Why Companies Struggle with Social Media Engagement

Here’s one key finding from the recent Brand Engagement study by popular industry thought leader, Charlene Li (Altimeter Group) that caught my attention,

To scale engagement, make social media part of everyone’s job. The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media shouldn’t be the monopoly of any single functional group and it should be dispersed across the organization. While cross-functional social media engagement may be a best practice, the reality is that  many enterprises still struggle with this and here’s why:

#1 We are what we do: At most companies, employees are hired for their roles based on their skill set/expertise/experience/interest (Granted, interest is a stretch, given the current economy…). While, there are plenty of geeks/technical folks who are exceptional bloggers but that doesn’t mean every engineer is cut out for social media engagement. As a result, folks who typically end up blogging and/or engaging in social media for their companies are from marcomm or PR because they are the “communicators” by virtue of their role.

#2 That’s not my job: In highly siloed organizations, outside of the traditional marcomm and PR roles, the company culture doesn’t encourage  direct interaction with customers even with traditional channels, let alone social media. So again, it’s left to marcomm and PR team to continue engaging via social media sites/tools as they did with the old media because it’s part of their job. Plus, there’s no financial or other incentive for employees from non-related functions to engage in social media so it’s not all that surprising that they shy away from it.

#3 What’s up with the time, doc?! I had previously blogged about an enterprise social media discussion panel, where in the post-discussion Q&A, Ken Kaplan from Intel emphasized that getting employees to engage in social media continues to remain a challenge. The reality across companies, regardless of size, is that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.  With the onslaught of harsh layoffs, more is expected of the employees who are left behind. And unless you’re in denial or clueless about social media engagement, it won’t come as a surprise that social media needs significant time commitment. So, if it’s not part of their job description, there’s no motivation for non-PR or non-Marketing employees to spend any additional time blogging or tweeting.

#4 Are you being “social” or slacking off? There’s still a disconnect between reality and perception of social media as a productive use of time. It goes back to #3 – when there are limited resources, managers typically want their staff to focus on their core function. Across companies, there are trailblazers who are passionate about social media and spend hours after work – blogging, tweeting on their own time. It’s great to see the passion but in the long-run, it’s just not sustainable and once the initial enthusiasm wears off, social media engagement also languishes.

#5 Is that my neck on the line? Many corporate social media sites and user accounts have fine print aka legal disclaimer attached to it, that exempts the company from any liability arising from the employee’s social media activities. So in other words, companies have taken advice from the so-called experts in “trusting” their employees to engage but don’t necessarily stand behind them when these employees screw up in the line of duty. Anyone else see a big problem with this?!  

Bottomline: Companies need to start walking the walk when it comes to social media, not just talk the talk. Here’s how smart companies encourage social media engagement across their organization:

– Pro-actively seek out employees who have great product knowledge and/or are exceptional at engaging with customers, regardless of which functional area they are from.

– Team up the SMEs with communicators and PR professionals to create cross-functional cohorts that offer customers a well-rounded perspective not just fluff or technical jargon.

– Assign clear goals for social media activity tied to the business  objectives and make it part of the employee’s role.

– Align compensation with social media goals to recognize excellence in customer engagement.

– Integrate social media into business and organization goals so that it’s not something that employees do on their lunch hour.  

– Provide extensive training to these employees and stand behind them when they make a mistake, not hide behind legalese.

– Last but not the least, encourage employee culture where social media is not just hype or a campaign but rather a customer-centric state of mind.

Lessons from SAP: Reinventing Marketing to Compete in a New Media Age


Recently, Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP walked a packed room at the NewComm Forum through a study on how his company redefined the traditional role of marketing communications to compete in a highly dynamic social media landscape.


As part of the global communications management team at SAP, Bulmer is responsible for leading the Industry and Influencer Relations organization. In 2007, the SAP communications organization was challenged by their executive board to rethink all their programs and processes. They were asked to identify changes that were required to meet company goal and to double market opportunity over 5years. 


