I was invited to a workshop at SAP’s Global Marketing office in NYC this week, the topic was social media strategy. This was a good opportunity to think about the topic at a high level.
I would break down social media into four major areas:
- Twittering (I’m not sold on the "microblogging" term)
- Virtual worlds
- Social networking platforms
The blogging part is not the slam dunk that a lot of companies think it is. There are many demands for blogging channels coming from product groups, executive leadership, thought leaders, and "positive rogue" employees. Of all these the executive leadership blogs are least useful yet most often identified with corporate blogging initiatives. The product group and thought leaders categories are most productive in brand building and genuine information dissemination.
My suggestion to companies is that they skip the "CEO blog" for a couple of reasons, if for no other reason than people don’t trust CEOs to talk openly and honestly about a company. It’s been my experience that CEOs make terrible bloggers anyway because they talk in message points and not conversationally, are unwilling to address negative issues and problems, and most importantly, have little awareness of what is happening at lower levels in the company.
If your company is exploring adding blogs to the mix, focus attention on exposing product and customer support groups as a first priority. Among executives, the most interesting group to recruit are direct reports to senior executives as they are ambitious and engaged in day-to-day activities, which means that they have a lot to say that is interesting.
Don’t tell people they need to blog, instead recruit people who have a "voice" and are willing to commit the time over the duration as opposed to doing it for the first couple of weeks and then tapering off. Blogs don’t develop a readership immediately, it takes time and commitment from the people writing them.
Don’t mix personal and professional blogs on a company sponsored site. There are many low cost, or free, blogging platforms that anyone can simply sign up for and start blogging. Personal blogs on a company’s URL have several limitations, the most significant being potential embarassment to the company because of what the employee blogs about, but also becuase of the fact that a company branded personal blog is not transferable.
If that person develops a readership and following and then leaves the company they will lose that blog just as they would their company email address. A personal blog that an employee publishes on a company-sponsored domain imposes unreasonable risks with no corresponding return. Build recognition about product, marketplace, service, or program blogs.
The other half of the coin for blogging is what companies should do to promote third party blogs that center on a specific company or industry segment. Blogger outreach is not easy becuase it requires that a company let go of the notion of message control and focus on relationship building. Responding to comments in a non-marketing speak manner is key.
Twitter, and Pownce, offer some interesting new possibilities for corporate communication, and while in the early stages, there is still an opportunity for a company to get a foot in the door with little risk or exposure. These micro-blogging platforms allow for quick "snippets" of information to be published, indeed Twitter’s 140 character limit puts quite a test on linguistic creativity!
I think at a minimum companies should be looking at Twitter for conferences and events, as well as building awareness for new initiatives. If Microsoft had a Twitter profile they used to notify me of new initiatives, updates, and links to interesting content, well I would start following it.
Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, are established technologies at this point and comnpanies are finding that these worlds offering opportunities for positive interactions with everyone from employees to customers to influencers with low cost and rich interaction.
Facebook and Myspace have emerged as the dominant social networking platforms, however there are many to choose from and each offers a different attractor. Linkedin is a dominant professional network, Netvibes Universes appeals heavily to media companies because of the ability to prepackage content feeds (modules) and themes.
I’m really liking the social networks because of their inherent ability to spread information virally. Facebook groups are a great way to build a following around something not by tricking someone on clicking a link and providing information about themselves, but because someone say "hey, I actually want to make myself part of this".
We’re still in the early stages but companies like SAP are figuring out how to make these social media components a part of their bigger brand and marketing strategies. The most important observation I have is that these are the things people are doing because they are a good idea as opposed to being a salient business plan. The cost of experimenting with blogs, Twitter, and Facebook are so insignificant that it’s hard to argue that such initiatives actually merit a high degree of planning, and at any rate, overly slick facades absent of good intentions and meaningful content won’t really go over well anyway.