On the place of social media in corporate strategies

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Summary : More and more strategic plans are now involving social media. Should we welcome this or worry ? Knowing that tools are there to serve strategies it may be a bad news to see them promoted to the same level as what they have to serve. The risk of seeing the “social phenomenon” becoming something fashionable enterprises must mention without any real articulation with the strategic plan is very likely. Saying that tools are as important that the goals they serve shows that, in many cases, organizations still don’t understand the social thing and it may have negative consequences in the future.

As usual, when economy takes a turn, in a way or another, organizations change their strategic plans and explain what are their priorities for the next years. So a plan is replacing another that’s not been completed but that’s the way our world is : things change so fast that organizations need to change their direction as fast and often.

Now that’s the economy is slowly recovering, organizations have to change their pose, project and discourse to send signals to the market and re-mobilize their employees. These last months, I had a look at some of these strategic plans that’s been recently published. Most of them share three main points, usually worded like this :

1°) Put customers at the heart of the corporate strategy and concerns

2°) Improve employee’s well-being and development.

3°) Become a leader in social media.

More than being common places, points 1 and 2 are quite clumsy. They will cause comments like “Ah ? Because you didn’t use to care about our customers and employees before ?”. As for the third point, worded as such, it looks rather like a mandatory and opportunistic statement, because organizations can’t afford not paying attention to the last fashionable thing? What does “become a leader in social media” means ? Increase one’s presence ? Create one’s own services for customers and employees ? And what for ?

That’s typically what I call a social media strategy : any organization has to be there, and use these tools without knowing what for. What makes me say that they don’t understand why ? If it was the case, the articulation of the points 1 and 2 with point 3 would be more elaborated. To some extent, the point 3 would have nothing to do there because it’s only a means to serve a strategy and not a goal per se.

Then I guess we’ll soon be witnessing the coming of window-dressing projects, without any connection with reality and which impact will be hard to demonstrate. Have a “social media strategy is mandatory” so let’s have one to look modern. What would you think of a restaurant that would want to become a leader in mustard or pepper ?

What would a more reassuring wording would look like, a wording showing more coherence in the message ? It would not explain the attention paid to clients and employees but the project that exists for them, with them, and what new things are going to be implemented in this purpose. Tools would become a way to support this strategy, nothing more.

1°) Treat clients and employees as enterprise stakeholders.

2°) Involve them in a shared value project.

3°) Implement what is needed to make such a project successful, what may imply the use of new tools. It would almost be preferable not to mention this in the plan because it’s rather a part of the tactical dimension. Considering that tools are as important as the goal, making them a goal per se is not reassuring at all, and skeptics will have no problem to demonstrate that the understanding their role and value in the system is non-existent.

Please leave software vendors and online services providers and even to medias the goal of becoming social media leaders and, instead of that, focus on being leaders in you own field. Having 50 000 fans on Facebook, an iPhone app that’s been downloaded a million times and a few thousands customers registered on the social network you build for the glory of your brand makes you leaders of nothing. Except if all these things are used to build a new kind or relationship with an ecosystem of stakeholders, with the goal of doing much more than marketing and improving the buyer/seller relationship. Same for employees : the value of social tools depends on their articulation with the value chain.

In fact it means that the organization wants to do social CRM or become a social business but is not conscious of that. Or that it’s only words without purpose..