The New Market for Social Media Consultants

social media careers

By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist

To date, most social media consultants have focused on helping organizations use social networks for marketing and  customer service.  But there’s a new career opportunity for social media consultants — helping your company use social technology for collaboration inside the enterprise, called social collaboration.

What is social collaboration? Think Yammer. Yammer is an enterprise social network used by employees or businesses to share, collaborate, and innovate. Microsoft’s recent purchase of Yammer is a testament to the business opportunity social collaboration offers. Last year, Forrester Research predicted that the enterprise social software market would grow to $6.4 billion in 2016, as companies added tools for internal use.

Big Benefits for Social Businesses

Businesses have good reason to pursue the use of social media tools in the enterprise.  As Mark Schaefer wrote recently, a McKinsey report on social technology published this summer estimated that companies could see a 20-25% improvement in knowledge worker productivity through the use of social technology.  For example, they found that making information available via social media could reduce the time workers spend searching for information by 35%. Those numbers will garner CEO and CIO attention.

The company I work for, Vizit Corporation, just completed a study of 1,100 mangers of SharePoint sites. (SharePoint is the number one social collaboration tool used in the enterprise.) Although the results will not be published until October 22, I wanted to give {grow} readers a preview of the opportunity for social media consultants.

The Enterprise Could Use Some Help

62% of the individuals we surveyed said their organization had or would have an internal social initiative within two years.  57% of those planning to implement are doing so for internal collaboration purposes. Another 35% are planning to use it for both internal collaboration and to communicate with customers/partners (primarily for customer service).   Both of these are areas where an experienced consultant can help.

This momentum comes despite mixed results in their use of internal social technologies thus far. 48% in our study reported that their SharePoint social implementation was successful or very successful. That leaves 52% who could not declare success. Doesn’t that sound like an opportunity for talented social media professionals?

SharePoint Social Initiative Success (Vizit Corporation)

You’ve Got the Tools

In fact, the challenges to implementing social tools inside the enterprise are not that much different from those social media consultants encounter when working with external customers:

  • How best to use the tools—When you work with clients, you probably start with business/marketing goals and then help your client determine how best to use the available social networks and social media tools to accomplish those goals. The task is similar when helping organizations understand how to use social tools internally.
  • Education and training—Most social media consultants have worked with a customer whose employees weren’t familiar with social networking, and weren’t comfortable with it. Education and training are essential in both environments.
  • Building communities—To get knowledge workers to adopt social tools inside the enterprise, organizations will need to proactively identify potential communities and foster them. Businesses typically think of each department as a potential community and roll-out and optimize tools for each department. In fact, though, to get full value from social technology, organizations will need to look at how to build communities across departments. According to McKinsey, part of the value of social technologies is in “lowering barriers between functional silos, and even redrawing the boundaries of the enterprise to bring in additional knowledge and expertise in ‘extended networked enterprises.’ “
  • Incenting knowledge workers—Just as marketers have to find ways to incent potential customers to engage with the company on its Facebook page or LinkedIn group, businesses have to find ways to incent their workers to use the social media tools they are providing.  Social media consultants can leverage all the experience that they have gained about engaging customers and apply similar techniques to engage users within the enterprise. Contests, reward systems, gamification—they are all valid tools that cutting-edge organizations are using to increase adoption of social tools by knowledge workers.

Two Challenges 

There are two big chalenges for consultants wanting to enter this market: 1) Understanding the technology used for social collaboration inside the enterprise (SharePoint being a primary one, often in conjunction with Jive, Yammer, etc.); and 2) consulting with clients about the internal cultural issues that may inhibit effective use of social tools.

The technology hurdle can be addressed by education and by partnering with consulting companies who implement internal social technologies.

The cultural issues are an area that may be new to social media consultants. At issue is whether the organization’s culture is suitable for the kind of open discussion that enables effective collaboration and innovation. Forrester has identified four critical attributes of an innovative culture. Consultant may need to develop skills to help companies that aren’t optimal for social. Or, you could team up with an organizational change specialist.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of competition in consulting for companies around social media marketing. The potential market opportunity for consulting on internal social collaboration is a big one, and that market is in its infancy. So, if you’re a social media consultant looking to grow your business, you might consider making a shift—soon.  What do you think?

