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.
I guess there is two sides to this.
Can Brands create scalable social ecosystems where the audience is the social component. This is possible to a degree but really hard to manage. Think of a media site that gets 5000 comments on a piece of content. Or like the Brand Bowl people all talking about one event via a hash tag etc.
The second is can brands directly engage with an audience in a scalable way and the answer is yes. But takes big bucks. If you figured out how many people 1 person can talk with via tweeting and facebook in a day, you could figure out how many people it would take. Imagine a brand had 1 million people who wanted to talk with them via social media today. My guess is it would take about 5,000-10,000 employees. Which is not going to be worth the $$ investment most likely. Or one day a slick AI system 8)
Edward, nice post. And needed. Funny, as we help these global brands understand the shifting tide in communications, I find many do not have a clear definition of "social." To execute at scale, the first step must always be defining what social is. Until agreement is made enterprise-wide on this point, it's difficult to activate a competent or compelling program at scale. Your last point is key, using is not the same as being. Our role as social strategists is just as much about "social" as it is about constructing open models of operation.
Great post. All of the above points are quite valid, but the last one is the key, (and interestingly enough its the least oriented to the ad industry). Organizations will become social from the inside out. Once enterprises realize the value that social brings to their internal communication, knowledge management and most importantly creativity and collaboration they will learn the value of social less as a marketing vehicle and more as a communications vehicle that implicitly and organically includes marketing.
We also have to stop confusing scale with paid media models. Treating social as essentially a paid media vehicle creates all of the familiar trappings of campaigns, short term thinking and self-promotion.
"...most efforts are fueled by answering, 'What do we want them to do?' rather than 'What can we do for them?'"
So, so true. Great post.
Edward, your second and fourth points are what I come up against most often within the confines of this industry. I still try to keep a @garyvee nugget of wisdom top of mind: quit acting like a 19-year-old dude, trying to close the deal on your first date. Until we also manage to reinvent our measures for success, our objectives will continue to be short term. Cue the G'n'R, "just a little patience…"
let5ch garyvee It goes all the way back to how most companies, marketing departments and their agencies where initially structured. Centralized, command and control, lots of layers between the organization's decision makers and its customers. That's all gone now.