There have been a few tweets and discussions recently on twitter about the value that marketing firms and consultancy may or may not offer when it comes to social media. The other night the discussion really took off and it’s prompted at least 3 people to write a post on the matter, here’s mine. (Go get a cup of coffee and get comfy).
First off, let’s take a look at some of the tweets so you can see how the discussion went. This one kicked it off.
— Banker’s Umbrella (@BankersUmbrella) February 20, 2014
Which elicited responses like this
— Phil Young (@philyoung360) February 20, 2014
— James Kendall (@KendallCRE) February 20, 2014
— Rebecca Jackson (@BKLYN_Brummie) February 20, 2014
— Gareth Thompson (@cssgareth) February 20, 2014
— Banker’s Umbrella (@BankersUmbrella) February 20, 2014
So it seems even on twitter we can agree some points and not others. But that’s life, you’ll never please all the people all the time. It’s no different on social media.
But back to the question in hand – Does anyone need professional help with social media? Can marketers always really add value, or are they an expensive way to wreck your reputation?
Let’s start with the bigger picture and a confession
Let’s start with the bigger picture and a confession. I confess, I have a fundamental love for social media. I believe it can change the world – for the better. There are plenty of examples where this is already happening every day, in big ways, and little ways. I love social media because it allows us, the general public to have a voice. You, me, your neighbour, a kid down the street, we all now have a platform, a stage where we can share our views. And if those views resonate with others, then you can really cause a stir. But of course, I’m an optimist, I will think this way. See the best in others. Phil Young will be tearing his eyes out if he reads this.
Let this idea spill over to social media use in business. In the same way that when email came into our lives, and in business it started out with one account for the company. Then slowly it became necessary for pretty much everyone in the company to have their own email account. That’s how it’s going to be for social media. And in the same way we often use a work email address for mostly work, there will be times we use it for personal, and sometimes we use our personal email to talk about work – the same will invariably happen with our social media accounts.
Of course the difference between social media profiles and email is that email is sent between one person to another, or to intended others. Yes emails can be shared and forwarded, indeed today with email a screen capture can be made and shared across more public social media channels. But generally emails are more private than social channels. You’re explicitly giving the ‘public’ an over the shoulder view of your views when you use most social media channels. There are of course different privacy settings on different channels you can control. But let’s stick with the premise that most social media channels used in business will be open.
Social media connects people and allows us to freely communicate. It’s got social, business, learning, development, career, marketing, hobbies, personal and a whole host of other conversations going on. Thinking social media can be contained and it’s use limited within your business, is like thinking today’s mobile phone is just used to make work calls. When you know it’s about making personal and work calls, texting, emailing, surfing the internet, telling the time, an alarm, a camera. They’re both so much more.
Most importantly it’s changing the way business is done and buying decisions are made. It’s also already creating disruptive businesses within the financial sector. Companies that have social media in the DNA of their business are taking market share, in the form of peer to peer lending and mirror funds. How up to date are you with crowd funding?
Social media will reflect how your workforce feel
This means your employees will have the ability to share their views publicly. Not every employee will want to. But those that do, what are they going to say? Is it in line, is it congruent with the message your company is sharing? For most businesses, the answer is probably no. Certainly not yet anyway.
The reasons for this discrepancy will be many, and I think a large number are also the same for the cause for an unhappy workforce. As listed in this post, the 20 signs on an unhappy workforce.
You only have to look at the statistic showing the highest number of sick days globally are taken in the UK, (a recognised indication of an unhappy workforce). Mental health conditions were again cited as the single most widespread cause of long-term absence from the workplace. As a nation we’re a long way away from working happily with a company that shares and acts on similar values to the ones we personally share. When your actions are out of kilter with your values, you feel stress.
Social media means change
Although many companies prefer to keep social media at bay, or at least ‘under control’, technology marches forward, and just like email has become widespread among employees, so will social media (if it hasn’t already happened in your company).
Understandably then, something’s got to change. Commercially businesses won’t survive if they find themselves in a situation where their employees are telling a different message to the company’s and the outside world chooses to listen. It’ll put off consumers, clients, suppliers, potential employees – the impact on a business will be too great, it will fail.
Conversely a business who is able to talk about their values, their product, their service, what they’re about is permeated in everything they do. That business can happily have it’s employees sharing their views, on the whole they’re going to be in alignment with the company message. Why? Because they’ve grown their culture, they’ve hired employees that are attracted to that company’s values and fit in to help grow the company in line with it’s vision. Their social media will attract consumers, clients, suppliers and new employees, that impact on this business will be too great for the competition. Sound too good to be true? Take a look at the Zappos story.
If you want to know more about the benefits of starting with your values, with Why you’ve chosen to go into business, or your employer has chosen to go into business, then enjoy the hugely popular Simon Sinek TED talk video Start with Why.