SAP started the journey with discovery, research, and benchmarking for 6months. The communications team talked to experts at P&G, IBM, HP to understand communication best practices. As a result of this discovery phase, the team came up with several critical realizations:

– SAP was a transactional communication organization (tactical) and  it had to change in order to sit at the table as a credible partner with its customers.

– There was an inherent flaw with its traditional model of CIO at the center as the decision maker. The new media landscape had become a complex and highly connected network. 

– It had to create competitive advantage and also, become much more strategic in its approach to marketing.

– Many of the company communication programs were not adequate to deal with this new social media space.

– Everybody had a voice, employees became an important constituency in driving change.

– There was an urgent need to align the company goals to a central vision and to create sustainable competitive advantage. 

As a result, the SAP team went through a comprehensive re-framing exercise. They started by redefining functional roles as processes and connecting each role to overall company objectives.

SAP needed an organization in place designed to identify the customers/prospects and influence the world around it. So their next step was to define what constitutes influence and influencer, and how it affects the brand and the company. 

Who are the influencers? These are good corporate citizen within customers sphere of influence that support sales by accelerating the adoption of SAP tools. Influencers helped SAP create competitive advantage. Bulmer’s team also recruited researchers from Columbia and Emory to measure the value of this influencer community and track its influence.


SAP took a methodical and pragmatic approach to create their influencer marketing model, where customers are at center of the equation. These were the people who made the technology decision at both IT level, like CIO,  and at business level. SAP team worked hard to understand the process of decision-making at these customers and what sources that the decision makers turned to, ie, the influencers.

Bulmer’s team identified the following categories of influencers:

 – Universities

– Analysts/IT influencers

– Business thought leaders

– Partners (ISV, Channel)

– Customer communities (User Groups and Peer Networks)


Each of these influencers had varying degree of sales impact for SAP. Universities had the highest impact. Bulmer said that, when you get into fast growth areas, research and academics are the ones who have the most influence. Customer Communities had the next largest impact, followed by the Analysts/IT influencers and Business thought leaders. Partners have the least impact of all influencers.

So SAP created a Business influencer relations group that was tasked with working with the influencers. They first used social media in SMB segment and designed the strategy to penetrate this segment. SAP built relationship-building social networking site in collaboration with Social Media Today called “My Venture Pad” which is geared at the owners, employees of startups. They made it a content-rich technology site that provides content from experts, monetized it via sponsorship.  Here are some best practices that SAP adopted to make their new media influencer model successful:

  • Create a symbiotic relationship with the influencer network by connecting the user groups through collaborative workspaces such as discussion groups, wikis, and web 2.0 platforms.
  • Bring voice of customer directly into the product and collaborate with users to provide value at every step of the relationship.
  • Provide thought leadership through webinars and event sponsorships.
  • Build strategic relations with universities to build the curriculum around supply chain. This helps build the experience of SAP into the pre-professional experience and the early exposure helps cultivate future relationships.
  • Last but not the least, connect all these groups – Universities, analysts/it influencers, business thought leaders, partners channel , customer communities (user group).

Bulmer stressed the importance of getting management buy in upfront, demonstrating value to the customer, and showing direct link to the bottomline.

He ended this highly informative session by saying, “We empowered our stakeholders to tell the story and strengthen our strategic communication goals. We learned how to use communications as a strategic tool for furthering our business goals. “

Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails

webexsf2009_logo1Today at the Web 2.0 Expo, a panel of industry thought leaders – Peter Kim (Dachis Corporation), Charlene Li (Altimeter Group), and Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research) discussed “Why Social Media Marketing Fails  – and how to fix it.”

Keeping true to the spirit of social media, Peter Kim invited input for this session before the show, on his blog where folks responded with what they wanted to see at this session. Not surprising, it was standing room only for this brilliant panel of former and current Forrester analysts.

Here are the key highlights from this insightful discussion where panelists also provided concrete suggestions on overcoming major hurdles to social media success in companies.

#1 How do I get my culture to adopt? (Lack of buy-in from C-level executives)
This was quoted as the No.1 reason by the panelists for the failure of social media adoption and success in companies. Charlene Li bluntly stated that, most companies are not ready for change. “Big guns” need to get involved and for those executives to get onboard is show the connection to bottom-line/revenue. Li highly recommends “Go for the sweet spot”, which are corporate (financial) goals that the management is focused on and to demonstrate how social media can help drive those results.

