A colleague of mine, who works for a global media company, recently asked me about social media best practices. Her company had begun making an aggressive push into the area, and she was looking for something that could help them benchmark their efforts. I just started to laugh.
It's not a silly question. It's just that there aren't any best practices, really, because there aren't any social media experts. No one has been doing this long enough to call themselves an expert (except for me, of course).
And in my not-so-humble opinion, the real challenge for my colleague isn't finding best practices for executing social media, it's working out best practices for organizing and setting up a social media strategy from a resource and ownership perspective, then making sure that strategy is tied into all aspects of the brand and its marketing goals.
As it turns out, we do have a benchmark in this area to learn from -- the 1990s webmaster fiasco, which I'll go into in a moment. In the meantime, let's keep in mind that there are at least four categories of social media that today's companies need to manage:
- Public relations (crisis management, corporate responsibility)
- Customer service (coupons, rewards, issues)
- Product development (launches, knowledge base, reviews)
- Brand awareness (events, ideas, marketing)
Organizing the ownership of that content against broader corporate structure and brand objectives is the key to social media success.
Managing content = Managing brand
Today, companies can immediately create intellectual property (a product or idea) then publish it, turning it into relevant and searchable online content. That content becomes the public "face" of the company - it's what I like to call the "content equals brand" equation. But with all that content, how can you manage your brand and make sure it's seen properly? Consumers are supposed to be able to quickly access and easily process corporate content online - that's the whole point.
So, how can companies mash their content up into a single Facebook page or, even worse, create five Twitter accounts and expect their customers (who are already following 200 people and friends with 400 more) to truly get that information? And how can consumers understand the brand if the assets (visuals, tagline, messages) and especially the tone change whenever they interact with a brand's social media component?
Social media has an enormous impact on brand equity. That's why it's crucial to incorporate it into every aspect of brand strategy. The first thing to do is make sure that the social media platforms you choose are coherent and tied back to departmental resources. The second thing is to maintain a coherent brand position that unites your website, your Twitter feeds, your Facebook presence, and each campaign you run. This means the owners of the brand -- the brand managers -- must unite with the other stakeholders to make sure that the social media component maintains and is an ambassador of the corporate position.
I went to ad:tech New York several weeks ago and participated on a social media panel. It was called "Social analysis - real-time insights on your brand," and it included, among others, luminaries like Bonin Bough, global social media director for Pepsi; Jeff Fleischman, chief digital officer for TIAA-CREF; and Kay Madati, VP of audience experience and engagement at CNN Worldwide. I asked each panelist what their social media department looks like, and who was responsible for tweeting and Facebooking when it comes to product launches, news, or customer service issues. Most of the panelists had a general structure with stakeholders in each area, but they agreed it was a work in progress.
And that isn't a bad thing. We all have to be pioneers and willing to make mistakes now, which brings me back to the webmaster fiasco. Remember the 1990s, when someone called the webmaster owned the corporate website? And then how that responsibility then shifted to the CTO, then the CIO, and finally landed where it is now with the CMO? This is an important issue to watch, because if the website had belonged to the marketers in the first place, we might have gotten here a lot faster. (Remember "Welcome to my Homepage"?) With new positions being formed called "Social Media Director," "Director of Community," and "Digital Influence Strategist," it's time to rethink how we are building the house, and who will be in charge.
In praise of screwing up first
Case Study: Best Buy: The Cowboy Approach
Best Buy has pioneered the use of social media for building customer engagement through rewards, coupons, and other giveaways. It isn't afraid of making mistakes or failing (which it does in many ways), but right now, that is what makes the brand a winner.
Let's start with the website. The Best Buy website is still the grandfather of the company's online strategy, housing e-commerce, corporate information, and a knowledge base about products and services.
But how is it all organized? There are no apparent or seamless tie-ins on the homepage with its social media efforts.
When I go to Best Buy's main corporate Twitter account, its social media presence, fragmented yet robust, is best summed up by a word that appears near the logo: "whew." They've got a lot of social media going on.
