2011 will be a year when many marketing professionals hit the social media re-set button.  After climbing aboard the “engagement train” for fear of being left behind, many marketers will come up empty when they try to explain what they actually achieved for the money. The honeymoon is over. Show me the money.

This theme of social media failure was recently addressed by PR Smart Guy Brian Solis. I usually agree with Brian but his recent post seems overly-simplistic.  Let’s explore this vital issue and fill in some of the points that Brian overlooked. Why are the majority of social media efforts failing?

1) THE MYTH OF PLANNING

Brian seems to equate a lack of planning with a failure to have goals.  I think these are distinct problems.

Rather than lack of planning, one common source of social media failure is OVER-PLANNING. I mean if there is one thing corporations really know, it’s planning!  Every major goal has a 2-5 year forecast attached to it, doesn’t it?  But that’s the fatal flaw.

  • Many companies don’t have a corporate culture ready to adjust marketing tactics month-to-month.  What was the last major platform shift in television advertising? Cable? The idea that the medium is shifting right under your feet is unfamiliar.  Not only are the channels evolving rapidly, the rules of engagement are changing too! You can’t plan for that.  Would your company devote half its social media budget to a category called “we don’t know yet?”
  • The other cultural aspect contributing to failure is that the real opportunities on the social scene may not present themselves in what we’ve planned to do (i.e. “We’ll take out an ad and hope people come to my sale”).  With new media, commercial opportunities appear in the moment (I just found a person who needs our product - let’s make a deal and get the business.”).  Are you organized for In The Moment Marketing? Authority for service, sales, sometimes even pricing, may need to be pushed down to the level of the organization dealing with the buzz every day.

2) NOT JUST GOALS — METRICS

Brian wisely states that “accountability, metrics, and outcomes serve as the foundation for social media success.”  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Goals drive EVERYTHING so the TYPE of metric you choose is more important than the tactics you put into place to achieve them.

The problem rests in the fact that many companies will only believe results that can be displayed on an Excel spreadsheet.  But if you’re only relying on quantitative results, you’re missing the real beauty of the social web.  Many of the business benefits of social media can only be captured through qualitative measures.  If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend:

3) WHY THE BOSS MATTERS

“Social media strategy must gain attention from the very top of the organization and see its integration across relevant business teams,” says Brian.

Social media initiatives must get more than mere attention from the top.  They must be sponsored from the top. There is no such thing as a grassroots strategic initiative.

Many failures occur from trying to do too much too quickly. Rather than integrate “across business teams” Success is far more likely by planning achievable goals, publicizing quick wins, and then shaming laggards into adoption. Rolling something out across the company will smell like a “program of the month.”

4) BEYOND MARKETING

Brian points to an eMarketer report that shows adoption is taking place primarily in the marketing departments. He says that to be successful, companies need look at every department that engages publicly — HR, legal, environmental, etc. — and apply these tools. I agree but will also take it a step further.

In addition to looking at these obvious external applications, the more potent business benefit might be using social networking platforms INTERNALLY.  The technology is mature and people love to use these tools. Think of the opportunities for collaboration, knowledge management and innovation if we could connect employees in a far-flung global enterprise! I think this is the next big thing in social media.  Applying internally may be less risky than leading with a public social media showcase.

5) THE CURSE OF THE SOCIAL MEDIA KNOW-NOTHINGS

One reason for failure overlooked by Brian is the drastic mis-match between social media resource availability and need. This is such a new area and the parameters are constantly shifting. The market is flush with social media know-nothingswho have little knowledge of business or marketing, let alone a track record of measurable success. If you’ve assigned social media marketing to the intern or the person with the most Facebook friends, this might be a root cause of failure too!

That’s my take on the subject.  What are your thoughts?  The comment section is now open for YOU!

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