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What does the future of corporate social-media strategy look like?

3 min read

Social Media

Great corporate social-media efforts aren’t about technology. It can be fun to learn about the latest tools, but new gadgets aren’t what make companies great at engaging their customers — that has to come from sound strategic planning.

At a recent panel at BlogWorld Expo 2010, several leading voices in social media communications — including Ford social-media chief Scott Monty, former Kodak Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Hayzlett, Citibank’s Frank Eliason and Bonin Bough of Pepsico –got together to discuss the state of social media in the corporate space.

As the panel discussed where they saw corporate social-media strategy heading, three prominent trends emerged:

  • Listening to your customers is great — but reaching out to them is better. Right now, most companies’ crisis-communications strategies are modeled on the 24-hour news cycle, said Eliason. Companies know a story can break at any moment and they need to be ready to respond. The problem with this plan is that no matter how fast a company’s reaction time is, they’re still waiting on customers to get angry before staffers get involved, and by that point, it may be too late to avoid an incident.
    Great customer service is the best crisis-communications strategy, noted Eliason, because great service can keep uproars from happening. Firms should make staff available to answer questions and talk with customers before they become truly disgruntled, suggested Hayzlett, who noted that user forums are a great place to start doing this.
  • No one department can control social media. Who owns social media in your organization? Is it public relations? Marketing? Human resources? While plenty of companies are facing internal power struggles over the answer to this question, in the future it’ll be a nonissue, as social media becomes less of a coveted resource and more of a tool that all employees uses to do their jobs.
    Mony said leading organizations may have a top-down approach now, but they’ll soon move to a hub-and-spoke model, in which which all departments are responsible for social communications in their areas of expertise. Soon, asking who controls all of an organization’s social media will be like asking who is in charge of all its writing, he added.
  • Listening doesn’t mean forgetting who’s in charge. One thing all the panelists seemed to agree on was that companies need to understand that their social-media fans are a subset of their customers — and not necessarily a representative sample. Much of the later part of the panel was devoted to handling packaging and logo mishaps — with Bough taking a fair amount of teasing from his fellow panelists over recent flaps regarding Pepsi’s Tropicana and SunChips brands. In both cases, Pepsi responded to customer complaints by pulling the offending packaging off of the shelves — but the panelists said they were far from convinced that doing so was always in a company’s best interest.
    When the conversation turned to Gap’s recent logo debacle, the panelists unanimously said that if they had been in charge of Gap, they would not have responded to social-media complaints by taking the company back to its old logo. Whenever a company changes anything, there’s a good chance that some fans will object. Companies bear responsibility for making sure that complaints they respond to truly represent how the bulk of their customers feel — not just a vocal minority. “Feedback is not a substitute for judgment,” Hayzlett said.

How do you feel about these ideas? Where do you see corporate social-media strategy headed?

Image credit: topshotUK, via iStockPhoto