There is currently a lot of buzz about using social media for marketing by encouraging grassroots enthusiasm for a company's products. Much has been written and discussed about various tactics for effective use of social media marketing. But what we help clients wrestle with, and what we don't hear discussed much in the world of marketing, is what businesses need to do structurally to enable such innovative social media marketing tactics to flourish within the organization.

Until now, most social media marketing has happened organically with individuals or departments experimenting with new technologies, resulting in some successes as well as some "learning experiences." As social media starts to mature, companies have an opportunity to make infrastructure improvements that will create an environment in which effective social media marketing flourishes.

When web marketing first started, companies raced to establish a web presence. But the medium was treated by many companies like TV or print, with communication primarily going from the company to the consumer. Despite the web's capability for two-way communication, many companies didn't fully exploit the ability to tap into the collective wisdom of an interested user base to learn from it, interact with it and make use of the content generated by others. This is what social media now permits.

When presented with the power of social media, senior marketers are usually enthusiastic. However, innovative social media tactics often run into senior management objections such as:

  • "We can't just have anyone posting to our Facebook page"
  • "What action can we take against blogs that say negative things about our products?"
  • "Our ad agency can generate better content"

Such comments are usually evidence that a company has not made the structural shift required to harness the power of social media. They reflect a management disposition toward control without the tools to effect that control. As social media becomes more and more a part of the marketing mix, we see companies doing some key things to give management the tools to use social media effectively.

Train a large cross section of staff

There are numerous social media tools and marketing staff across the organization needs to learn how to use these so as to:

  • Identify online opinion influencers
  • Use positive content generated
  • Address negative content generated
  • Establish ongoing relationships with customers and potential customers

The training should not only on focus on the tools themselves, but also on how the tools can be used to achieve traditional marketing objectives. One great example of this is the somewhat-famous McDonald's ad a few years ago depicting two young men rapping about their love of Chicken McNuggets. This was one of the first examples of user-generated content on a social media platform (YouTube) being turned into a standard 30-second TV spot.

Establish policies for the use of social media

Social media, by its nature, is distributed and, as such, companies should be wary of creating an organizational unit for social media marketing. Rather, by empowering people across the organization, a company can leverage the value of the tools. But such empowerment needs to be tempered with policies regarding what can and can't be done using social media. This can be thought of an extension of brand guidelines in terms of how to use a new communication channel or just some simple "rules of the road" for social media that can be easily followed.

One of the first companies to have a policy in this area was Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life. Their policy was to have online transparency to the user base, even to the point of allowing their developers to blog publicly about response-time issues and software bugs. Some companies may not want to give its product developers such online leeway, but the important thing is to have a policy with which management feels comfortable and that permits employees to use the social media tools in a way that is consistent with the policy.

Monitor and audit online content

As mentioned above, companies should be wary of creating a social media department, however, centralized monitoring of what is said and written online about a company and its products makes a lot of sense. This creates the opportunity to establish a base of online information that can be analyzed to show what the marketplace using social media thinks of the company's products as well as how well the company is portraying itself using social media.

Dell instituted a policy to search social media content on a regular basis. If a negative comment was found, it would be evaluated and, if merited, routed to the appropriate department within Dell for an online response.
Social media is a powerful tool. Senior management and marketing managers must be prepared to lead their organizations in using it effectively by establishing the infrastructure that will allow for harnessing this new power in communication.

For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email [email protected].

Peter Toth is a senior consultant with Cella Consulting, a traditional management consultancy focused on optimizing in-house creative operations. He has nearly two decades of consulting experience, with six of those years focused on improving the operations of in-house creative organizations. In addition, he spent four years working at online ad agencies. Peter is a graduate of New York University and lives in New York, not far from where he went to college.