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If your social media strategy is all marketing, you’re doing it wrong

Accenture’s Robert Wollan says it should be part of the company’s fabric.

The term “social media” is bandied about in business circles so often that it can cause either rolling eyes or panic-stricken stares. But Accenture’s Robert Wollan says that it is something executives should neither take lightly nor fear.

Wollan, the global consultancy’s managing director of consumer relationship management and co-author of The Social Media Management Handbook, spoke last week at the Toronto Board of Trade about the growing need for businesses to apply social media strategies in order to succeed as an organization. Considering the state of things just two years ago, it’s no surprise many major corporations are still finding their feet in social media.

A key part of the talk was Wollan’s four points for why businesses of all sizes need to think about social media strategy. First up, pick a strategy before it picks you. Most companies got involved in social media in response to something, like a viral event (a la Dominos) or a competitor’s move. But Wollan says a company’s strategy should be more proactive. Second, adjust your marketing message within that strategy—you’re not on stage anymore, you’re in the crowd. Third, social media is not just another channel and shouldn’t just be used as a place to put traditional marketing efforts online. And finally, time’s up for experimentation—companies need to act now.

I spoke with Wollan about some of the biggest issues surrounding social media strategy and the advice he’s given to executives of Fortune 500 companies.

Canadian Business: What are some the most common issues you talk about with clients about the importance of social media?

Robert Wollan: The conversation is happening at virtually every corporation we deal with around the world. This is truly a global phenomenon of behaviour. Larger companies have to think as much about how social media fits into the fabric of every other investment they have. It will require changes to technology, human resources, potentially operations, customer service and marketing.

The way the conversation typically progresses is that there’s someone who gets really energized, a champion of the cause, motivated by a competitor or an exciting opportunity in another industry. But they need to do three things. First is to ground folks in what they mean by social media and what it’s going to mean to their business. Two, the successful ones anchor it into specific business metrics that will shift, which is a big stopping gap. The successful companies are the ones who are able to translate that into real sales, real leads, real customer service improvement scores, the traditional metrics we measure business success against are the ones that generally get the [social media] ball rolling because they can stand up to other options companies have today.

One significant issue many companies have with social media is the lack of message control. What have been some of your clients’ primary concerns?

Control and accuracy tend to be the two biggest frustrations with social media. The two biggest challenges I see in the C-suite is the fear of the unknown that comes along with that.

Accuracy is a frustration because companies spend a lot of time making sure their information is accurate, going through legal and marketing and everything else, and get incredibly frustrated when the internet in general has made accuracy optional.

Control is an issue, in that I’m essentially ceding some control of my brand. Part of the opportunity that creates is allowing customers to take some ownership of that brand. It’s like owning an idea. The best leaders don’t simply dictate, what they try to do is share and cultivate the idea with their employees so the employees can make it their own and become passionate advocates for that idea. The same mental model has to apply to consumers.