Social Media Bootcamp: Social Starts From Within Your Company

Can a brand successfully engage its customer base using social media if the company does not apply social media principles to its internal communications? It may not fail, but external social media engagement may not realize its full potential.

Can a brand successfully engage its customer base using social media if the company does not apply social media principles to its internal communications?

Fully interleaving social media with your company’s internal and external communications may require educating employees, updating policies and procedures and, sometimes, changing corporate culture. Total commitment will not only help your brand’s external media engagement reach full potential, it could have collateral benefits.

The fear of losing control

Social media channels facilitate the sharing of questions and opinions of users and shoppers with their real-world friends, social network connections and brands. Listening and responding to the voice of the customer is not a new idea. One would be hard-pressed to name a brand that has achieved long-term success without this communication. That the conversations are now more transparent both benefits brands and demands they work in new ways.

Many brands are unable to accept the loss of control of their brand messages on social media. Kitchen table conversations probably don’t go viral with the speed and reach of a tweet. Brands have little control over either, but the prospect of relying on customers to be primary “brand messengers” on social media terrifies many executives. They react by launching social media initiatives that attempt to maintain a high level of control and are, therefore, doomed. At many brands, the same executives may be addressing their fear of loss of control by actively or passively hindering meaningful conversations within their companies.

Breaking down internal silos

Assigning responsibility for a brand’s social media management to one department, or even, one person, creates a false sense of security. The thinking is that if a company delegates social media to its “social media experts” and keeps a tight rein on engagements, risks can be reduced. There are several problems with this perspective. One department is unlikely to be able to address all issues related to a brand in social media channels, as the conversations may concern product choice, service issues, human resources or any of a number of other specialized areas.

Creating a buffer between those in the company with true expertise and those responsible for social media engagement makes it more likely that solutions are provided episodically with little contribution to long-term solutions. Additionally, it becomes less likely that constructive ideas will get to someone within the company who is empowered to act. This approach also limits the number of informed sources within a company who can contribute meaningful content and conversation starters to social media channels, whether or not they are owned by the brand.

Social media from the inside out

In a Q&A with Econsultancy, Nokia‘s Mark Squires says, “The problem is not engaging with customers via social media, but in bringing the rest of your company along with you. You can start a Twitter feed but eventually you will need help from other areas of the company to answer customer questions. Speed of response is key, and so you need every department on board for it to be effective.”

Engaging everyone within a company in its social media activities has the strong potential of improvement in the way departments share information amongst themselves. Cisco has realized improved efficiency and cost savings through use of its primarily video-based internal social media structure. In walking the social media walk, Cisco has made public their internal social media policy.

IBM also shares its social media lessons learned. “We don’t have a corporate blog or a corporate Twitter ID because we want the ‘IBMers’ in aggregate to be the corporate blog and the corporate Twitter ID,” says Adam Christensen of IBM’s social media communications team.

Yes, involving everyone in your company in its social media initiatives can take time and money. But the potential of having all employees act as brand advocates, as well as cost-reducing efficiencies, means your efforts can have a great return on investment.

The Social Media Bootcamp series reinforces the best practices required for successful social media marketing. The series serves both as an introduction to core concepts for newbies and reinforcement of core concepts for busy industry veterans. Previously, we posted about Creating a Brand Personality and 11 Ways to Boost Your Media Relations. Send us your ideas for topics for future Social Media Bootcamp posts.