Monday, July 05, 2010

Social Media - it's neither the replacement nor the panacea

I've had two conversations today that sum up for me the range of misconceptions people have about social media. The first was with a shared services director who wants a social media strategy created for her team. It was an odd request - even odder as it came to me via a design agency.

The oddest thing was that the team all work in the same building - in fact in a big open plan space on one floor. One wonders why they need a strategy for social media when they all meet in real life every day. The next thing on the odd scale was that they don't have a communications strategy. They have a few electronic communication tools - and in fact, a great director who's a powerful force for engagement.

Having got a sketchy brief this morning, I called her - and things began to fall into place. Her team's going through a big change: they actually want a communication framework aimed at supporting the delivery of their business goals - but her marketing colleagues had been pushing heavily the virtues of a facebook site, tweets and a blog. To my mind, that was a bit of overkill in a smallish team, one-room environment and with a person who sets a great example for face to face comms. There are virtues in using some social media - and there's definitely a role in the team for social learning. But a social media strategy? Her wider organisation doesn't have one yet and to my mind, she'll be much better served by building a comms framework and activity plan that allows for, and enables, social media tools to be part of the comms mix. Where she does need to get a handle on social media is with some rules for her team on what's acceptable or not in a work environment. Apparently it has been a free-for-all in the past - but now the upper management has taken a draconian attitude and the kind of social communication that's now an unstoppable part of everyday life is now verboten in that workplace. We talked about a happy medium: all part of creating a great place to work. But what emerged at the end of an hour's conversation was the need for a good old integrated communications plan with a mix of tools that will achieve the right outcomes. Will I get the project? I don't know. I'm sure there will be social media specialists offering something completely different from me. But will their offering be truly suitable? In this case, social media tools alone won't meet all the needs of this team.

However, I had a conversation this afternoon with a friend who works for small business that supports charities and is crying out for a social media solution. Working in the UK and three Continental mainland countries, this business communicates at present only by email, the phone and one annual get-together. Money's tight, but they were looking to set up a newsletter for staff and volunteers. Yet they really don't need the formality of this - but assumed 'that's what companies do'. As a result of our conversation, my friend is investigating some 'free' solutions - a facebook page; a twitter account and getting on one or two of the forums aimed specifically at organisations that deliver services to charities. I think she's already moved a long way down that road in her head, but assumed a professional approach to social media would be expensive. We simply talked about some common sense rules and about adopting the same professional standards of managing dialogue in the same way she would through other media. I came off the call feeling good: feeling I'd validated her thoughts.

It's time we stopped handling 'social media' in business as if it was another new world. It's a communication evolution that has a strong, but not overwhelming, role to play in organisational communication. My view is that communicators have a role to play in educating people around integrated organisational communication. In the end, it's about the right horses for the right courses. The skill is in tipping the most suitable beast.

1 comment:

Melissa Dark said...

Mark, I share your frustration on this point. I have a client who personally believes any and all social media to be a 'waste of time'. She admits that as the head of comms for a large organisation she should be more informed, but isn't interested enough to do anything about it.

She recently asked for my assistance to write a social media policy for the organisation. Her approach was that as long as they broadened the media policy and listed every social media channel she could think of (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc) that would be fine. It's hard to know how to even begin in a situation like that. *sigh*