Why Social Media Isn't Living Up to the Hype (Yet)

Why Not? Companies Aren't Social by Design

By Published on .

Chris Perry
Chris Perry
When presented with a new technology, people tend to use that innovation to do existing jobs more effectively.

Brand building is no different. As social media gains momentum, brand communicators are experimenting en masse with these new technologies and connections to get their jobs done, typically coming at it from an advertising, interactive or PR perspective.

But what if social media and its inherent benefits are so revolutionary, so potentially game-changing, that it takes time for people to figure out how to best use them? More fundamentally, what if organizational silos and constraints limit its potential to address a new brand-building equation?

A historical analogy brings this issue to life. When airplanes began flying 100 years ago, they came under the purview of the U.S. Army's Signal Corps. As guns and artillery went airborne in World War I, the Army controlled the aircraft. The military brass saw this innovation as means to help move soldiers forward by attacking enemy lines. Thus, aircraft grew in stature as a tactical tool for Army purposes.

It wasn't until the mid-1930s, when the vision to take the battle beyond enemy lines became clear, that the seed of a new idea was planted: create an independent organization to accelerate the benefits of this innovation in both strategic and tactical ways. The Air Force became a game-changing innovation for campaign purposes and a major contributor to World War II victory.

This is an apt metaphor for the current state of innovation with marketing and PR team thinking. The pace of functional change isn't keeping pace with the unprecedented social shifts disrupting media and consumer behaviors and the possibilities that come with it.

I regularly see brand teams struggling to incorporate social strategies into their specific function and worldview. They're confused over whom to turn to for help with a glut of new-media experts, or how to value the merits of ideas. They aren't necessarily structured to take advantage of programs in play and can't, for example, route customer comments through social sites to customer service or R&D. And they're struggling with how to design and execute campaigns inline with the media habits and behaviors of people they're trying to reach.

The value of social-media acumen and inline thinking will skyrocket in stature as rapidly developing capabilities grow. But to realize the value, new practices shouldn't necessarily follow the exclusive lead of advertising, interactive or PR in its mission. Teams should be organized to exploit possibilities for making new contributions in a way that lets people in and where possible, lets people do the marketing for them. This goes beyond one-off UGC campaigns and Twitter accounts. It's about committing to a new design for social business and communications.

According to USA Today, companies are starting to re-engineer marketing operations, but there's lots to be done to accelerate this trend. Given how quickly the media equation is changing, it's conceivable that brand building enabled by social technologies will need to eclipse traditional methods in the future, just as aircraft gained ascendancy during the middle of the 20th century. While I'm not suggesting that all companies give the social-media team its own organizational function, it's clear that brand leaders haven't fully examined structural changes that need to be made. When they do social by design, I believe substantive, positive and accelerated changes will occur.

Then we'll see social live up to and even surpass the hype.

As exec VP of digital strategy and operations at Weber Shandwick, Chris Perry leads the firm's digital practice and works closely with agency team members and clients to understand the changing media landscape and apply new methods that take advantage of these changes in measurable ways for clients including HP, Verizon, American Airlines, Standup2Cancer and CKE Restaurants. You can follow him on Twitter.
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