The Questions Corporations ask about Social Media

Questions Corporations ask about Social Media

Community Manager, Consultant to Analyst
I’ve been deploying Social Media for Fortune 1000 corporations since 2005. When I first started at Hitachi Data Systems, I thought I was late to the game. Since then, I’ve been helping PodTech’s clients, there were varying levels of sophistication for sure. As I move on to the next role, I’ll be looking at the industry from an even larger perspective.

Leadership impacts adoption

I’m absolutely convinced that culture (how people act and think as a collective) directly influence their level of sophistication. Executive leadership clearly influences cultures, which changes priorities for social media. There are still some companies that are answering the questions in 2005.

The Natives and Adoption

The tech industry was the first to adopt these tools with great excitement, it’s native to many of these corporations, although there are exceptions. Larger enterprise IT corporations seem to be slower at adopting these tools externally or internally. I’ve noticed that the larger corporations in 2007 were able to put budget, headcount (such as the community manager role) and resources towards social media. For smaller companies (startups in particular) these efficient and cheap tools are native. Sadly, the mid-sized company often is slower in deploying, why? Often the Marketing director is managing so many programs, web, marcom, field marketing, PR, that they don’t have enough cycles to take a breath and see what’s happening.

Here are my observations and predictions for Social Media

2005: What is Social Media?
For many folks, corporations, the question to answer was “What is a BloB”. Blogging was the primary tool that we saw in the marketplace, for some, it wasn’t taken seriously, for the savvy, they quickly adopted. We saw scare tactics from the threatened mainstream media, such as “Attack of the Blogs” and light of amateurisms, angry customers and crazies were painted. For many, we wanted to know what are these tools, how to they work, and what’s the impact. Early on, this impacted corporate communications, PR, and mainstream media.

2006: Why does it matter?
As we’ve evolved, many were realizing the impact of exploding batteries, brand hijacking, and blog evangelism. Savvy companies were starting to adopt these tools, a few provided integrated communities that were scrapped together or built from existing platforms. For the majority, trying to understand why these tools matter to a business. In addition to corporate communications, PR, we started to see other marketing and business units being impacted by these tools, as well as adoption.

2007: What does it mean to my business?
We’re here now. This is the year of ROI, measurement, and experimentation. Many corporations have deployed resources, headcounts and budgets. Corporations are afraid to make mistakes, so plans are created, and measurement is critical to help manage and prove the worth of new programs. ROI was proven, new social media measurement attributes were defined, and many new tools were deployed, I did what I could to further this industry (see all posts). In addition to Corporate Communications and PR, business units are starting to experiment with these tools, often out of the PR budget. A new role started to appear more frequently, the digital marketing manager, the community manager, the social media strategist.

2008: How do I do it right?
Now that experimentation is done, and business units are starting to apply these tools, like advertising, PR, field marketing, and customer references, companies will want to do it right. Frameworks will be developed, consultants will offer packages, and a loosely developed process will be used. For companies that don’t have enough internal resources to listen, manage, and deploy, consultants will be a very sought after service. Nearly every brand will start to have an ongoing budget for social media, the new role to manage these tools will appear. IT departments will start to deploy enterprise 2.0 tools.

2009: How do I integrate across the Enterprise
Normalization is happening, A checkbox for ‘social media’ on every announcement, product launch, product development and support will be using these tools. Social media tools to listen, converse, collect knowledge, and build new products will integrate across the customer cycle. It’s not just external, intranets will start to deploy suites for collaboration, such as blog accounts issued to many internal and external employees. Product Teams, IT departments, HR, Finance, Executives, and of course Marketing will be using these tools.

What happens after 2009? I’m not sure yet, I’ll let you know next year. Love to hear your feedback.

Update: Steve Rubel writes about a new role, the Geek Marketer, which some prefer to call the Web Strategist. Link via Sam.

  • J
    One year for progression for each question is optimistic. In my experience you’ll see the #1 question will last for 4 year to the early majority, then 2-3 years for question 2, then 1-2 years for question 3, etc.

    Over 50% of corporate folks are still asking “what is social media”? in 2007.

  • Mukund, you may be right, perhaps I’m too optimistic, What’s everyone else think?

  • Mike Hart

    Sounds like you’ve learned alot from PodTech. PodTech has been doing a lot in social media. Congrats.

  • Well, in Arizona (a town of mid-size businesses), nobody gives a damn about social media (yet) besides tech companies. Oh — and real estate brokerages, who are desperate for a way to increase business in an abysmal market and think making their agents blog is a good way to do it. This provides fodder for me as a consultant and as a conference-organizer. The real estate companies are now asking “how can I get this up and running and producing customers for me before I am crushed by the weight of my own overhead from the good old days.

  • It may be a bit preemptory. I think that the periods of exploration & adoption will vary across the enterprise. So much depends on the culture & leadership. It seems like we’re still in the early adoption phase. Is there any way to measure how many consultants are still explaining concepts & teaching their clients about social media? I think the capability to teach will be valuable in the next few years & translate the application.

