April 14, 2014 - Comments Off on Creating power from social media

Creating power from social media

The corridors of power at major corporates ring with the sound of numbers, as hard data drives strategic, tactical and evidence-based decision making. Even where balanced scorecard approaches are used for business performance management, financial metrics still dominate decision making – albeit heavily influenced by ‘City’ sentiment.

As such, in this domain, social media (SM) is perceived as little more than noise – most often related to what ‘youngsters’ (and others!) use for communicating the minutiae of their day-to-day trivialities.

However, times have changed, and time will change. Today’s teenagers are “digital natives”; Generation Z; the consumers and citizens of the future. That noise is now creating a background ‘tinnitus’, which is interfering with the norm of traditional business decision making. One day soon it’ll significantly influence conventional business insights and customer relationship channels. It’ll become a roar!

Social media has often taken the debate – and the power – away from businesses.

Recent events demonstrate the power of SM when it’s allowed free rein to influence corporate programmes, communications and perceptions. An example was RBS’s attempt to promote their strategic transformational change programme alongside the announcement of their financial results, which was ‘drowned’ by the reaction via SM of key influencers taking the debate away from them.

Furthermore, the storms experienced last winter created havoc – not only for the poor unfortunates affected by them, but also for the energy companies and the Environment Agency, who took a battering from SM campaigns complaining about their apparent lack of care in dealing with the crisis (even though their front line staff were often performing heroics in very difficult circumstances).

These campaigns, whether fair or not, translate into huge ‘bandwagon’ criticism from media, politicians, consumers, customers and industry oversight committees, which will have a long term impact on their stakeholders as well as their business performance – and share prices!

Reputation is not what you say about your brand; it’s what others say about you, and how rightly or wrongly that perception becomes a reality.

Overnight almost, for many of these organisations, SM has become a ‘need’ to engage with professionally, or else ignore at your peril.

The question is most often not whether to engage, but how to engage.

Indeed, most major organisations now attempt to actively engage at an operational level with SM but lack an effective process flow to enable effective decision making throughout the organisation, bottom to top to bottom, with an appropriate balance for short and long term factors.

Often we have discovered that SM is left in some low cost corner of the PR office, with somebody delegated to run the corporate Twitter account defensively. Yet this is to ignore the two most striking opportunities that SM presents: it’s a continuous source of hard intelligence on matters relating to any company and its competitors; and during both planned and unplanned events (campaigns and emergencies) it’s the very theatre that more and more consumers and customers turn to first for help, or to express their own experiences.

The hard fact is that SM has already become a new ‘metric’ for both strategic and tactical decision making, and it needs to be included as another dynamic alongside performance management dashboards at every level.

Using social media to make strategic and tactical business decisions.

The most obvious problem faced by organisations is often two fold. Firstly, how to strip out the ‘noise’ associated with all forms of SM and rapidly focus in on the real messages relevant to the organisation along with the key influencers, and secondly, how to disseminate this information throughout the organisation to the key individuals and departments who need to see it in a simple format to quickly make informed decisions.

However, often associated with these challenges is the greater challenge of ‘perception’ at a corporate or senior level, relating to the credibility of implementing such an integrated approach that efficiently and effectively engages with SM at every appropriate level.

I discussed this challenge with one of our Non-Executive Directors at Bloom recently, together with the manager responsible for designing and developing our Whisper social media management system (SMMS).

We already have the SMMS analysis tools and dashboard to solve the first challenge of stripping out the noise and highlighting the key metrics and influencers to make the tool work effectively for real time value-add metrics and decision making. We also have the experience in developing workflow processes to deploy such systems within organisations to assist with top-down-bottom-up efficiencies. It’s the barrier of ‘perception’ that often represents the biggest challenge to many corporations in enabling engagement of both elements effectively.

Cancelling out background ‘noise’ and identifying the data that matters.

We were drawn back to the above analogy of ‘tinnitus’ and noise that creates a negative impression for decision makers already stressed and pressured to make performance management decisions that can have a huge impact on company performance – both short and long term.

This discussion reminded me of a programme I’d once seen where Daniel Barenboim held an open tutorial with a gifted pianist on a Beethoven piano sonata. He taught how the speed of the playing, the force used in playing the notes and the management of the underlying theme all had a major impact on the interpretation of the piece, and how the listener engaged with the music and the enjoyment they experienced as a result.

I recalled this tutorial the next time I listened to a symphony… and yes, I suffer a little from tinnitus also!

I was able not only to cancel out the background noise and the tinnitus as I normally do when listening to good music (even Lynyrd Skynyrd!) but to also listen in a way that drew me into the music and discover the themes being played on individual instruments and the counter-themes employed to enhance the symphonic tones. It took my enjoyment to a new level and drew new emotions from me for a piece I’d often listened to in the past.

This is the best analogy I can come up with about how a professional SMMS, properly deployed, can draw from the noise of the marketplace (whatever that consists of, even in its most complex form) using real-time intelligence that improves decision making and generates increased success from the management of the environment within which the company operates.

Transforming business performance through real-time intelligence.

The sooner an organisation can understand what’s happening to their latest communication, campaign, product launch or competitive positioning programme, the better will be their ability to manage the critical success factors associated with these programmes for better and sustainable success.

In simple terms, it’s creating power from the rapid conversion of information into intelligence into influence that can transform corporate performance and enhance brand perception and reputation in a marketplace that has already changed from ‘push’ to ‘pull-push’ dynamics.