Jeremiah’s experience was different in that executives are usually the last to adopt. Smaller groups at lower level management were more likely to drive social media adoption. However all three agreed on the need for a champion at the executive level to make social media successful in the long-term.

Peter Kim asked whether companies needed a “Chief Social Officer” to help social media adoption in companies?  Li disagreed and said that it was a fallacy. Social media shouldn’t be just one person and that it would be “dangerous” to have just one person responsible for social media. She believed that it’s everybody’s responsibility. She gave the example of Charles Schwab, which is focused on a customer engagement strategy and for them social media is just one of the many ways to achieve that strategy.  

Kim pointed out another dangerous fallacy and that was the perception  that social media ia young person’s game and many companies hire interns to do their social media strategy. Li thought a good practice she has seen is that many companies are pairing up marketing folks with younger people. Owyang suggested using the Hub and Spoke model, where various cross-functional groups drive the initiatives but coordination is done centrally. The other two models he discussed were: Tire – social media is initiated from the edges and grows organically without any coordination. Tower – social media is initiated from upper management levels and can be inauthentic.

#2 How do I make my campaigns work? (Using the “Campaign” model)
All three panelists pointed out that it was wrong and misguided for marketers to treat social media as just another “campaign”. Li said that attitude is the biggest problem, because social media is not a campaign. She went on to add that it’s about relationships and conversations,  not about technologies and she also said that very few brands do this right. 

Kim interjected with a question (and reality check) – How do we align the need for conversations in public companies with quarterly pressures, which necessitates focus on campaigns? To which, Owyang responded there should be a balance between business objectives and community objectives with equal counts of both. He cautions marketers against using campaigns, which are short-term and instead focus on long-term objectives of the company.

Kim pointed out there is need to change how public companies work and the way they think of their external and internal stakeholders including detractors. He also acknowledged that it’s a difficult road ahead. Li agreed and found that there’s much more collaboration going on. There are conversations already happening, folks are asking recommendations, and it’s all occuring very naturally for local brands and business.

He also acknowledged, the real fear for many traditional marketers, with this question – Should we get rid of the marketing dept? He was alluding to how social media is changing the role of marketers in the organization. To which Li responded that marketing is all about promotion and advertising. Social media helps get those other parts get elevated however, she also pointed out that advertising on social network advertising is a bad idea and it doesn’t work.

One interesting idea that came up was around some type of educational courses, credentials or “certification” for social media practitioners. Li was in favor of having some type of certification however, Owyang was against it, saying that he himself was a practitioner and believed that experience was more important.

#3 What should I measure? (Lack of measurement)
Kim pointed out that the biggest fail in social media and marketing in general is measurement.  Owyang said the traditional marketers measure using on dashboards that show them the page views, visits, and other metrics. However, he said that’s not very meaningful way to measure social media ROI. He advocates the use of a directional system, similar to GPS system rather than a dashboard. In order to measure social media success, he suggests using business metrics around what you trying to accomplish such as customer retention and satisfaction measures rather than web metrics.

Li brought a great point – start by asking yourself why are you measuring? Are you trying to decide the allocation of budget or do a comparison with other channels? She said that social media shouldn’t be measured in isolation but rather as part of the overall measurement of other efforts. She said, “How can you measure social media if you don’t measure in other areas?” She did an informal poll of the audience at the discussion and many hands went up when she asked how many were working on social media initiatives. It was very telling that very few raised their hand, when Li asked how many were able to measure their results.

#4 Does social media matter? (Real impact of social media)
This was yet another very interesting point that was brought up in the discussion. Owyang mentioned a recent informal poll by Adage, who asked mainstream folks about Motrin Twitter Moms controversy. Most hadn’t heard about the incident or didn’t know much about it, so that begged the question whether social media was even relevant to mainstream. One thing Owyang mentioned was that when social media buzz such as the Motrin Moms, starts getting picked up by the mainstream media, that’s when it starts becoming relevant. 

