Heads up for all you social media experts -- you should be focusing on the enterprise.

Seems like this conversation comes up about every 6 -- 9 months and I am usually late to the conversation. I last wrote about this almost 3 years ago (boy, my writing style sure has changed). Rest assured, I am not here to judge or ridicule anyone -- just make a point, add some value to the conversation and hopefully help a few people along the way.

I am capitalist. So whatever business you are in or whatever you want to call yourself in order to make a living doesn’t bother me at all -- as long as it’s legal of course. I do get a little agitated at times when someone tries to sell me a social media seminar for $13K but whatever. I certainly don’t hate anyone and I am sure Peter Shankman was just trying to make a point when he said that, “All social media experts should go die in a fire,” although it had me laughing hysterically.

Shel Israel wrote in a post the other day and said that “social media’s disruption is pretty much over” and that social media is “normalizing inside of business.” This is probably the first time I have ever disagreed with Shel but I have a different view. The disruption is not over -- it has shifted. And, social media is far from becoming normal inside of any business operation.

Peter Kim was right. We are moving into a new era of social business. But what does that exactly mean? Let me explain what that means to me based on my experience working in the enterprise.

The New Era of Social Business

Most organizations do realize the growing influence of the social customer; and they do pretty well in Facebook, Twitter and they are certainly hiring the thousands of community managers that exist today; or hiring agencies to manage their communities. Yeah, many make mistakes but for the most part, they do get it or they will get it sooner than later. I refer to these companies as social brands (or at least they are trying to be.) Social media marketing -- the way it is defined today is becoming a commodity skill set. Everyone knows how to do it -- consultants, experts, PR and digital agencies and even the larger consulting firms are starting to dip their toes in.

The disruption today has nothing to do with the external nature of the brand; but everything to do with the internal dynamics of the way a business operates.

It’s not visible to most because it’s happening behind the firewall. I would go as far as saying that there is organizational chaos (and even anarchy in some cases) happening in many companies today. Big companies.

Organizational silos still exist and are alive and well today. No one knows who should own social media or which function it should report into. Marketing and PR teams are still fighting for it. Everyone in the organizations measures social media differently. Companies are struggling to organize their teams to be the most effective. Minimal collaboration is present and being facilitated by technology; yet, business culture as a whole is resisting change. Technology decisions still take years to make, and even longer to deploy (try getting an IT manager and marketing manager in the same conference room together and agreeing on next steps of a project … yeah right). Budgets, for the most part, are a non-existent line item.

An organization that is evolving, either willingly or forcefully into a collaborative social business is attempting to solve these problems.

The social media consultant/manager/strategist isn’t going anywhere and nothing will change in the near term. There will always be a need to manage content, engage with the community, create advocacy programs, influencer outreach, pull metrics and the list goes on. And, most companies today can’t afford to hire entire teams internally to do this. What is changing, however, and will be a problem for many is the growing competition. Everyone and their mom is a social media expert or community manager. But business decision-makers are getting smarter and not basing their hiring decisions on the quantity of Twitter followers or self-proclaimed titles anymore. They want business value, someone who can help them navigate through their own social business evolution.

My Advice

So here is my advice. I hope it’s valuable.

If you are a social media expert, I would highly recommend you begin to learn about the enterprise and apply your social media acumen to help optimize and humanize general business operations and job functions like the following (not a comprehensive list):

  • Human Resources -- learn how HR teams are communicating with each other and with the business units/employees they support. Learn what technology applications they are using like to track employee/candidate data like PeopleSoft or Zoho. Learn about their staffing/recruiting process and how they are using LinkedIn, Facebook and Google to find quality candidates.
  • Learning & Organizational Development (sometimes a part of the Human Resources Function) -- this is one area I wish I had learned more about when I worked on the L&D team at Sony. Learn about what type of training and curriculum is being developed for employees and what kind of change management initiatives are being rolled out to the organization. Understand if they are working with employee communications and what tools they are using to communicate (Yammer, Intranet); and what Learning Management System (LMS) is deployed.
  • Supply Chain Management -- learn about the process on which the storage of raw materials, WIP inventory and finished goods get from one phase to the next. Understand how orders are being taken, shipping procedures and how partners are collaborating with each other until the product becomes readily available for sale. Figure out how the use of social technologies can help streamlines these processes.
  • Customer Support -- learn about the technology they use to manage their call centers. What type of IVR are they using? Does it integrate with the CRM application? Is the call center outsourced? Are they using social media to solve customer problems? And, also learn about call center metrics like cost per call, customer satisfaction, first call resolution, hold times, service levels and response times -- there are certainly ways that social technologies and increased collaboration can create efficiencies.
  • Communications (marketing & PR) -- get a high level understanding of how the two often separate organizations work together. Understand and learn about the communication gaps and examine their organizational structure. Learn about organizational models and think hard about roles/responsibilities and communication.
  • Sales -- learn about the sales organization. How do they communicate with each other, partners, customers and prospects when on the road? Are they using a CRM application and does it integrate with any social applications deployed? Are sales people using Twitter or online communities to find and track leads? Better yet, does the CRM application merry the customer record to external social profiles?

At the end of the day, much of this revolves around change management. In fact, I would argue that the entire foundation upon on which a social business is built is change management. All of this other operational stuff doesn’t matter if the organization as a whole -- starting with the organizational leadership -- isn’t committed to changing their behavior, their culture, the way they do business.

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