    I have a couple of questions:
    1. Excuse my ignorance please, but where is higher ed at? Are those with marketing degrees being asked to immerse themselves in social media & explore it’s possibilities?

    and 2. Are there statistics yet for the # of companies utilizing social media & how they’re doing so? and a self-eval of how successful they feel it is?
    external only, ext & internal

  • thanks for this, it might be proof asia’s corporations (or singapore) are really 2 years behind whats going on state-side. in my agency, our clients understand the urgency now. this means the learning curve is much compressed as we try to catch up on 2 years of lagging behind consumers’ online habits. Our current menu of a “powerpoint buffet” dun seem to cut it though. We need booster shots for our clients to GET IT, fast. =)

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  • Jeremiah, I also think that your time line is a bit aggressive. As pointed out by Mukund above, many businesses outside the technology sphere move quite slowly. They’re conservative on their technology spending, and very skeptical of anything that hasn’t been talked to death by Gartner.

    While I wish it weren’t true, I’ve had to work with these kinds of companies for years.

    I do agree with the progression that you have laid out here.


  • You really have these progressions down correctly. I imagine for some, the years don’t match. But it’s relative to your company’s culture.

    What I noticed inside Intel is that pioneers from different groups race ahead. Business groups who have real needs and open minds, see social media as a way to try new ways of communicating. They start connecting across teams and realizing that often different audiences can be served or helped using the same resources — sharing resouces is great for ROI and great for winning appreciation from coworkers.

    Teams can race ahead then another team with different needs tries using social media, learns, immerses itself in using new tools, adopts new approaches and changes its behavior. In the processes, the team may surpass the pioneers in some respect because the have integrated momentum. But then the pioneers move in new directions, trying new thing not thought of months prior. This is when the real fun of integrating comes in, because this integration forces collaboration across groups, where individuals get to know and trust each other and together their will and intentions can send powerful messages to audiences inside and outside the company: we’re trying, listening and doing something about it.

    I say all of this because at big companies, many people can’t wait for top management to lead. Those top managers have a huge responsibility to create great products and run the business. So some people eventually become serial risks takers. They learn from each other and share, especial others outside their company.

    Even in a tight company culture like Hitachi or Intel, people will still set their creative spirits to work for a better good. And companies need these people to keep doing and looking ahead of the pack. I can’t wait to see what you think are the next steps on the list. Let’s keep movin’ ahead! Thanks, JO!

  • Rick,

    It’s true, these dates are based upon my experience from being deeep within the epicenter. I’m around some of the most savvy companies. It’s certainly just one person’s perspective.

    Ken, I’m looking at you for leadership and championship, you’re on the inside forging ahead at Intel, I’m on the outside, rooting and supporting you on!

  • Metrics or how do I determine effectiveness would seem to be 2nd on the list? Your Whitepaper was very onpoint on that issue! Thanks!

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  • I like how you’re thinking, but I think the more honest slide would look like a Jackson Pollock painting. I deal with clients all the time who simultaneously ask “What is social media?” (it’s really not well defined – only slightly less amorphous than “engagement”) and “How do I do it right?” while I think few will care to ask the 2009 question.

  • Jeremiah:

    One question you definitely forgot . . .


    An RFP I recently saw (Global 100 Company) had as the top priority for the organization’s social media strategy “getting back in control of our message”.

    That horse has already left the barn.


  • Tom

    You made me giggle, you are sooo right. I think that gets smashed down in 2006.

    David the Dripper
    Thankfully, you’re around to help guide these clients.

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  • lmao @ Tom. Controlling social media is one of those futile corporate fights 🙂 I have to agree with some of the earlier statements too Jeremiah I think the time phases are going to take a bit longer than we think. Some companies are really still stuck on the “what”. It’s amazing, because there are media giants like Fox and CBS that are really taking to some of these web2.0 opportunities, while other companies, that shall remain nameless, still think web strategy is building a website and buying banner ads.

    Together we can all help educate them and speed the process!

  • Compare this to the spread of the renaissance in Europe. There were centers of activity — Florence, or Paris, or London, say. Parts of Germany were with the program, and parts didn’t find it until a century after most of Europe.

    Ideas don’t spread consistently. Despite the death of distance, because business *is* social, geographical business networks have cultural consensus.

    So in Boston or San Francisco, we are bleeding on the edge. NYC is doing fine. But some places between the coasts won’t accept social media as a “duh” for quite some time.

    Sometimes I feel lucky that I grew up in a rural area in Vermont — progressive and conservative at the same time. It makes it easier to explain social media in an acceptable way to the folks who lag the curve you postulate.

    Shava Nerad
    “Native intelligence for virtual worlds”

  • people are definitely asking “what the hell is social media?” in 2007. At least in B2B.

    great success.


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  • Here in México is starting to happen and it is good to know this because are the questions the clients are asking me. Love your work man!!

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  • I disagree. While people think this is a rehash, it is very relevant with todays topics. I would like to see a revised list.

    Kendall Gordan, SE

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  • Ideas don't spread consistently. Despite the death of distance, because business *is* social, geographical business networks have cultural consensus.

  • Enjoyed looking over this blog, simply wanted to express many thanks

  • Hi! Your article rocks and is a real very good understand!

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