Social media becomes … Social business

One of the more encouraging findings in the Altimeter Group’s recently released report, The State of Social Business 2013:  The Maturing of Social Media into Social Business, is companies’ apparently new-found focus on development of influencer/ambassador relations programs (slide #8).  Per their survey, such programs didn’t even exist in 2010 (not sure I entirely agree with that finding, but that’s not the point) – at least, not at the companies surveyed this time around.  Oddly, emphasis on developing an advocacy program has diminished in the same time period; this seems incongruent with the foregoing findings, as the two are essentially the same thing.  Perhaps there’s a semantic difference held by those participating in the survey?

No matter – I digress.  The additional finding I want to discuss is the prominence of content marketing, which also didn’t register in the 2010 survey findings.  The shift away from more “active” social programs – social commerce, mobile marketing and the like – and toward what I’d term a more “passive” approach (listening, developing dialogue and providing customer support via social channels) is, on the whole, a welcome one.  It other words, it looks to me that companies are trading out one type of activity for another (i.e., trading out web/mobile for content marketing).  This squares with findings from an earlier slide (#5), where semi-decentralized organizational structures (hub-and-spoke and “dandelion” org models) are being employed to manage social marketing efforts.

However, while this seems to be viewed as mini-social orgs scattered throughout the company, each advising its business or functional unit on social best practices, I’ll go one better and suggest that this isn’t the ideal, nor where things will ultimately end up.  In today’s truly global, diversified and decentralized organizations, business-unit autonomy is critical to long-term success.  We all know that it’s easiest to start with a working model based on a single geo/product/functional expertise and try to adapt it to others; the issue is, this oftentimes doesn’t work in practice – and no more so than in the social arena.  Cultures are different, so attempting to translate social practices from one arena to another – esp. across different geographies, but also in other arenas – is a recipe for disaster.  Ultimately, each sub-group must understand and respect the norms of it local market; taken to its logical extreme, where the individual is smallest possible the sub-group, we have the “holistic” model outlined in the survey (but very seldom employed).

In other words, if one adheres to the premise that social is fundamentally transforming marketing, and that as a consequence, marketing as a discipline will look radically different in 20 years’ time than it does today, then it’s only natural to conclude that eventually, social will be everyone’s job in that model.  We’re a long way off from that eventuality.  Yet on the other hand, who’d have thought we’d have come so far, so fast?

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