Social Media & Corporate Marketing/PR

In the latest Marketing Voices podcast, Jennifer Jones talks to Comrade's Thelton McMillian about How Social Media is Impacting the Corporate Marketing and PR Functions. (It's a quick listen, by the way, and I highly recommend it).

The discussion was based on research that Comrade recently conducted, the results of which are pretty interesting. For example, it indicates that companies that promote social media to a full line item (like PR, advertising, etc.) as opposed to lumping it under some other heading find the most success with their social media endeavours. (It's nice, isn't it, to get some empirical proof for what social media advocates have been saying for a while now?)

It's About Control

Another interesting characteristic of what I would call 'social media ready' organizations is that their control over the company's brand and marketing isn't concentrated in the brand manager's role but is distributed across the organizational structure. This means that, if a company wants to get ready for social media, its executives have to (a) know that they're giving up some control and (b) decide on how much control they're going to give up.

Good examples of companies that have done social media well are EMC, which has ten bloggers, and Google, which has craploads of blogs. Now that's distributing branding and marketing across the organizational structure!

Approaches to Social Media

Another key point that Jones and McMillian made was around how companies should approach social media. In their opinion (and in mine), what companies should do is first find where they are being talked about and then figure out how to approach the people who are doing the talking.

Instead, some companies take the build-it-and-they-will-come approach in which they first spend time and money building a social media infrastructure and then try to get people on to it. Often that's wasteful and it doesn't help their customers trust them any more or any better. To give you an example, read Jeremiah Owyang's analysis on Wal-Mart and Target's Facebook strategies. That's a case in which companies have gotten to the right place (i.e. Facebook and not MySpace) but are still going about things in the wrong way.

The one time an Australian company's own setup could have benefited from a bit of social media, McDonald's Australia didn't add any social media to its Make Up Your Own Mind campaign's website. The site itself is great (and the campaign was fine, too) but if you want people to make up their own mind, you have to let them speak their mind as well. You can't make up your mind if you can't ask questions or make comments. And thus make-up-your-own-mind became let-us-tell-you-our-side, instead.

(Briefly) In the Australian Context

Off the top of my head, I can only think of only a handful of Australian companies that effectively use social media to connect with their customers -- with the most notable ones being web, tech, and media companies. In fact, the companies I would have expected to see blazing the trail for social media in Australia -- the big retailers and telcos -- are nowhere to be seen! Like I've said before, this is both a problem and a massive opportunity. Here's hoping it's more of the latter!

[FYI: If you want to learn anything about any phone company or ISP in Australia you go to the Whirlpool forums.]