Although companies are increasing their use of social media as a marketing channel, there can be a lack of focus and coordination. Often untrained employees with few or no guidelines are allowed to represent brands, and there is little understanding about which channels to focus on, according to marketers at BtoB's Digital Edge Live conference, which took place last week in San Francisco.
That is bound to change, presenters at the conference said.
“The idea that social is a bolt-on activity will go away very quickly,” said Jared Gruner, director-integrated strategy and planning at Ogilvy, Los Angeles. “Social is part of everything. The idea of special strategists for specific channels will become antiquated.”
Gruner advised marketers to become much more results-oriented when considering which social channels to focus on.
“When you think about social, don't think just about Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter,” he said. “Rather, think much higher up the chain, about less sexy but more industry-specific channels like forums, bulletin boards and industry-specific networking sites and blogs. Don't forget the unsexy things.”
That kind of focus is important to clear away the clutter, according to Jeremiah Owyang, industry analyst partner at Altimeter Group.
“Marketers' scope of work is much larger than it has ever been,” he said. “In fact, it's bigger than marketing.” The result, Owyang said, is that companies' social outreach often is “an uncontrollable mess,” largely due to customer communications shifting to various parts of the company, augmented by employees' own ad hoc social outreach, which is largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable.
The solution, he said, is to first build a foundation of social objectives, company policies and employee education. Upon that, companies ideally should build dedicated social teams and centers of social excellence, attend to and adjust to social ROI, and ultimately seek out real-time intelligence for future action.
“The term "social' ultimately will go away; it will be integrated in the way we work every day,” Owyang said. “I call this the "sentient world.' ”
The imperative for social integration was echoed by Chris Boorman, senior VP-education and enablement and CMO at data technology company Informatica Corp.
“Life is becoming complicated, and the great challenge is how to bring all this together as an integrated outbound program to generate business,” Boorman said.
He said Informatica, like many companies, has had to adjust to the cultural change from a severely restricted corporate communications method to one of openness via social networks.
Traditional spokespersons and thought leaders don't always adjust well to being social participants, he said, and companies have to be ready to seek new ones from their employee ranks.
Compounding the issue is that social media itself may not always be an answer for all companies in all situations, according to Janet Roberts, CMO at telecommunications technology company Syniverse Technologies.
“We did a study last year among our customers globally to see how they got their sources of information that influence purchasing decisions; social media was dead last in our survey,” Roberts said.
“We are using Facebook and Twitter to some degree, and that may increase,” she said. “But right now social actually ranks lowest in how our customers get their purchasing information.”