Too many chiefs...
Recently, I saw something saying that every organisation should have a head of social media to spearhead its approach to using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the million or so other social media networks that the Twitterati now say have to be used for any organisation to stand a chance of surviving the recession.
It's an easy statement to make, but what would the real role of such a person be? Is it their responsibility to identify which social media sites should be used, and to ensure that they keep up to speed with any new sites? Should they be the ones that decide when a site is no longer the social media site de jour, and so when an organisation should drop its use? How about the actual outbound content?
The source of the need for a head of social media did say that this person would need an army of digital ambassadors, but who do they report to? Standard reports to their line of business managers with a dotted line to this HSM? And how would the HSM interact with marketing, with sales, with the web site developers—never mind with the CEO, the COO and the CIO?
As social networking sites are not technical, it is unlikely that they should fall under the remit of the CIO. It is far more likely that they would fall under marketing as the majority of such outbound communications do—and yet the digital ambassadors would have to come from across a broader slice of the organisation (product managers, technical staff, support personnel, etc). It is unlikely that marketing having fingers in everyone's pies would go down well in this case.
In an earlier Quocirca blog item I wrote regarding the opportunities and threats that social networking provided to enterprises. There was one response based on the fact that few organisations provided policies and guidelines on using the telephone—and if you trust your workers, then you will have a well motivated and capable force for good in using social networking. Unfortunately, I cannot go along with this view. Many large organisations have recognised for a long time that first contact—whether it be via the phone, email, personal contact or whatever—is incredibly important.
Those who are in the front line of customer service receive full training in how to react on the phone to ensure that they present the right "front" to the organisation. That is why we hear the oft-repeated "this call may be recorded for training purposes" when we do contact an organisation.
But we can't do the same with social media—the sites are not under our management, and we have no means of controlling the inbound "pull" from the prospect or customer. We probably do have some possibility of control over the outbound content itself—we can put in place some form of content filtering in the form of data leak prevention (DLP), but only where the outbound content is going through the corporate firewall. For anyone using a laptop away from their desk, or using their own machine back at home, we have effectively zero control—unless we enforce centralised control on all machines via proxies. Potentially possible with corporate-owned machines, but doubtful where the employee is using his or her own machine for mainly personal use.
So, is the role of the HSM one like the chief security officer, in that they are there as the Big Brother monitoring what is going on and being more "thou shalt not" rather than "thou mayest"? If so, they will be an abject failure—the vast majority of people hate being told what they cannot do in this way.
Anyway, social media should not be regarded as being separate from existing interaction channels, otherwise we run the risk of creating and continuing silos of customer interactions. Education is key—ensuring that employees understand the need for positive positioning of the organisation through all interactions, whether this be face-to-face, phone, paper mail, email, faxes, IM or any form of social media. This then becomes a far more rounded position for someone within the organisation—part of the standard marketing communications (marcomms) function. Employees can be provided with overall guidance on what is expected, clauses can be written in to employment contracts. Fewer "digital ambassadors" are required—we don't have "telephone ambassadors" or "email ambassadors".
We may want to have some designated, named individuals who will be prominent in how the business Tweets, Blogs and Pokes. But, what we really need is for everyone within an organisation to understand how powerful any interaction with prospects, customers and the general public can be—and to try and make sure that any such interaction is done in as professional and positive manner as possible.
No need for a head of social media then—just a marcomms expert who can keep their finger on the changing face of the multifarious means of interacting with others...