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I’ve been reflecting on the growing disenchantment around the value of ‘social’ among Australian businesses. Industry has moved past the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ from social media’s early promises, and into the ‘trough of disillusionment‘ courtesy of a focus on channels and tools rather than alignment with business strategy.

Let’s stop for a second: how did we get here?

Facebook’s own share price has grown by 300% in five years, yet most organisations still say they can’t demonstrate clear ROI from investments in social capabilities and initiatives. If that’s the case, why are many businesses investing in a channel without clear returns?

While there isn’t just one answer, there is a common driver inflating the issue.

Do businesses think ‘social’ is a Marketing tool?

A business recently informed me they had appointed a digital marketing manager to lead ‘all things social’ across the business. You might think this reasonable, though given responsibility for this role primarily involved social customer care, I had to double-take.

This isn’t a unique situation. Research into industry behaviour reveals an even more interesting trend. By analysing the org charts of the ASX50, of those that had a ‘social lead’ we identified*:

  1. 95% are former Marketing or Corporate Affairs professionals
  2. Only two have non-Marcomms backgrounds (HR and Sales)
  3. Almost 75% operate standard office hours or don’t commit to SLAs (service level agreements) within their owned social media communities

The evidence tells a story: businesses continue to view ‘social’ primarily as a set of channels for marketing purposes in much the same way Marketing has always operated.

In the context of social media marketing, it makes perfect sense Marketing or Corporate Affairs are at the helm of business communications. However, as businesses realise there are opportunities outside social media marketing (such as social customer care, social intelligence or social sales, as we’ve tabled previously), these new capabilities remain the responsibility of channel specialists rather than being managed by line of business (LOB) experts.

Suddenly, existing teams (whether in-house or agency) with Marcomms credentials are tasked with solving challenges outside their area of expertise. Why? Because with social capabilities, leaders believe channel ownership is more important than functional expertise.

Let’s look at this another way. Has a marketer ever been asked to measure the performance of a contact centre colleague? When was the last time an IT Manager was asked to solve a falling eDM conversion rate, just because they understood technology? It sounds silly here, so why are businesses applying this same logic to managing social capabilities?

Resetting organisational expectations

I don’t blame in-house ‘social leads’ tasked with making sense of this whole ‘social’ thing and how to use ‘it’ to generate value. They’re doing their best and, moreover, see it as a way to gain a deeper understanding of other business functions, helping them to be more customer centric.

But without the right support resources, internal authority and scope, and senior endorsement (not to mention investment), it will always be hard for these specialists to deliver whole-of-business results.

For me, it comes back to business leaders’ understanding of social media, social capabilities and, most importantly, the shift in customer behaviours driving fundamental change in the market. Change their businesses need to respond to.

Defining these terms is the start of determining their value. For example, if leaders know social customer care is: ‘the use of social channels, platforms and technologies to facilitate an effective business response to customer needs‘, they will ensure such a capability is led and equipped by those experienced in facilitating an effective business response. The channel of delivery is less important.

Practical steps to build social capabilities in your business

So what to do if you find yourself in this situation? Three simple steps to begin with, which we’ll address in more detail over the coming weeks:

  1. Define ‘social’: Rather than leaving ‘social’ as an amorphous, all-encompassing thing, take time to define what the various elements mean, particularly in the context of your business. Are social media really just channels? What is social data and, therefore, who needs to access it? Defining these terms and governing their correct use provides the foundation needed to start forming capabilities with the right skills and expertise, and setting targets to measure contribution to the business.
  2. Determine the role of social capabilities: Decide which social capabilities have a role to play in your business based on existing strategy, challenges and needs. Is there a shortage of customer data informing practices across the business? How could a social intelligence capability provide accessible, real-time information to all appropriate business units? By identifying alignment between strategic priorities and specific social capabilities, investment and measurement decisions become much clearer.
  3. Appoint effective capability owners: With clarity of terms and agreement on the capabilities required to meet business goals, your organisation is now in a strong position to appoint appropriate owners. Do you need an overarching ‘Head of Social’, or can current functional owners be supported with specialist skills and expertise to improve existing practices? If you build a ‘Social Team’, should it manage short-term capacity building projects to develop enhanced capabilities alongside existing internal teams? Ownership and operating models must be tailored to your business strategy, culture and needs, but clarity here improves measurement and drives accountability.

These three practical steps provide capability owners the confidence to speak up should they find themselves outside their realm of expertise. They will also ensure organisations place fair expectations on and set realistic goals for individuals. From here, both can work together to direct the attention, resources and investment required towards what should be a strategic driver of improved business performance.

Note: Research was conducted in July 2016 via LinkedIn, assessing social lead roles of the ASX50. Six businesses did not have a dedicated lead. Of the remaining 44 businesses, 27 came from a Marketing background, 15 from Corporate Affairs, one from HR and one from Sales.

Author: Roger Christie

Roger Christie is Founder and Managing Director of Propel. He understands the importance and value of a customer-centric approach to business, and has worked with a range of public and private sector organisations to help them leverage data, technology and operational change to deliver practical business solutions. Over the past decade, Roger has advised boards and executive teams across government departments and ASX top ten corporations, and understands the challenges facing organisations looking to excel and remain viable in an increasingly competitive, discerning marketplace. You can connect with Roger on LinkedIn and Twitter, and follow his thoughts on Medium.

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