By Betsy Merryman, Merryman Communications How would you answer the question: What is your biggest challenge with Social Media in incorporating it into your current marketing strategy? This focus on social media challenges was the topic of a global discussion on LinkedIn’s Corporate Communications Executive Network, a group made up of executives in corporate communications, PR and corporate affairs.
Started by Patrick Carlson of Bull’s-Eye Creative Communications in Atlanta, GA, the answers told what’s going on in the real world of social media, and described wide-ranging challenges, some frustrations and a few lessons learned.
The primary challenges fall into five categories, and can you guess which one was mentioned most often?
1. Resources! “Finding the internal resources to monitor, develop and maintain it.”
Management’s perception is that social media is virtually free, and so the “hidden cost” of the appropriate human resources, or the need for other financial resources, sometimes comes as a surprise. Or, if resources are devoted to begin a social media effort, it’s sometimes treated like a “tick in the box exercise” vs. a long-term strategy, which means organizations don’t devote internal resources to sustain a dialogue once it has been started.
Keep in mind that a social media effort isn’t only about creating content, but it’s also about having non-communications, technical people on board and available. Some companies have tried to combine the technical role and communicator role, but found that “technical people aren’t the best communicators.” (And I suspect that sometimes we communicators aren’t the best technical people, either!)
Lessons Learned: So how are companies or communicators handling the resource challenge?
- Take a stand: “We had this discussion in my former company, and I insisted that there’d be no social media roll-out without at least one new face.” (There wasn’t an indication as to whether he won or lost this battle, only the mention that it was his former company. Perhaps that tells us something.)
- Take time and workload off marketers’ backs by utilizing an outside agency.
- Delaying social media initiatives.
2. The second most-mentioned challenge was ensuring a strategic approach.
While many talked about this, the discussion is best summarized by these two comments:
- “There is often a tendency to shoot first and look for the target later.”
- “I’ve seen clients doing it because they can and feel they should, as opposed to having a strategic focus.”
It appears that, with all the enthusiasm around social media channels, people are skipping over the strategic fundamentals of marketing and communications.
Lessons Learned: In developing your social media approach, some talked about the importance of:
- Research: Especially “…pre-campaign research on the target audience’s actual social media behavior,” and the challenge “to better understand customers’ needs so that you can easily satisfy them.”
- Setting goals: “Once goals are set, content and resource needs are much easier to fulfill.”
- Focus: “Selecting those channels that are appropriate to your business in the first place, rather than attempting to ‘do it all’.”
- Brand: Making sure your social media efforts are an “extension of the brand by developing an appropriate ‘social heartbeat’ of the brand.”
3. Implementation issues were discussed next most often, as well as some suggested best practices.
Ongoing content creation is a big challenge, and it’s difficult to secure enough content creators. As one person said, “If the content is not interesting, funny, informative, and doesn’t touch a nerve in some way, then people won’t follow you, won’t reTweet or share your stuff, and then you can’t expand your community to touch more potential buyers and customers.”
“This is supposed to be real-time communication,” and despite that, getting approvals on content is not timely enough. While this may be a challenge in any company, some pointed out that it’s even harder when you’re working with a multi-national corporation. As one participant described, “…If you are trying to execute a local language (non-English) social media program for a multi-national corporation, you often have to do the content in English, get it approved, translate it into the local language, get it approved again, then post it. In a real-time 24×7 environment, this process can be very frustrating.”
Without the right tools, content sharing can seem overwhelming.
And lastly, but not at all least important, issues management has turned into ongoing issues preparedness. As one contributor said, “Another challenge for us has been alerting marketers to the actual skills needed for risk management …. Some tackle it, some don’t.” Rogue blogs, mis-Tweets (remember Red Cross and Chrysler) and even blackmail (like when one dissatisfied customer tried to blackmail one of my clients by threatening to disseminate negative information to her large social media following).
Lessons Learned: Some best practices for ongoing social media implementation that the group suggested include:
- Build a constant flow of thought leadership information that is compelling and that can capture followers.
- Existing content can be reused and repurposed.
- Compelling content requires setting up timely approval processes.
- Use content sharing tools to streamline the work, and here’s what a few specifically suggested:
- “It’s important to link your content so that you only have to produce it in one place and you can avoid manually updating each different outlet.”
- “All the tools are so disparate, so I’m trying to tie them together so that whenever new content is distributed or posted, it carries to all the tools we use, and to all our community members.”
- Prepare for the risks of opening a public, two-way dialogue.
4. Managers, decision-makers and employees need to be educated about social media.
There’s a lack of understanding about the many social media channels, and which are appropriate. The first reaction, which needs to be overcome, is often: “You mean we’re going to try to get Facebook friends?”
There’s a wariness of social media and the fact that it’s two-way communications. One person said his biggest challenge is “Convincing senior management we needed to do this. They are afraid of free speech.”
Several talked about the challenge of managing aspirations and expectations appropriately and realistically.
Lastly, some commented on employee engagement in social media – there are challenges in getting employees to participate in customer engagement, as well as in educating them about how to engage appropriately.
- Educate internal audiences about what social media is, and on what it can and cannot accomplish, especially in the B2B space.
- Set goals and expectations. (See #2.)
- Set up rules for the correct use of social media and for appropriate language.
5. Organizational structure can make social media difficult.
I’ve heard of battles over who “owns” social media. This was reflected with comments like: “Silos and guerilla warfare within our own infrastructure. Each department has its own (channels), so now when I create a new overall strategy, it will be more difficult.”
Sorry, but there weren’t any lessons learned to overcome this challenge!
Parting Thought: In the last few years, we in the corporate communications field have paid a lot of attention to social media should do’s and how to’s as we’ve raced to adopt these new channels. This is the first time I’ve seen a real and open discussion about what goes on in the real world of adopting social media. (And I didn’t even get into the issues in the FDA-regulated healthcare arena!)
Betsy Merryman specializes in healthcare strategic communications and is managing partner of Merryman Communications, Inc. Before starting her Los Angeles-based firm, she spent 15 years in senior strategic positions at global communications agencies, and before that she held in-house positions with healthcare companies. She also teaches healthcare PR at the USC Annenberg School of Communications and healthcare marketing at UCLA’s School of Public Health. Connect with her at www.merrymancommunications.com.