Why does a Social Media strategy succeed or fail in a company?

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Social Media Sites

Social Media Sites

I am often asked what makes a social media strategy work or fail for a company or brand? What makes a social media campaign succeed is quite a vast topic.  For this post, I thought I might address what I consider to be the four main causes of failure which can serve as a guideline, all the same, for those wanting to avoid failing and, hopefully, to succeed.

The top four reasons from my experience are as follows:

#1. Imprecise or misguided objectives. While there are great tools that can help quantify and measure web-based campaigns and activities, there is often disappointment because of a disconnect between the results and the expectations which were not carefully or appropriately calibrated.  For example, you will see a brand create a blog, but without properly identifying the target audience (in this case, possible errors can include having the wrong voice or the wrong channel because the community doesn’t exist on line…). It is fundamentally important to create clear and realistic objectives before starting to devise a social media strategy.  Once those objectives have been set and a strategy is charted, execution becomes substantially more focused and, therefore, easier.  Of course, this does not guarantee success.

#2. An incompatible corporate ulture.  For companies that launch, for example, a blog, a Twitter account, Facebook fan page or a community website, the successful management and responsibility of such a site cannot be limited to one person or department.  A successful social media strategy requires company-wide support, in the form — at a minimum — of awareness, going all the way up to full-on participation.  However, such a widescale participation implies, at its best, that there is an inherent trust by senior management in the employees to represent the brand/company.  This is not so obviously the case.  If the management culture is centralised, one of fear & control and that does not have a good listening ability, there is little reason to blunderbuss into a social media strategy.

Social Media Leadership

Social Media Leadership

#3. Lack of endorsement from top management. Especially in a top-down (“classic”) management culture, if the top boss and his/her entourage are not on board and showing the way, at least in some part, there is little motivation and encouragement for the rest of the company to step out of the comfort zone and participate.  I have observed many CEO’s and senior managers refrain from “taking the plunge” either because of fear of losing control or because of a low comfort level in the new media.  The fact is that in order for brands “to speak” in social media, they need to be personified.  There is no better and more powerful personification than the boss’ voice itself.  Even if it takes having private tutoring, a CEO should get onside.

#4. The wrong team.  If the internal team, responsible for the social media programme, is not  sufficiently up to par, it is very predictable to get a poor result. Too often, I have seen an individual running the e-Business department who does not even have his or her own Facebook account.  In today’s business, that is like a pilot not knowing how to read his/her flight instruments.  [It should be known that 2 out of every 5 internet surfers is a member of Facebook; 50% of whom log on at least once daily.]  The wrong team will fail to create  or even recognize good content.  If the management team does not know about the world of social media, it is hard for them to evaluate, recruit and retain social media talent.

Creating a successful social media strategy remains a tricky challenge.   There are certainly many technical issues that need to be managed.  However, at its heart, it is a social media, with a very strong human element. The cultural component of a company is not a light issue and, for some rigid companies, social media is a no go until or unless there are some significant changes made.  While social media is essentially just a media, by its very nature, social media is a game changer.  In the first place, social media and the web provide an opportunity to combine all types of media.  But, more importantly, the conception and execution of a successful social media strategy require a very specific type of corporate culture which, still today, remains uncommon.  Thus, the opportunities remain for those who are willing and able to take the plunge.  And, to my reckoning, every industry — B2B or B2C — can benefit from a well structured, precisely defined social media strategy.

What’s your opinion?  I gladly welcome your input.

5 Comments, RSS

  1. My belief is that too many corporations treat Social Media as they would any traditional media, that is 'place it and forget about it'. The 'Media' part in Social Media is a mis-nomer in my view, and companies should realize that spending more time and effort on developing the 'Social' component is what's needed (teams, culture and execution as you write about).

  2. I totally agree with those sentences.
    All of them are true.
    I would also highlight the fact that even if most of SME's do use social medias, only a few of them are concerned about planning a good strategic communication , which often results in a failure to align the other strategic plans of the company.

    Instead of being able to engage the internal teams and ressources, developping a social media strategy becomes tangled, forcing them to «follow what the others do».

    As far as I am concerned, a «social media strategy» means first of all the capacity to create a good communication plan and then to communicate it through other channels.

  3. @ogenius: right with you.

    Having a longer term plan, that said, in the social media space is also a difficult task; not least because a great plan typically means taking risks and allowing for errors — which means allowing for course correction.

    The key questions that companies should be asking are: Why do I want to have a digital media presence? What am I wanting to achieve?

    Thereafter, and only AFTER, the question is HOW and HOW MUCH?

  4. Those are really the good questions companies should ask first, rather than running through a closed-loop of who's speaking louder and who's able to gather most customers…
    It's all about strategic planning!

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