The Social Façade

By Richard Hughes

Is your social media strategy disguising the type of organisation you really are? Does your presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube project the image of being cool, social and fun whereas the reality is a little different? On these social media platforms, the mood is high-energy and fun-loving, while inside the company it’s business as usual, stuck with the same old anti-social business practices. Behind the social façade you’ve created, you’re the same company you’ve always been.

If this sounds familiar, you don’t need to feel ashamed. It describes the vast majority of companies using social media today. They really want to give the impression they “get” social media, with all that implies about listening to their customers, but it’s just a façade. It’s not necessarily because they don’t want to change, but perhaps they don’t know how. In order to become a true social business they need to change inside the organisation, not just maintain an external social presence. If social engagement with customers is going to work, it needs be a business strategy and therefore penetrate right through the heart of the organisation. It certainly can’t be a tactical shield used by the marketing department to prove they’re being social.

Visit most companies’ Facebook pages and you will see a common theme: fun-packed, zany marketing messages being pushed from the social media team, only to be met with a torrent of abuse from unhappy customers. The misperception that people go to companies’ Facebook pages to be sold to, not because they want to talk to you is widespread, and countless companies are guilty of this.

This sort of mismatch of expectations need not occur. Public social networks like Facebook and Twitter are a great place to make contact with customers, but they’re not so great for more detailed discussions. So an integrated social business strategy should move these more detailed conversations into a customer-facing social environment managed by the company, a “customer community” or “social extranet”. Here you can set up specific destinations for the resolution of individual issues customers are experiencing, you can bring customers together in peer-to-peer support communities, you can intervene swiftly and effectively in discussions and hopefully avoid customer complaints being scattered all over the social universe.

And with customer communication becoming increasingly social, it doesn’t seem fair that employees are often left with old-fashioned mechanisms like email to talk to each other. Businesses are really missing a trick. Whereas most business use of social networking so far has been external-facing, a report from McKinsey Global Institute finds that two thirds of that the potential value of social technologies lies inside the company and that the use of social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing and collaboration can enhance the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers by 20-25%.

Knowledge-sharing communities are a great place to start with internal social networks. Just like the customer-facing networks, communities can be set up to tackle specific issues within the company. Traditional CRM can sit alongside customer service’s use of social networking and enable the sharing of an unprecedented amount of useful knowledge about customer issues with other parts of the organisation. For example, the account team, which previously wouldn’t know of an issue until informed by customer service, can get to see it alongside all the other updates. A social network within an organisation doesn’t aim to replace the old systems of record (ERP, CRM, HR etc). Instead it forms a “social backbone” for the organisation, connecting users across different departments.

However, implementing social networks inside a company can be a challenge, and sometimes met with reluctance to change. So here are five tips for a successful internal social network project.

• Be clear about the business purpose and get buy-in from senior management before starting

• The core purpose must be to get work done, otherwise it’s another communications channel to keep up with, or a place for gossip

• Align initial internal social networking objectives with external initiatives.

• Measure the usage and success throughout the project

• Recognise the biggest challenge will be the cultural change that is required.

A lot of employees have got used to the email-based “knowledge is power” culture. Unless you can break that attitude, your presence on Facebook and Twitter is never going to more than a disguise, a social façade.

About the author

Richard Hughes is the Director of Social Strategy at BroadVision. During his 15 years at BroadVision, he has advised major companies around the world on their strategies and implementations of eCommerce, portal, and social networking software in both technical and business roles.

In his current role, he provides strategic advice about the use of social networking in business, and helps companies understand how well they are engaging with customers, partners and employees through the use of social analytics.

Richard brings more than 20 years of experience of working with Internet solutions, at BroadVision and in previous roles at University of Oxford, Fisons Instruments and Blackwell’s. He holds a BSc degree in Computer Software Technology from the University of Bath, and lives in Oxfordshire,

About the company

BroadVision is an international software vendor of self-service web applications for enterprise social software, electronic commerce, enterprise portals and CRM software.

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