Five reasons why most brands can’t do social at scale

Recently there is a lot of talk about doing social at scale. In fact, Sprinklr, the well-regarded social media management system, just asked me to join the esteemed Mitch Joel, Joe Jaffe, Chris Brogan, and Jason Falls in answering the question, “How does the enterprise do social at scale?”

My first answer is they can’t. It’s not possible. Why? Because most enterprises aren’t social. They may do social. They may use social. But that doesn’t mean they are social. Big difference. Sure, plenty of brands have shown us some version of success. American Express enables existing communities (small business), supports customers and businesses via Foursquare, and attempts to market on Facebook with Link, Like, Love. Axe took the web by storm for at least two days with their realtime, Twitter inspired videos. Best Buy launched Twitter-based support with TwelpForce. Burberry has perhaps done the best job, transforming itself into a media content company in order to create truly social experiences for its customers. And, of course, early social pioneer Dell turned its customer service over to its customers.

But to get to scale — and by that I presume we mean extending social engagement and interaction across borders, divisions and product lines, effectively serving multiple communities in realtime, and harnessing social data to inform future programs and products — it might take more than Sprinklr’s very intelligent “Must Haves,” six suggestions for what enterprises need to be doing.

Here’s why it won’t happen for most enterprises and brands.

Too many companies practice old media tactics in the new media environments

Just the expressions “Follow us on Twitter,” and “Like us on Facebook” suggest that what companies really want is to have you opt-in as an audience. No different than tuning into a broadcast network to receive cleverly disguised sales pitches. How many media properties and brands, for example, do you see that serve up nothing more than information about themselves, hoping that it might be of interest? There is still a lot of pushing.

They start with themselves not their community

Granted this is marketing, but it appears that most efforts are fueled by answering, “What do we want them to do?” rather than “What can we do for them?” The future of marketing is service and added value through utility. Done well over time that will lead to the conclusion that a company serves me and therefore deserves my business. See this old Nordstrom’s story.

The people who execute social media remain isolated

For a lot of companies, social strategy and execution is treated as a function, performed by the social media or PR organization or maybe the service department. But until social is integrated throughout an entire organization, used for everything from consumer research to product testing, crowdsourcing, real time response and access it will be near impossible to scale for the simple reason social behavior won’t be practiced on the community’s terms. Listening and measuring is great. But one-to-one real-time connections should be the ultimate objective.

Thinking remains short term

Advertising taught us to think in campaigns. Run a campaign, see immediate results.  You can do social media that way, for sure. To launch a product, open a store, generate buzz, leverage a cultural event. But until marketers and those who approve the budgets for resources, technology and training recognize that social is also a long term investment, scale will be a challenge.

Most companies use social, but it doesn’t mean they are social

You can have a Facebook page, multiple Twitter accounts, even a state-of-the-art command center that monitors the conversation.  That is using social. Being social, however, has less to do with platform presence and more to do with a philosophy that results in transparency, participation by the constituents who might be affected by a decision, a senior management team that sets an example, and a willingness to give up some control.

This is hard. Despite what we’ve seen happen to Nestle, Bank of America, Netflix and the Gap, a lot of companies can’t change their DNA and muscle memory when it comes to marketing.

The desire to scale social without making the commitment to being social reminds me of all the brands that want to be like Apple. They covet Apple-esque advertising, Apple-like design, and Apple fan loyalty. But they fail to understand that the culture of simplicity making all of that possible isn’t an execution (ads, product, store) it’s a deep-rooted culture that drives every decision the company makes along with those it chooses not to make. (Read Insanely Simple and you’ll understand that story.)

I also believe it’s easier to be social than to be Apple. Many companies will inevitably get there. But I fear they’ll have the platforms, multi-channel management, corporate governance and analytics in place before they’ve changed the most important obstacle. Their way of thinking.