And this is exactly what I mean by the need for organization. Everything about Best Buy's Twitter accounts -- from nomenclature to taglines -- is all over the place.
We've got Bestbuymodesto (Best Buy Modesto), and the bio: "Every Customer, Every Time."
Then there's BBYPDX (Best Buy Portland). The bio is "Portland Area Best Buy Blue Shirts; here to talk tech and answer gadget questions."
And then there is the company's community effort, BestBuyRacing19.
Just for fun, here's the Facebook page and promotional microsite for BestBuy Racing:
So Best Buy does a great job of being out there and informing its customers. But with no less than 30 Best Buy Twitter and Facebook accounts that reflect a dizzying array of product launches, promotions, and news, the company's brand equity is likely to short circuit sometime in the near future.
We've already come a long way since the "Mad Men" Twitter wars of last year, and many companies, Best Buy included, use social media to publish truly valuable content. But if you can just manage the accounts, the naming conventions, and ownerships, you'll be on your way to a cleaner social media strategy and increased brand equity.
Case Study: Wanted by Helena Rubenstein: A Cohesive Approach
Now let's take a look at a more coherently managed approach.
Wanted is a new perfume by Helena Rubenstein, interpreted by Demi Moore. Where Best Buy uses Facebook and Twitter to publish as much content as possible, Wanted does a better job and uses a more singular message approach, where the social media strategy supports the brand strategy and ties back into "grandfather" web.
The cornerstone of the Wanted campaign is a call-to-action for people to submit videos that describe what they want in a mate (what men want in a woman, and what women want in a man). This campaign is promoted on a YouTube channel called URWANTED. It is also featured prominently on the Helena Rubenstein website as well as Demi's Facebook page. So the campaign is consistent, and the media tie-in is strong.
The significant and successful part of this campaign is that the website is playing a huge part in defining the brand (Best Buy, take some notes), and incorporates links to information on the designer of the bottle and the perfumer who created the scent. (I cannot believe we have gone so cowboy with social media these last 12 months that I am praising a company for doing what they are supposed to be doing in connecting all the creative from website to ad to Facebook.) There is even a mashup on the website that compiles the characteristics of the users who submitted the videos worldwide.
The big failure of Wanted, however, lies in how this luxurious, coveted brand position is expressed in the social media environment. From the WANTED stickers Moore places haphazardly inside Macy's, to the dorky home videos she created for the brand, it all seems so overly casual and sloppy. Social media does not mean informal, it means open. I wonder what the agency, BETC Luxe, that defined the luxury concept and advertisement thinks about the low-brow social media execution.
What I see in the future
What will social media look like in a year or two? We know one thing: we will all be mobile, so let that be implicit in everything I say.
Let's lose the Social Media Director position right now. From now on, the Customer Service director issues the tweets, and the product manager does the product release tweets. They all report into the Brand Manager as far as communications go. And to train all of us for the future of how we get information, grammar school curriculums need to maintain a serious focus on reading and writing to put the orthography debate to bed (who knew social media could save orthography). Social media is merely a tool and an extension of how we get information, and it should be incorporated into the life of the company brand and marketing strategy, just as the website is today.
Here are five things I can call myself an expert on after having sufficiently screwed up, learned, and proved:
- If you are a CEO, assign each manager a set of social media editorial objectives for the week at the Monday manager's meeting.
- If you are an advertiser aiming to outsource your social media, keep the customer service and product launches in-house and outsource the public relations and brand awareness.
- Social media does not mean informal. I love the CEO of Zappos, but he's not my friend, and he's not going to pick me up at the airport. So spare me the personal details (unless, of course, you will pick me up at the airport).
- Don't lose the connection with the spiritual grandfather of social media: the corporate website. Content needs to be tied into it in a serious and prominent way. Redundancy is king.
- Don't be afraid to make your own rules and get support for your pioneering initiatives. Your social media strategy may be the inevitable phase of the social media revolution.
Headshot photo courtesy of Ran Goel