Li followed up with a fascinating perspective, that it’s failure in social media that really matters. She went on to say that it’s more important to understand whether your culture can adopt it. It’s also all about extending yourself and learning.  According to Li,  if you’re not failing, that means you are not doing anything and not learning anything in the process.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience on a variety of related topics. Some had questions around liability issues arising from social media activities especially, in sensitive industries like finance.  Li gave the example of Wells Fargo, who had recently launched a Twitter account. The panel agreed that it was all about experimenting and learning. Li cautioned against companies starting in social media with Twitter. Companies need to have some experience under their belt in social media, before they start on Twitter so they already have processes built to effectively engage their audience.  

Another question was around multi-national implementation. Owyang suggested using the hub and spoke where hub is corporate, while spoke represent the regions. Both Li and Kim suggested learning and aggregating learnings from other countries. Li also pointed out something interesting, which was that social networks might be global but folks limit their social media activity to specific geographic regions. Some exceptions might be industries like movies and media. Kim reiterated this by saying that rather than using global presence as a barrier, company should use it as learning opportunity.

Addressing the question around use of social media in gathering intelligence, Kim said that all the information in the world won’t help, if the companies are not willing to do anything with it.

Lastly, when someone asked about companies that gotten it right, the panelist mentioned Dell as an example of a huge social media failure but also as a success story as a company that also learned from those failures to get it right? Another example, Li gave was WalMart, who has been blogging since 2006. She commended how they keep trying and don’t give up. Overall, the panel was unanimous in that companies need to let go and that continues to be a challenge. 

You can follow the conversation around this panel discussion on Twitter #smfail.

10 essential tips for successful social media launch

Last week, I gave 5 reasons why social media skeptics might be on to something and their skepticism has plenty of basis. I enjoyed hearing back from many who shared their insights and experiences.  Some asked for suggestions on how to overcome skepticism and generate support for their social media efforts within the organization. So here are my top 10 tips for getting your social media initiatives off to a good start.

Please bear in mind that my POV is generally geared towards larger enterprises, so some of these may or may not hold true for smaller organizations. Many of the following hold true for launching any major new initiative not just social media.

#1 Don’t let your social media strategy be an orphan
Many underestimate the value of having an executive champion and evangelist for social media in the organization. Social media requires a mindshift and a culture change that needs to be driven from above. It doesn’t mean a grassroots effort won’t work, but directive from the top management helps move things along faster. Especially in larger organizations, management support can get your efforts more attention and the resources it needs to succeed.

#2 Aim for the stars, but let small wins pave the way
It’s great to have a comprehensive, grand plan but remember that even when you are planning a long-term strategy, you should also plan for short-term wins to keep your internal stakeholders engaged. These small wins  validate your plan and build critical support, which is critical to ensure  long-term survival of your initiatives in times of shifting priorities.

# 3 Don’t stand in a corner, get out there and dance
Sure way to make your social plan fail: Make it a standalone project run by a handful of social media enthusiasts without any relevance to what rest of the company is doing.  To be truly successful, regardless of which group it resides in, your social media plan has to be incorporated in the overall corporate strategy so it can leverage as well as support what other departments are doing.

#4 Charity begins at home
Remember many traditional marketers are used to ‘one-way’ communication and the notion of ‘multi-way’ interaction still makes many uncomfortable. It’s no longer easy as sending out a press release and waiting for it get picked up, it’s more likely it will get picked apart by the social-citizens on some public forum. Work with them and make sure they grasp that you’re on their side and help them through the nuances of customer engagement in a social media world.

#5 Don’t get distracted by those fireworks
If you haven’t experienced it already, you will soon find out that everyone wants to own social media. Steer clear of those political landmines and make sure you have clearly defined goals and objectives for your social media plan so there’s no confusion as to what you’re doing or why. This is also why #1 is so important, having great ideas don’t mean much if you don’t have anyone to listen or support them. Be clear about the value your plan adds and enlist supporters/advocates/evangelists at every level in the organization.

