn to once they take the first step !

  3. Dave,

    Your emphasis on MANAGING SMM across a large, distributed organization filled with type A marketers and customer support people eager to self-publish directly to potential customers is spot on.

    I might suggest there is a hybrid model of managing SMM across large brands with many product lines, operating units and geographical locations. Rather than pull people into a formal team, why not implement a SMM process across all the people that are actively monitoring, detecting, responding, fixing…then messaging? By having a global SMM management process, communicators and subject matter experts can quickly define, review and approve the appropriate language needed on a real time basis.

    The application could pull in communicators and subject matter experts from across the organizational domain. So what is this killer application? Its not Outlook – Facebook would not have been valued at 15 Billion if that was the case.

    From my biased perspective, one needs a purposed built application that has invested in the underlying management of how people and processes interact with topics, messages and feedback from the online world.

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