How to make your organisation social media-ready

Helen Duce, managing director of EffectiveBrands Asia, and Nico Stouthart, senior consultant with EffectiveBrands, discuss the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of creating an organisation that is ready to fully exploit social media.

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Is there a more challenging, exhilarating era in history to be a brand marketer? We doubt it. Today’s organisations can reach consumers around the globe quicker and more cheaply than ever before and, with proper inspiration and brand purpose, inspire new brand advocates across the web 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

But from our perspective, most global marketing organisations are still grappling to make the right decisions about the best way to organise for social media. For example, what’s the optimal way to assemble a Facebook page for a beer brand with an upscale reputation in one country, and a more casual reputation in another? The big question marketers face is how to structure and evolve the global marketing organisation so that it becomes social marketing-ready?

Over the past decade, EffectiveBrands has carried out our Leading Global Brands benchmarking study to determine what it takes to win in global marketing. In 2011, we expanded the study to focus specifically on how global brands and marketing organisations can drive competitive advantage via social-marketing readiness. By reaching out to recognized practitioners and experts, including global CMOs, global brand leaders and/or heads of digital, social, and interactive across all industries, we came up with a strategic framework, and a set of practical tools and insights, that organisations can apply to their advantage.

So, what does it take to drive the required organisational readiness?

The answer: Striking the right balance between the brand’s social marketing strength and the marketing organisation’s social marketing effectiveness. Put another way, social marketing readiness is what happens when the brand’s promise or purpose (the “What”) is buttressed by the appropriate marketing organisational readiness (the How).

What do we mean by the ‘What’? Three things:

  • Universal Truth: No matter where we live, our core human needs are fundamentally the same. We all seek love, happiness, freedom, and family, and the most successful global brands, from Coca-Cola to Ford, intuitively understand this.
  • Purposeful Positioning: The world’s most successful brands have a purpose that makes them symbolize something larger than selling products and making money. The Body Shop takes a stance against animal testing. Dove believes in genuine, natural beauty.
  • Total Experience: Is Harley-Davidson a motorcycle brand, or a company whose lifestyle-inspired mission is to empower consumers across the globe to lead dynamic, adventuresome lives? The highly emotional answer is both

The above three descriptors drive a new total-brand-experience requirement: Today’s successful global organisations need to evolve from the traditional, integrated, local 360-degree perspective, to the new, highly demanding, global 365 total-experience approach, one where brands respond quickly and responsively at all times and offer consumers value in countless ways.

But how?

From our perspective, the opportunity to build stronger brand-consumer relationships is greatly expanded and enhanced when the entire brand organisation (and not just a few media, PR or marketing people) are involved in consumer conversations, and in delivering value on the brand promise.

To better understand how leading social marketing organisations make this work, we leveraged our Drivers of Global Marketing Effectiveness framework to address how the companies and brands that excel in the social marketing space achieve five objectives:

  • Connect the various parts of the company to ensure interdependence.
  • Inspire the company and all key stakeholders to take on the risks associated with venturing into new social territories.
  • Focus their initiatives so that they drive the business agenda and build learning.
  • Organise  media, marketing and business teams to create clarity on who should be doing what.
  • Build the new capabilities required for success in social marketing.

We also wanted to give global marketing leaders the opportunity to benchmark their own companies’ social marketing readiness. Accordingly, we differentiated three distinct, successive levels of readiness—hygiene, competitive, and world-class—then mapped the specific processes, procedures, and actions we found in the organisations we studied. For each stage, we focused specifically on the question: How much of the organisation needs to be involved at each level of social marketing readiness?

Let’s begin by looking at the “how” of connecting the different parts of the organisation.

Connect is about building interdependency in an organisation—not just among global, local and regional marketing teams, but across sales, marketing, corporate PR and other parties. At the hygiene level, the brand’s media team often leads social media, as it attempts to create consistency and connectivity across a brand’s communication platform. In competitive firms, the sphere of influence inside the firm expands to include marketers, who consider the brand mix and leverage social media as a tool to learn from, and also engage, consumers in new ways. This high degree of connectivity expands even further in world-class-level firms, who realize that employees engaged in social media actually perform their jobs better.

Inspire is about igniting the organisation not just around the opportunities inherent in social marketing, but around the purpose of the brand, and the organisation itself. As a company migrates from the hygiene level to the competitive level, social-media pioneers have to feel that others, including the CEO and the board, acknowledge what they do as essential. In world-class organisations, all key players, from supply chain to sales to HR and finance, understand and are excited by the new opportunities to interact with customers and consumers—and both conference leaders and outside experts acknowledge their performance. In this category we put Zappos, a company advanced in how it uses Twitter and other social media tools to deliver its core promise of delivering top-of-the-line customer service.

Focus requires aligning your targets, strategies and measurements, and linking initiatives to the brand’s overall media, marketing, or business objectives. Hygiene-level companies make social media a fixed component of a brand’s media plan, and have an agreed-upon set of global KPIs across all social projects, including pilot programs. At competitive-level companies, social media is firmly embedded in marketing plans, and KPIs are no longer specific to social media, but are linked to overall brand KPIs such as awareness, preference, and loyalty. Coke, for instance, directly correlates consumer purchase intent with how many “Likes” it has on its hugely popular Facebook page. The KPIs for social marketing activities at world-class firms, such as Intuit and Nike, often translate all the way down to sales and profit.

Organisation around a single point person who runs and clarifies all social-media initiatives is a defining characteristic of programs that deliver better quality, and better economics. At the hygiene level, it’s often a specialist who leads the activities, with one legal or corporate PR person serving as a check. A competitive organisation such as Coca-Cola oftentimes creates either a single locus or a virtual Center of Excellence that helps coordinate programs, and oversees everything social on the company’s behalf. In world-class organisations, the social marketing role breaks up into more specialized roles, such as community managers. These same organisations lobby for employees to interact across all channels of social media, using only light-touch guidelines. Consider Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Center, a hub that monitors and responds whenever necessary to all social interaction with, or about, Dell, then spreads these lessons across the rest of the organisation.

In order to build capability, you have to successfully answer two questions: How close is everyone to the brand purpose, and how comfortable and well-versed are they in using social media? The risk in hygiene-level companies is a lack of sufficient communication among social media practitioners across the globe, whereas competitive companies offer dedicated training to ensure that marketers become social-marketing leaders responsible for codifying all relevant social marketing learnings. Diageo once took nearly 1000 of its most senior business leaders to Facebook, ran them through a boot camp, and asked them to consider the question, “What could Facebook and the social world mean to our business?”

With the social marketing universe evolving at the fastest possible speed, with organisational transparency not just an option but a necessity, a profound (and challenging) new opportunity presents itself: getting closer to, learning from, and adding more value to, consumers.

Frankly, we believe this is what gets every global marketer we know out of bed in the morning.

In this environment, the most open, purposeful brands will find themselves faced with the greatest opportunities. If you accept that everyone in your organisation, from employees to consumers, will someday have an Internet presence, then you must ensure that what you stand for as a brand, and what you do online in the social world, are in sync. We believe that the most open, best-aligned organisations will win by unleashing online consumers to speak about, and grow, their brands in ways markets may not even have imagined.

So ask yourself: What is your appropriate social marketing organisational ambition? What capabilities should you build? Is everyone attuned to your brand promise and purpose? In short, how social marketing-ready are you? 

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