#6 Play nice with your fellow marketers
I’ve heard so many comments about how traditional marketers ‘just don’t get it’. This attitude is just plain wrong and unproductive. I am not defending marketers who refuse to evolve and are unwilling to adapt, but please stop dissing marketing techniques (and marketers) who have proventhemselves and are generating positive ROI for the company. Social media for all it’s virtues is relatively unproven, and it’s not going to replace traditional marketing any time soon. My suggestion is to work with traditional marketers and not against them, to launch your social media initiatives.

#7 Don’t go it alone, Cowboy
Okay, so you’re already on top of the planning, evangelizing but now comes the fun part – implementation. Social media is all about interaction, collaboration, and a catalyst for breaking down silos within large organizations. There’s a lot of work to be done and you can’t do it all yourself. Clearly outline what you (and your team) is responsble for and identify partners in other departments who can take responsibility for doing the work because I can’t emphasize enough, social media is a LOT of work and one person can’t do it all.

#8 If you build it, they may never show up
I’ve seen way too many presentations that focus on how to ‘do social media’, engage the customers and achieve all things glorious and wonderful, however not many put any thought into how exactly they are plannning to drive engagement. You can’t just build the social site and expect that folks will magically show up at your door. It’s like throwing a huge party but not telling anyone about it. Build a solid marketing plan not just for publicizing your social media initiative but also to keep it going, so it doesn’t fizzle out after a spectacular launch.

#9 Don’t drink your own kool-aid…
…but do eat your own dogfood. It’s great to be a believer and evangelize social media, but make sure you back it up with plenty of know-how and action. Experimenting and testing various sites/tools will make you aware of what works and what doesn’t.  Social media is not all wonderful, nothing ever is, but you will have an easier time winning over skeptics and rolling out a successful social media strategy, if you understand and absorb what social media is and what social media isn’t. (Here’s a fantastic post by Mike Fruchter to help you out).

#10 Remember me?! I am the CUSTOMER
When planning out your social media strategy, take into account your customer demographics and their communication preferences. If you cater to an older demographic, which prefers to interface via phone, focusing your efforts on Facebook may not get you any traction. Let your social media efforts be guided by your customers to ensure that you are engaging them through the most relevant media not just the ‘hottest’ ones.

 I love hearing about your struggles and success stories, please take full advantage of the comment box below  and let me know if you have a #11, #12…that I can add to this list 🙂

Will the real social media expert please stand up?!

Just about everyone I meet these days claims to be a social media expert but 2minutes into the conversation, one realizes that apart  from the general gushing  over Twitter and blogs, there isn’t much else. So, I cheered when I saw this great blog post on 25signs of a strong SM consultant (which incidentally also  inspired my first blog post of 2009).

My favorite one on the list is,

 “#25 Understands that social media isn’t the sole terrain of marketing or PR and helps clients educate internally to other departments.” 

Although, it’s easy to think of social media as just Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, there’s much more to social media than just a handful of tools and websites.

The social media revolution is a  fundamental shift in the way customers are using and sharing information across the web. Marketing/PR are  no longer one-way channels, the consumers now have the power to take information your company puts out there and do with it as they please. They can blog it, digg it, stumble it, twitter it, etc. across their social networks and the scary part is that you might not even know about it until it”s too late. 

For me, one of the most exciting parts of this new ‘social’ revolution is how it has not only democratized external communications but it’s on the verge  of breaking down silos within organizations. It’s no longer just the marketing Joe or Jane who’s responsible for the messaging, it could very well be Jack, the product line manager who’s messaging the customer directly.

I can’t imagine a better use for social media than to open up real communication between a company and it’s customers – without restricting it to one department or group of people – now that’s real enterprise social media/web 2.0.

In Motrin moms debacle, the winner is Twitter

If you missed the Motrin debacle on Twitter today, you can follow the thread here and watch the ad that started this brouhaha on the Motrin website (if they haven’t pulled it down already). Here’s the saga in brief, Motrin put out couple of ‘We feel your pain’ ads on its website, one of which ‘supposedly’ feels the mom’s pain when they have to ‘wear their baby’ in a sling, which apparently is fashionable.