I believe social media has the power to bring change into companies, to bring change to what people are looking for in their working lives. I believe it will help more employees be matched to the right company, and more employers find the right employees and to take better responsibility for making sure the messages they wheel out through their marketing machines and PR departments matches what they’re doing in house. Let’s face it the inside needs to match the outside and the outside needs to match the inside.
Social media is about much more than marketing
Until this happens you’ll continue to see social media faux pas making the news. Whether it’s #ASKJPM or #ASKBG or the HMV firing story. Blame it on the marketers if you want, but the responsibility is far more reaching than one marketing department/consultancy firm.
It also brings up an important consideration when looking at engaging your business with social media. Recognise that it’s more than just marketing that needs to be considered. The culture of an organisation needs to have time to adapt and change to fast paced engagement of social media.
For instance, any firm that has a policy that says it’s compliance department will have a 3 day turn around, and the company wants to talk about something topical today, or be involved in a conversation that’s happening online right now, then a 3 day turnaround just isn’t going to work.
Relevant employees need to be identified and trained. Social media and HR policies need to be considered. If an existing employee is doing a great job in their role, and now you want them to add using a social channel to that role, what happens if they’re resistant to this? You can’t force someone to do social media – not successfully.
The truth is successful integration of social media into your business is hard work
Taking this into account you’ll appreciate the truth is, successful integration of social media into your business is hard work, enjoyable work, rewarding work. Arguably the bigger the organisation, the harder the work, the longer it will take to integrate social into your business. And let’s be honest, most businesses aren’t prepared to put in that work.
Whether they know it needs to be done or not. It’s not as if anyone is sat at work with a free schedule, time to take on and tackle more responsibility. Work with other departments and convince them to change they way they’ve been working to accommodate ‘social media’ in the business. And do all of this when the ‘board’ still haven’t bought into the value of social media. Faced with all of this, do you fight to integrate your business with social media, or do you outsource the work, the responsibility? Get a marketing firm to deliver?
If you outsource all responsibility to a marketing firm, then expect things to go wrong
Simply put, if your company chooses to outsource of all it’s social media, marketing, engagement, customer service and management, then you’ve got to expect something to go wrong. How can it not? Your company has chosen not to address many of your firm’s in house issues, they’ve chosen to pay someone else to deal with it. Let’s face it something will undoubtedly go wrong if you keep all your social media in house too. Something always goes wrong, the important issue is how you recover from it.
How well you recover from any social media fail will depend on the strength of your brand and the strength of your reputation. (Which you’ve just outsourced to a third party). Toyota is a great case study of how a company can weather the storm when they had the recall issue of their cars, yet because of their reputation, survived.
The question is will the benefit you’ve got from outsourcing your social media outweigh the impact when something goes wrong, assuming it does go wrong? If the answer is yes, the benefits outweigh the risks then it seems a perfectly acceptable business solution.
The best way to work with a social media marketing firm
So let’s get back to the question in hand:
Clearly I believe businesses can gain value from working with professionals who understand social media, that’s the business I’m in. I choose to work with clients who are just bursting to help their community and clients, to share their message with others and make a difference. So it’s important to understand their business, who their clients are, what their message is, and then help them to share this online.
Sometimes that means working with the client to help them break down their message(s). Always it starts with helping the client to:
- Organise how to share their message.
- Choosing which social networks they wish to engage on.
- How frequently they choose to post on each of these channels
- What they choose to post
- In what format (video, photo, written, audio, pdf, case study, white paper, status update)
- The importance of integrating social sharing into their website
- The importance of call to actions
- Capturing visitors contact details
- The importance of respecting your visitors, prospects, clients time always by ensuring when you ask them to read something it offers value to the reader
- Social media management tools
- Best practices
- Creating social media policy
There is a lot you can outsource. Planned content, agreed posts and updates, blogs, images etc. Campaign, monitoring, analytics. These all take time, offer value and you can choose to do them yourself, or you can choose to spend your time working on your business and pay someone else to manage these activities.
Let’s face it, social media is huge. The social networks are changing all the time. There are social network specialists, like G+ or facebook specialists, even specialists within the different ways to use facebook, organic posts v’s paid posts etc. It makes sense to work with someone who’s main job is to keep abreast with this changing landscape.
I never, however, recommend that the engagement piece is outsourced.
Nobody knows your business as well as you do. Nobody knows the opportunities and connections you can best make for your business or your role as well as you do. In financial services, clients want to deal with someone they know and trust. How can you outsource those conversations and engagement? How can you learn about the other opportunities that social media can offer your business if you’re not using it, making connections, learning new things because of these connections?
But some firms still feel they’d prefer to pay for someone else to do the engagement piece than do it themselves. In this case, it’s outsoure your social media or have no presence. In this situation I feel it’s Yea on social media: professional, skilled marketers will always get better results.
There are other individuals and firms out there where the business owners gets social media, they understand marketing and they do a great job on social themselves. These business owners generally have something they want to say. In these instances I’d say nay on social media: professional, skilled marketers will always get better results.
But I believe that any business that works in PARTNERSHIP with professional, skilled marketers will always get better results.