'BtoB' Digital Edge Live: Control the social mess before it controls you

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San Francisco—Although many companies are increasing their use of social media as a marketing channel, too many are allowing untrained employees with few guidelines to represent their brands, according to Jeremiah Owyang, industry analyst partner at technology analyst company Altimeter Group, delivering the keynote address here at today's BtoB Digital Edge Live conference. Because adoption of social media is still in an early phase—74% of companies polled by Altimeter have had a social media program in place for three years or less—much of it is in disarray, Owyang said. “It's an uncontrollable mess,” Owyang said, “largely because customer communications has shifted to all parts of the corporation.” He said the average number of official corporate-owned accounts is 178, augmented by employees' own ad hoc social outreach, which is largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable. “Marketers' scope of work is much larger than it has ever been,” he said. “In fact, it's bigger than marketing.” The solution, he said, is to first build a foundation of social objectives, company policies and employee education. Companies ideally should build dedicated social teams and centers of social excellence; attend and adjust to social ROI; and ultimately seek out real-time intelligence for future action. “The term "social' ultimately will go away; it will be integrated in the way we work every day,” Owyang said. “I call this the "sentient world.' ” Owyang's analysis of social integration was echoed by a panel of CMOs, who recognized the challenges they face with the new social channel. “Life is becoming complicated, and the great challenge is how to bring all this together as an integrated outbound program to generate business,” said Chris Boorman, senior VP-education and enablement and CMO at data technology company Informatica Corp. He said Informatica, like many companies, has had to adjust to the cultural change from a severely restricted corporate communications method to one of openness via social networks. Traditional spokespersons and thought leaders don't always adjust well to being social participants, he said. Further, social media itself may not always be the answer for all companies, said Janet Roberts, CMO of telecommunications technology company Syniverse Technologies. “We did a study last year among our customers globally to see how they got their sources of information that influence purchasing decisions; social media was dead last in our survey,” Roberts said. “We are using Facebook and Twitter to some degree, and that may increase. But right now social actually ranks lowest in how our customers get their purchasing information.” BtoB's Digital Edge Live conference concludes today.
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