Welcome to the world of social media

D. MURALI | Updated on October 30, 2011


What is happening faster than cat videos on YouTube? “Opportunities in corporate social media,” say Nick Smith and Robert Wollan, in The Social Media Management Handbook: Everything you need to know to get social media working in your business (Accenture), citing an article in Bloomberg Business Week, headlined ‘Twitter, Twitter, Little Stars.' They mention, as examples, Harrah's Entertainment (Las Vegas) recently circulating a job listing for a “corporate social media rock star”, and Buick (Chicago) looking for a handful of “social media ambassadors” to help manage ‘Tweet to Drive', which allows customers to schedule test drives from home via Twitter.

Defining social media

But, first, what is social media? Not a new phenomenon, the authors clarify. “In modern history, such channels have included face-to-face discussions, letters, the telephone, and, more recently, email. So what is new?”

Five characteristics which, in the authors' view, distinguish today's digital social media interaction from other types of social conversations are: the enabling of one-to-many or many-to-many conversations; featuring of content created and posted by consumers of that content; ease of use; high accessibility to everyone, and scalability to everywhere, even while operating in real time; and being entirely public and transparent. In short, as they sum up, social media enables the swift and easy development, creation, dissemination, and consumption of information and entertainment by both organisations and individuals.

If all that is too heavy, read this snatch from the opening paragraph in the first chapter: “Getting involved in social media is a bit like getting a free puppy. It doesn't cost anything to start, and it looks like nothing but fun – until it chews up the carpet, eats the neighbour's plants, and costs thousands of dollars at the veterinarian. Welcome to the world of social media.”

Champion, strategist

In the list of “the most significant new roles” envisaged by the authors is the social media champion, someone at or near the top who must lead, someone who understands the organisation and can influence the leaders who control its resources. Change can start at the very top, with the chief executive officer (CEO), the authors advise, although sometimes it begins below the CEO.

They insist that, in all cases, someone with real power must take personal interest in the success of social media to achieve significant business outcomes. An instructive example, in this context, is of Zappos, where the CEO Tony Hsieh leads the charge with his active participation and leadership. Creating the vision for social media is the job of the ‘social media strategist,' one learns. What the role needs is a rare ability to seamlessly discuss Web application technologies with the chief information officer, lead-generation concepts with the chief marketing officer, business case development with the chief financial officer, and organisational design with the CEO and chief human resources officer, the book describes. “This person understands the far-reaching impacts of social media throughout the organisation and can envision the path forward for the organisation.”

Sophisticated skills

As organisations expand their social media capabilities and gather more data from new sets of customer interactions channels, they will need more sophisticated skills, such as the ability to create more robust propensity models based on customer verbatims in their native, unstructured formats – as opposed to applying text mining first and then moving the output into traditional models, the authors foresee.

They recommend companies to invest in new skills and expertise to support the various algorithms required for such sophisticated analytics, such as Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), a popular clustering algorithm.

A section on ‘Sales and service' highlights how the options for providing customer service have expanded with the advent of social media. For instance, after the launch of iPhone 4 and unrelenting customer dissatisfaction, AT&T set aside resources to focus more on its customers on social media, the book informs. “This discontent is registered by an average of at least 10,000 mentions of AT&T on social sites every day.”

The book also speaks of the company's move to advertise its ‘social media customer care' on monthly bills and Web sites to get more customers take their service problems to social media outlets.

Begin with the C-suite

Importantly, the authors counsel business leaders on how the existing roles in the company should evolve, beginning with the C-suite. A telling model for our CXOs is Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, on how he treated the Internet. When Welch realised how critical the Internet would be to GE's businesses, he mandated that every senior executive find a GE employee under the age of 25 to serve as an Internet mentor, because the younger GE employees already ‘got it,' the authors narrate. “As a side benefit, those younger employees developed relationships with senior executives. Most organisations could benefit from the same approach to social media today.”

The book wraps up with a plea to use social media as a boost to productive collaboration, in times like these when increases in market volatility and complexity have delivered a one-two punch to many organisations.

When not configured properly, technologies intended to enhance collaboration can turn work into a labyrinth of meetings, phone calls, videoconferences, email, instant messages, voicemail, blog posts, Wiki entries, and tweets, the authors say. But they add that collaboration is most powerful when focused on the creation of intangible assets, such as the ability to innovate, talent, and human capital development, leadership development, reputation, and brand.

“Fortunately, tools such as social network analysis are making it possible to do something more than ‘water and wait' when it comes to cultivating collaboration…”

A book that can anchor you in social media, before someone else's puppy chews the carpet under your feet.


“To make our board meetings more effective...”

“You have made them shorter?”

“Yes, but that was possible only after we appointed a babysitter for the mobile phones of the directors when the meeting is in progress.”


Published on October 30, 2011

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