The anti-social organisation

jonathan barouchIn this guest post, Jonathan Barouch argues that marketers need to stop asking the ROI on social media and start using it to do business.     

“What’s the return on investment of Social?”

CEO’s are demanding an answer to this question. They know it’s important, but they are feeling exposed. They want to see the metrics before committing time and money to embedding social channels into the broader corporate mix.

It is a difficult question to answer. You might just as well ask the CEO what the company’s ROI is for email, or its telephone connections (although probably not wise for the sake of your career!)

The fact that CEOs are setting the bar for upfront metrics so much higher for one communications channel over another demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of social media at the senior executive and board level.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth reports that 77 per cent of Fortune 500 companies already have a social media team and an established social presence. But from my experience, I would suggest that most of these companies’ social strategy currently consists of little more than a 21-year-old PR intern tasked with the job of “managing Social”.

This is a great shame, not only because valuable customer conversations get missed, but because when it is properly engaged, social media can be the richest data source on customer preferences and customer trends that has ever existed.

The companies that build a capability to harness and understand the constant stream of social data will be rewarded with valuable real-time insight.

This requires a company-wide integration of social channels across the business. It is well beyond the brand monitoring of the 21-year-old PR intern.

So how do we turn anti-social organisations into customer-led responsive companies?

The cynic in me says that it usually takes a crisis to jolt a large organisation into action (and in the context of social, the viral downside of even a small crisis can be spectacular.) However, more corporates are waking up to the upside opportunities, and investing in deeper social strategies that go beyond an intern re-tweeting cute pictures of cats on the company Facebook page.

There are countless blogs from social media ‘gurus’ talking about the best first steps for a corporate to dip their toes into social media, but I tend to disagree with many of their recommendations.

Rather than getting expensive consultants to set up a social media command centre to report on brand sentiment as a starting point, I suggest doing things the completely opposite way.

The key to creating a social organisation is to help people within the organisation to understand how their actions and engagements in the real world impact the conversations that customers have about them.

The only way this can be achieved is by allowing social media capabilities to sit across the various silos of a corporate, with information filtering down to the front line. It needs to be integrated into business processes as a standard business tool.

While you clearly don’t want all your employees tethered to Facebook, there is a happy balance where relevant and timely social media posts from customers arrive in the hands of the employee. This then gives them the power to use the insights to influence the actual customer experience, right then and there.

As is always the case, the trick is to get the right customer information into the hands of the right employee, at the right time.

I came across an interesting example recently with a large corporate client who felt they had an operational problem with managing social media. The customer told me how their organisation manages social media through the corporate communications department at head office.

But this corporate communications team was so flat out that they barely have time to eat lunch as more and more customer service and operational issues flooded their social media handles.

In an effort to share the learnings across the business the team sent out fortnightly social media reports to the whole company. While this initially seemed like a good idea, ultimately the social media reports only served to highlight how much the organisation needed to improve their customer experience.

Recurring customer issues mentioned in the reports reached front line staff up to 14 days after the complaints or issues were first flagged through social channels – often highlighting things that operational employees were already well aware of (and which could have been easily remedied had they been flagged and routed to the relevant teams in a timely manner).

It is not only operational teams that can leverage real-time social data to respond to service issues and pick up on trends, but also other divisions throughout the organisation.

Data-driven marketing teams should be looking for influential customers, customer trends and product marketing opportunities using the wealth of preference data that can be extracted from social media.

Most organisations do a pretty poor job of recording customers’ explicit signals about what they like and dislike – even when they are told directly – so it is understandable that marketers feels overwhelmed by the sheer volume of customer signals that come through social media.

Successfully harnessing and acting on those signals is at the core of a successful social strategy. And it needs to be integrated across all business functions, from sales to marketing, operations and customer care.

Social media of the future will be cross-functional, integrated into existing systems and will help to enrich the customer experience. Hopefully before too long a CEO asking the questions “What’s the ROI of social?” will be like them asking “What’s the ROI of us answering our customers’ phone calls?”

The question simply won’t need to be asked.

  • Jonathan Barouch is the CEO of location-based analytics application Local Measure

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