Social media is the wild child of marketing – here’s how to get control

A disciplined approach to social media management and oversight is crucial, explains Ian Bruce, principal analyst at Forrester.

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If you’re like many other B2B companies, your social media investments are growing significantly – all while you’re becoming increasingly worried about keeping control over your social media operations.

Those were the findings from a recent Forrester survey of B2B brand and communications leaders. Among survey respondents, social media was the top area for increasing investment over the coming year, the second year that social media has topped the list. All the signs are that the current COVID-19 pandemic will only accelerate this trend.

From a channel perspective, the investment strategy of B2B companies still favours LinkedIn, Twitter and the other giants, but we’re seeing increasing activity in other places too, including sites like Glassdoor (fueled by an growing awareness of the importance of employee experience), and for some industries, social review sites like G2 Crowd and TrustPilot.

There’s a number of reasons for social media’s rising popularity among marketing leaders. Social media is recognised as being the first place that a new prospect will come across your brand and form an impression, and the place where your most fervent and loyal customers congregate to stay in touch and learn the latest news. It’s also a relatively effective approach for paid programs and demand marketing. Social is increasingly seen as a strategic enterprise that can both build brand and drive customer acquisition.

But there’s also growing concerns. In the same survey, 52% of respondents said they had discovered a branded social media account that wasn’t managed by the company. About a third had lost access controls to accounts they managed, while an astonishing 11% reported that they had run into legal issues because of the content on branded social media channels.

These problems aren’t isolated – earlier this year when I helped a very large software company audit their social operations, they expected to find nineteen LinkedIn branded company profiles, but we discovered ninety-two, including spoof accounts that seemed to be designed for phishing.

Balancing freedom and control

In many ways social media is the wild child of marketing – full of promise, but very difficult to control and a constant source of concern. And as any parent will tell you, all children need a balance of freedom and control if they are to grow and thrive. Similarly, social media requires carefully balancing the need for active engagement and participation, with the need to ensure the company is represented appropriately and that there’s adequate governance.

There are three main reasons to get social media governance right. We’ve talked about one already: the legal exposure social media represents, including legal compliance obligations. For example, the US Federal Trade Commission and similar government agencies in other jurisdictions have a broad mandate to regulate unfair and deceptive trade practices, including claims and statements made in social media.

Similarly, the US Securities and Exchange Commission carries a mandate to ensure fair practices for investors, and carries a big stick to ensure compliance. Law courts have the power to enforce intellectual property rights or levy fines for defamation. These legal issues may seem like distant concerns for your organisation, but remember, in our survey one in ten companies has run into legal trouble because of their social media operations.

The second reason to have governance in place is to protect the brand. One of the main goals of the brand and communications team is to make sure that the brand strategy is executed consistently. This goes beyond simple ‘look and feel’ concerns to cover tone, content, message, engagement strategies and a coordinated public expression.

Finally, having governance in place is a good idea because it will probably save you money. Social media is a resource issue for all organisations: the idea that it is ‘free’ is a myth. Social media typically accounts for 2-5% of overall marketing programmes budgets, excluding paid social media costs. Having a central team that manages overall social media operations can ensure that investments are spent wisely, and that programmes are delivering results for the business, increasing efficiency.

The social operations team

In another survey we asked social media leaders to explain how they currently manage their social media programmes and activities. About 17% confessed to having no organising principle for their social media, which we half-jokingly describe as a spaghetti-bowl management approach, with a tangle of somewhat related but uncoordinated social media activities.

The vast majority of organisations (64%) have a classic hub-and-spoke model, with a central “hub” team that provides overall management, programme development, governance and process controls, and a set of “spokes” that are often regional or product-related teams that execute. The remaining 19% have multiple hubs and related spokes, a scaled-out structure that was most common in very large, very complex organisations.

The range of responsibilities for an effective social media operations team.

The range of responsibilities for an effective social media operations team (Source: Forrester Research).

Whatever the organising principle, the core responsibilities of the social media operations team remain the same (see figure). We break these responsibilities into five phases – prepare, listen, plan, engage and measure – all supported by a foundation aligned to business strategy, cross-functional interlock, and a technology backbone that includes an insights hub for day-to-day operations. Looking at each in turn:

  • In the Prepare, the team builds capabilities and safeguards that ensure brand fidelity and maximise the potential of social programs. This covers governance, training and necessary crisis protocols, as well as the development of a social media architecture that mirrors the brand and go-to-market structure of the organisation.
  • In the Listen, organisations work to gain a detailed understanding of all the audiences they are trying to reach, and prioritise those audiences.
  • Under Plan, the social media operations team builds out the components of a plan for social engagement and activities. This covers the nuts-and-bolts issues of creating a content calendar and building an influencer relations plan, as well as aligning social programs to relevant marketing campaigns and the creative processs of content development.
  • During the Engage, the team creates opportunities for the brand to engage with target audiences across different social channels. 

The final Measure, manages cross-functional reporting and assesses overall performance against established goals and objectives.

Having clarity about the role of the social operations team is the first step to better management. As the value and relevance of social media has grown, so has the need to a disciplined approach for management and oversight. A centralised team that is empowered and adequately resourced will drive better strategy, alignment and ultimately business impact.

1 Comment on Social media is the wild child of marketing – here’s how to get control

  1. Having a firm grasp on social media is essential if you want your business to be successful.

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