Full disclosure, I am past the ‘sling’ phase and don’t use Motrin, so I neither care nor am I outraged like many (but not all) Twitter-moms. I was slightly amused by Motrin’s pathetic attempt at humor. I think the ad would have been much more relevant and powerful, if they had used real moms in the ad and made it less electronic and more human. Here’s a great example of an ad that would have been a disaster and extremely offensive if it hadn’t been for the celebrity spokesperson, who can glibly state that women are getting pregnant (even with complete strangers) just to get the new VW minivan.


I don’t recall any lynch mobs at the VW plant or at Brooke Shield’s home and that’s because the right spokesperson makes all the difference. Brooke Shields is one hot mama and it’s hard to get worked up over someone as likeable as her, but Motrin, comes off as the big, greedy corporation as this Twitterer points out, it’s just bad marketing.




I’ll say this about Motrin, if they were trying to score big time publicity in the social space through these ads, their wish has been granted. Jessica Gottlieb claims responsibility for starting this anti-Motrin-Twitter-mania. Whether or not this will have a significant impact on Motrin sales would depend on:

– How many of these Twitter-moms are actually Motrin users?
– How many are really outraged vs. jumping on the bandwagon?
– How many will actually stop using Motrin?
– Lastly, how many of Motrin’s target customer base is on Twitter? I mean is this representative of their customer base or just a small vocal minority.

After an entire day of Twitter-debate, the ad as of 6pm (PST) was still on the site, so either Motrin marketing team is clueless about what’s going on in the social space or thinks that this is much ado about nothing and/or all publicity is good.

This incident will probably make it into many marketing and social media case studies. It’s obvious that large companies need to do a better job on monitoring their brand and related chatter in the social space. That being said, the outrage created by Motrin (and others like it) will do for Twitter, what American Idol did for SMS/text messaging, ie. galvanize the user base. So while Motrin might be the loser, Twitter is definitely the winner.

Here's how not to do email marketing

I started the week, raving about how TiE did a good job of leveraging WOM in email marketing. It’s ironic that I am ending the week with a stunning example of how NOT to do email marketing.

To say that I’ve never been a big fan of Sears is an understatement. In my haste to find the best bargain exercise equipment, I managed to get suckered into signing up for their credit card. They have a few good people in their stores, but their processes and (phone) customer service are terrible.  It takes hours to get anything resolved or even a basic question answered. If you sign up for their credit card, rest assured, you will be on a gazillion telemarketing and mailing lists. So when I got this email from them, needless to say, I was very ticked off. Sears  

Who the heck is Donna Robinson? I knew that it couldn’t be spoof, because even scamsters would have atleast gotten my name right. A few minutes later, I got an apology email claiming that this was indeed a legitimate email.

We apologize for the confusion this may have caused and want to assure you that the email is a legitimate Sears card email.

If you have any questions, please call the Customer Service number on the back of your card.

I don’t get it. It’s bad enough that they spammed with someone else’s name, but why not provide a #800 number in the follow up email for me to call them? I am already irate, why make it worse by making me hunt for their phone number? The email also had the last 4 digits of my card number, so that raises even more concerns about privacy and identity theft. But there were no reassurances forthcoming from the (obviously) hastily crafted email.

This highlights yet another reason why I don’t give two hoots about what technology or super-duper tool companies use to do their online marketing, there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned doing-it-right-the-first-time. And if you get it wrong, own it and fix it. And ‘fix it doesn’t mean a shoddy email.

In the Silicon Valley bubblesphere, we’re always evangelizing the latest and greatest technologies and tools. All of which are useless, if companies are still struggling with the basics – you know, like getting their customer’s name right.


I just read Seth Godin’s post on how someone from Forbes spammed him and didn’t even pretend it was a personal note. Here are his thoughts on spam,

The end result of spam (email spam, blog spam, Twitter spam, Squidoo spam, comment spam, phone spam, politician spam) is that it eats away at your brand. If you don’t have a brand, you might make some short term cash but it gets tiresome creating annoyance everywhere you go. If you do have a brand, a brand like Forbes, say, you don’t notice the brand erosion… until it’s too late.