Thursday, July 30

Debating Social Media: Deloitte

Deloitte Consulting LLP has been entering the conversation about social media in some interesting ways for some time, including, most recently, adding a brand new moniker for its online activities. Christine Cutten, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, places social media under the banner of collaborative marketing.

Cutten's and other content is available at Deloitte Debates under the banner of customer management (it's not under collaborative marketing as the release stated). It's presented in a point, counterpoint format and includes discussions from several members inside the Deloitte team. For purposes of this post, I'll stick with the release, which includes some of Deloitte's prevailing points and follow up with a few of our own.

• Proactively manage your collaboration strategy. Cutten suggests to be effective, you'll need dedicated resources responsible for managing your collaboration strategy, keeping up with the important trends, and making careful choices about where to engage. Sound advice.

Less sound is the suggestion to invest in building a presence wherever high-impact discussions are happening. The investment needs to be made where your customers are. The concept to consider customers first was reinforced to me the other day when I asked a colleague of mine why their organization chose MySpace over Facebook. The reason was simple enough. Despite national demographics and trends, their localized audience doesn't use Facebook; they use MySpace.

• Get serious about risk management. Cutten writes that there are some critical investments that companies cannot ignore. For employees, they suggest understandable policies, effective training, and continuous monitoring. Doing things on the fly without sufficient resources can do more harm than good. Sound advice.

The only caution in considering the above is in the definitions. Companies seem utterly confused about where monitoring employees might begin and where it might end. Companies and organizations need to be mindful in choosing internal or external spokespeople. Not everyone wants to use their social networks to market the company; and not everyone is well suited for it anyway.

• Be authentic -- but discreet -- in engagement. Establish clear engagement policies to drive consistency and mitigate your own risk. Always be honest about who you are, provide information that is helpful, and allowing insiders to share the occasional inside scoop can generate goodwill and credibility. Sound advice.

Companies needs to add a healthy dose of internal communication to the mix. In reviewing hundreds of companies with online engagement and in working with several dozen, successfully integrating employees into the communication plan seems to hinge not on external online communication but rather a corporate or organizational trust on the inside.

• Align internal processes. You can't provide fixes to problems if your marketing and engineering departments don't see eye to eye on what the problems are, or how to solve them. Sync up internal processes with virtual teams. Sound advice.

Whereas some people become concerned about controlling messages and corporate speak, we would consider the above point a clear example of message management. If you speak as a team or organization or company, it makes sense to ensure everyone is on the same page or the team will lose credibility over mixed messages.

• Build and evolve capabilities. Companies often mistake their current IT department as the answer for all things Internet: an approach that often comes up short. Roles such as Webmaster, forum monitor, bloggers, Web designers and widget developers may be necessary. Use third parties if you can't build them internally. Sound advice.

What is missing, however, are assets that companies already have on hand, internally or externally. Seasoned communicators with generalized and integrated skill sets that may include marketing, public relations, investor relations, etc. can often be the tie that binds communication functions together.

• Measure interactions. Someday, performance metrics will emerge that demonstrate the full value of collaboration marketing. But until then, it makes sense to start with basics such as site usage, page hits, and the overall tenor of the discussion. Hmmm...

Partly, but not exactly. Outcomes remain the best measure of all communication, not merely traffic or page hits. I was recently reminded of this once again when one of the blogs we administer saw visitation soar to 10,000 visitors. Did one of the posts suddenly resonate with the general public over the intended audience? No. A government worker committed suicide and someone with the same name was featured on the blog several years ago. Several bloggers had taken our interviewee's image and incorrectly assigned it to the deceased. We spent the better part of a day correcting the problem before our interviewee's family and friends heard the inaccurate news.

More to the point, however, is the simple fact that all communication can be measured. While the tenor of discussions can count, traffic and page hits are only an indication of reach. In many cases, like the mistaken identity story, it doesn't count. (Heck, host one chat session on Twitter and popular measures such as followers and re-tweets automatically inflate for no other reason.)

Overall, Deloitte's discussion is worth reading. While not all of the content and conversation demonstrates a deep understanding of the space, the fact that Deloitte considers social media, or what it calls "collaboration marketing," and has adopted it is good. The next step for many people is simply getting it right. And when it comes to social media, "right" is situational.



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