Neicole Crepeau is the Senior Marketing Manager at Vizit Corporation, and blogs at Coherent Social Media. She’s the creator of CurateXpress, a content curation tool. Connect with Neicole on Twitter at @neicolec

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  • This article became of interest to me immediately for one reason. I work at a Commercial Bakery in Ohio. Social tools like those described here could really help this company in its need to better communicate, and innovate. I plan on showing my plant manager the article. Thanks for bringing this up today. Billy

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  • This is spot on. We’ve had an uptick in companies approaching us about establishing internal communities as well. One key consideration in this arena is that many companies already have an unwieldy assortment of platforms and vendors, and consultants will have to be savvy about how to integrate. There is also “adoption fatigue,” so it’s extra important to demonstrate value to both the individual and the organization.

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  • I agree with you that there are companies out there who could use help from consultants in getting their internal social media use up and running.

    I also agree that the market is growing, as the number of events, both public and network events, related to internal social media use has clearly increased in the past year or two.

    However, the key question is, do social media consultants really have the needed competencies to be useful in an internal company environment?

    OK, so you point out that social media consultants could be useful in training and tools consulting, but you also see their competence with internal tools questionable. This is the easiest thing to remedy, and one where consultants could relatively easily acquire the needed skills thanks to their background in other social tools.

    However, when discussing incentives, I think you are miles off target, and I think most social media consultants are. There is no need to build an incentive system for internal use!

    What is needed is figuring out how to make internal use of social media part of standard company processes. In a hectic environment, any additional work is easily and often skipped, but when the tools that the job is done with are social, they are used every day.

    In order to be effective, the consultants have to understand the company’s processes and operating philosophy, and I very much doubt most social media consultants have the skills needed to accomplish this.

    Let’s view this through a few examples:
    – How can a company use social tools to more easily and faster comply with ISO 9001 requirements?
    – How do you implement an information collection system for internal and external feedback and use social tools to give it increased internal visibility and improved lead times?
    – How do you combine social tools with Lean?
    – How do you use social tools in an R&D process that is organized according to the stage-gate model?
    – How do you build a social knowledge base?
    – How do you build social work instructions and technical documentation?

    Without integrating the tools into company processes, any adoption is doomed to fail. In order to do this, either the consultant has to familiarize himself with the processes, or the company contact persons have to be early adopters who jump at opportunities they immediately grasp as the consultant is showing them the tools. In the latter case, the potential market for the said consultant is not the majority that most needs help.

  • All good points, but I do disagree with you on several. First, I think there is a need to build incentive. Incentives are part of the bigger solution to getting people to adopt the new methods and technologies. This post wasn’t the place to go into all of that, of course. But any introduction of a new collaboration system into an organization is going to require:

    good user experience design–if a tools is optional and it’s hard to use, it’s likely people won’t use it, unless your incentives are through the roof
    integration into processes–I absolutely agree with you that making the tool a required part of key processes is important to getting it adopted

    incentives–you have to combine the above with incentives, reward, reasons for people to adopt its use in the areas where it’s not required

    executive support–without management support, management requiring the tools use and evangelizing it, your chances of success are much lower

    As far as understanding the specifics of the company, what they are trying to accomplish, and making the tools work in that context, to me that’s what consulting is all about. A good consultant has probably worked in large companies for many years and understands ISO, knowledgebases, the challenges of collection systems. If they only have a marketing background, that’s one thing. But a lot of SM folks have a much richer background than that. This is the same challenge that any good UX designer, SM consultant, or IT consultant faces: asking the questions to really understand the business, its operations and needs, and then designing the right solution for that organization.

    It’s also the case that many consultants, even ones from the IT side, specialize. Some companies/consultants, be they SharePoint experts or IT folks, are more familiar with the automotive industry, the financial sector, etc. That’s why so many vendors are focused on verticals. You’d likely see the same thing with SM consultants moving into this space.

    Finally, one of the benefits that I think SM consultants can bring. I think it could benefit these businesses to have someone with a non-IT perspective, who isn’t as technical and is looking at it from an end-user and adoption perspective. We’ve seen the challenges of adoption when systems are rolled out by IT and SharePoint vendors with lots of technical knowledge and lots of governance applied, but not enough on the soft-side. The result is poor adoption rates. Success only comes with adoption. I think a partnership with some experienced SM consultants could really benefit some of the implementation vendors.

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  • Jeevan

    Social
    media is a power full tool which connects customer with brand very quick.
    Which helps the customer to get better service on their requirements.

