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It is time to ‘breakout’ of social media’s marketing beach head

Marketing has been the beachhead for Social media in many organizations. Social media has served its purpose in this context raising awareness of a new set of technologies based on new principles of peer-to-peer discussion, openness and cross-boundary communities. Marketing has put these technologies to work and very visible effect.

Now it’s time to breakout of that beachhead and start to talk about more than Marketing and more than social media technology.

Why? Because social media is becoming associated with the technology rather than the ability to collaborate in new ways.

Continuing to use social media as a comprehensive term may be doing more harm than good, particularly for business leaders interested in creating more collaborative, creative and engaging organizations.

The application of social media only to marketing creates false comfort and limited appreciation for what is possible using mass collaboration that is enabled but not defined only by social media.
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An executive can crow about employing social media by saying, “We have Twitter and SharePoint, and we’re on Facebook.” But ask them how all this is having a positive impact on business results, and you have raised a significant issue. Social media applied to market creates activity and in marketing activity is a good thing.

Activity alone does not create results, particularly for applying social media technology, as we now know there are ways these platforms can be used to go beyond marketing the brand, to truly transform the business.

Social media technology has opened the door, enabling business leaders to think differently about how they engage and interact with both customers and employees.

But opening the door doesn’t mean you’ve crossed the threshold into a new way of working, managing and leading. Those ends — what we’ve described as the attributes of a “social organization” — take more than setting loose the technology and praying something good will happen.

A social organization strategically applies “mass collaboration” addressing significant business challenges or opportunities through creating collaborative communities driving toward a purpose and enabled by social media. That combination defines mass collaboration.

As we commented in our initial post, every organization is social, but few are social organizations. Mass collaboration gives an organization the ability to amplify its capabilities through raising the engagement, innovation and involvement of people internally and externally.

Using the terms mass collaboration and social organization takes social media up an important notch, recognizing that its potential value requires more than new technology. Recognizing that is application can break out and breath new life into processes practices and challenges.

We need to move beyond the technology tool and determine how to apply that tool, with others, to do things that were previously impossible or prohibitively expensive. Consider CEMEX’s SHIFT! Initiatives that have radically reduced cycle time and increased results via mass collaboration. Loyola University, Chicago engages potential new students in ways that raise the quality of its admission decisions. Improving revenue realization by 15%. Electronic Arts what has created collaborative decision-making that fosters rather than fights creativity.

What will happen if we don’t?

Well it is likely that social media will join other technologies that remain popular buzzwords but have fallen short of their potential value. We also risk breaking the expected promise of social media marketing engages customers when we serve them through autocratic business processes. It does not have to be that way. It is time to break out and create a social organization that can deliver to customers who expect more than marketing.

So as a business leader, talk about social media technology, celebrate the results it achieves in Marketing but recognize that is a start. Break out beyond the marketing beachhead. Think about how you can create mass collaboration and become a social organization.

That will put you well past brand awareness, on your way to breakthrough performance.

Recent columns by Mark McDonald

Mark McDonald is a group vice president and head of research for Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-Author of the The Social Organization: how to use social media to tap the collective genius of your customers and employees. He also writes a blog on the Gartner Blog Network.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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