Over the last few years marketers have become increasingly knowledgable and skilled in social media strategy and tactics.  We've dedicated resources to creating content on social media; we've shifted our percentage of media spend to favor digital executions; and, we've spent hours on the weekends culling through spreadsheets full of page views, likes, shares, comments and unique visitor data.  However, somewhere along the way in spending 6 figures on marketing tools, we've forgotten about the investment we've made in the marketers and agency partners who actually develop the strategies and get the work done.

While social media has opened new channels through which to communicate with our customers, it's also caused us to be much more tactically-focused.  In effect, we've created silos within our marketing teams handicapping efficiency and productivity. When it comes to launching a new product, getting every marketing discipline together at the same time and aligned on strategy can be like herding cats.  When we add on the additional layer of a global marketing team, it's shocking we ever get anything out the door because we don't have one central place to coordinate, share and learn from each other. In the end, too many new products launch late and/or are over budget.

It's time to move away from operating tactically and instead strategically "network" our marketing organizations to drive the greatest potential productivity. Taking the skills we've honed working in social media can help us cross the chasm into becoming a social business.  Social business technology offers marketers the ability to bring all key stakeholders into one place (regardless of where they're physically located) to develop strategy, to plan and assign tactics by discipline, to execute the strategy, and to review performance data to identify opportunities to optimize the campaign.

Today, I'm throwing down the gauntlet - it's time for us to move our marketing organizations into the 21st century and become social businesses.


Social Media, Social Marketing, Social Business – what’s the difference?

As marketers we’re really great at coining terms and using them to mean different things across B2B, B2C and our industries.  For the purpose of our discussion, I will define them in a business context as:


  • Social Media – a communication channel through which to engage prospects, customers and professional acquaintances.
  • Social Marketing – a collection of tactics that leverage social media to execute a marketing strategy (e.g. new product launch)
  • Social Business* - an organization that has put in place strategies, technologies and processes to systematically engage all the individuals of its ecosystem (employees, customers, partners, suppliers) to maximize the co-created value


As Nilofer Merchant notes in her article “What we talk about when we talk about social”

         No term is ever complete. Each of us are building on each others' ideas as we collectively grapple with understanding and decoding what is happening, and what we think it means. . . . When we focus on tools alone, I think we're making a mistake. . . .The bigger point is that major changes are afoot that change value creation, the meaning of work, and the structures for our institutions.

Semantics aside, our focus for 2013 should be on realigning the culture of our marketing organizations to first focus on the people – the marketers – who are doing the work and secondly on the tactics they need to execute.


If it's good enough for our customers, why isn't it good enough for us?

Today most marketers at least know about social technologies and many of them have been executing on an external social strategy.  At Disney, connecting with guests wherever they were was important and key to our success. We had dedicated resources to developing content and to engaging with guests across the social web. But until 2011, social media was something we leveraged as an external communication channel. This didn't just happen at Disney, it happens every day across marketing organizations (B2B and B2C) - we continue to use social media to develop relationships with our customers, but we haven't taken it inside our team to drive productivity and competitive advantage.


How do we bridge that gap?  How do we take the best practices we’ve developed around connecting, sharing and learning with customers in social media into our marketing teams?


Let’s start with a story.  Say you’re launching a new product.  The first thing you need to do is develop your go-to-market strategy. Typically as a brand or product marketing manager, you consult (or conduct) research and learnings from previous product launches, determine the benefits of the product features, assess what the competition is doing and take your first pass at a high level strategy. After that you probably review your ideas (in PowerPoint) with your manager and maybe your manager’s manager…and the VP…and the SVP…and finally there’s a decision.  Throughout all of these conversations you’re the person behind the curtain building and rebuilding PowerPoint slides or Word documents based on everyone’s feedback.  You send along copies via email and get more feedback.  A couple weeks or months (depending on your company culture) later, you’ve got something that you could turn into a creative brief and share with your cross-functional team to “kick off” the launch plan.


Even at this early stage in product launch planning, you’ve had to consult many different resources for historical information; you’ve sent around about 50 emails; you’ve gathered feedback manually from several stakeholders (some of which is conflicting); you’ve had to plan and re-plan meetings due to crazy schedules; and, you’ve iterated on PowerPoint slides 10 times.


Now imagine if all of your key stakeholders had access to the documents and could provide feedback in one place. You wouldn’t have to worry about the administrative tasks in setting up and rescheduling meetings.


Once the strategy was baked, you could open up your product launch “war room” to your cross-functional teammates and your agencies. You’d have one virtual area where you could bring in anyone around the world to connect, share and learn when it was convenient for them.


All of the steps to launching a product are heavily reliant on the people doing the work.  Yet, we’re still so focused on marketing automation tools and the tactical elements. Given that you’re investing 70% of operating costs on the marketers thinking and developing strategies, getting input from leadership and collaborating with colleagues to drive business forward, our focus seems misplaced.


What social technologies do best is connect people to each other.  We realize that from our interactions with customers and our friends on social media. If it’s good enough for our customers, why isn’t it good enough for our marketing organizations?


Becoming customer-centric starts with us walking the walk.  To drive competitive advantage, marketers need to evolve into a social business - an organization that has put in place strategies, technologies and processes to systematically engage all the individuals of its ecosystem (employees, customers, partners, suppliers) to maximize the co-created value.

How is your marketing organization evolving into a social business? For best practices on transforming your marketing team, download this best practices paper.