    There is a relevant blog from Infosys SocialEdge about Social Business. You
    can have a look on it

    http://bit.ly/QZw14J

  • There is a challenge in learning a company’s internal needs, but how is that any different than a lean mgmt consultant coming in and having to learn processes, Ville? You and I would make an awesome team, for example, if a company wanted to dive into not only how SoMe might improve processes, but employee morale and culture.

    The difference in this type of approach is that the consultant has to take on fewer clients and spend more time on each one. Ultimately a company would recognize the value and create a full-time position, so mentoring may have to be part of the plan.
    I am so excited to dive a little deeper on this discussion, so plan to get a G+hangout invite, Neicole and Ville.

  • Looking forward to it!

  • Neicole, I really appreciated this article! I’ve been using social networks in the workplace to develop various cultural values (if I can put it that way) for several years now. In fact I will be sharing my story at the Impact99 conference (impact99.ca) this month. There are definite challenges for a consultant breaking into this market, but the opportunity for a business who can adapt social technology with their employees and management team are substantial. The key ability for a consultant to succeed in this area would be their ability to have complete management buy in, as well as the ability to identify the areas for which the integration would start to show results most quickly for the employees. Once the employees start to see the value, more advanced uses of the technology can be attained. As mentioned, I am in my third year of using various internal tools, including Yammer, Rypple, and most recently TribeHR. These were key elements to a culture “re-design” or “re-affirmation” – the employees love them, and the ways that we have used them extend from customer service improvement, product development, marketing and sales. From the management perspective, this has also allowed me to identify issues, identify influencers, address problems proactively, and most importantly keep energy going.

    Additionally, when off site, using these networks on a mobile level allow some to get instant feedback, keep in touch and provide support when needed. Its been invaluable.

    As someone actually using this to great advantage, I thought I would chime in. To me, this has been one of the most fascinating uses of social networking.

    ( I also covered some of this on my 12 Most posts – in case you want some additional reference material – hope you don’t mind the mention).

    If more businesses integrate social properly in the workplace I am a firm believer that lives of employees will be richer, and this benefits the company exponentially. 🙂 It’s one of my “social” missions! Thanks for bringing this into the spotlight with this post – I appreciate the data and your take on it!

  • I think you make a good point about the skills required to actually operate or train within a company in the HR capacity, however certainly some Social media consultants do have the natural skills to work well with people, have some organizational behavior training (or can get some) and will be in demand. A strong partnership and buy in between management and the adviser is critical. If management treats the project (because that’s what it is, a project) with an open mind and is willing to participate (KEY) then the consultant can provide their knowledge, and the management can be trained to understand how to integrate this into their communication style. Its not a matter of installing apps and getting everyone user names, as suggested, it’s a culture development project, and the results can be incredible. If management is going to use the tool, they will have to be hands on with it, employees don’t like external consultants managing them… The consultant has to have natural abilities – it will not be for everyone, but sadly, most managers and leaders will not take the time like i did to learn everything there is to know, so there will be a need for “someone” to step in with coaching and help. I think that’s the opportunity and those who can do it well will be highly valued and sought after…some food for thought.

  • Tap the Goldmine Within. Unlock Enterprise Social Potential. Companies have a lot to gain. Big and small, all companies rightly says: Our people our our greatest asset. Leverage the talents of your workforce and build your base of brand advocates. (Great post, Neicole. A very timely and relevant discussion. Thanks for another neat article, Mark.)

  • Martin Kang

    Please also consider including SocialMotus.
    We’re a new, free social management tool platform for businesses and
    individuals. We’re building some innovative and powerful conversion tracking
    and social management features including priority messages inbox, targeted
    Twitter followers discovery, sales conversions by posts and much more.

    You can review
    it by signing up for free here http://www.socialmotus.com or emailing me for
    more information.

  • Shayn

    If you’re looking for collaborative project management that ties in with social keep an eye out for @crocagile You can sign up for private beta @ http://www.crocagile.com

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  • Wow! Sounds like you’ve got some great experience! I would love to talk with you and maybe interview you for a blog of mine.

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  • Note: there is also a fine line between social media collaboration and not being productive on existing responsibilities. I think this challenge depends on if the culture wants collaboration or if the organization shape does well with this type of teamwork. You cant force cultural change easily.

  • Harvey Giles

    It is a great post. When we talk about tools, there are many efficient tools in the market but my favorite is ProofHub. I can easily manage my clients and team using it

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