Friday, September 10, 2010

[CWHK] In search of social media gurus

Every now and then, a hot new job title emerges. The latest is "social media director."
But the most curious thing about the nature of this job is that corporations usually don't really know what social media are, or what they mean to them, let alone knowing how to hire the right person for the job. But then again, this may not be such a rare thing in the corporate world.

Yes, companies big and small are 'embracing' social media. But the way firms are adopting the new media doesn't seem too different from ten years ago, when they felt compelled to set up corporate Web sites (which inevitably turned into brochureware) just because they "had to have them."

Some companies or institutions even thought that social media mean Facebook. Even our HKSAR Chief Executive's Office recently put out an ad for Facebook administrators -- yet another classic case of hiring someone to execute something before, not after, the organization knows what that something is, or have set up a strategy of engagement. Lured by generous government salary-levels, hundreds of self-proclaimed Facebook gurus applied to our social media-naive bureaucrats.

Social media shouldn't be just marketing driven

For those companies who are adopting social media now, most are using them for sales, marketing and promotion. Naturally, companies with consumer-oriented products and services are early adopters, because they have a genuine need to connect with their buyers and customers in a way that is much cheaper than placing advertisements in print, TV or outdoor display. They learn about search engine optimization, and marketing departments sometimes organize "bloggers parties" to try to locate and engage online opinion leaders.

These are just the basics. What about deeper consideration and planning on issues like branding, corporate communications, image building, even risk management? Never forget that social media is a double-edged sword: you don't have to do anything for it to come back and haunt you in ways you never thought of. For example, any disgruntled customer or nosy bystander can upload a YouTube video with a negative experience related to your company. By tomorrow morning it may have "gone viral" and hit headlines, giving you problems in both new and old media.

So my advice is: think long term. Instead of focusing on short-term promotional campaigns, think about building your online corporate image in the social media space.

Of course, that means a lot more than setting up a Facebook page and trying to get as many people to "like" it as you can. Your online corporate image should have little to do with what you want to sell them today or the next day, but what the online public sees in your brand. This is important not only because they may be buying your products and services tomorrow, but because they may turn out to be your best allies and defenders if things turn sour online for your company or brand -- especially when those "things" are out of your control.

Define your social media image

Engage your current and future customers in improving your products and services, and even more importantly, making your brand and image a likeable one in the online space. In today's online world, this may mean more than the quality of what you sell, but the values you represent, and the benefits you are seen to provide to society. This philosophy may make even those who may not become your customers regard your brand in a positive light.

How to take the first step? Instead of simply hiring someone for the mundane work of placing and answering messages on Facebook, think carefully about your objectives -- why and how -- and who your target audiences should be, before deciding on a course of action. This leads me to think, instead of hiring their own social media directors before knowing what social media actually is or can do, corporations are likely better off consulting a social media doctor first, for a body check. Now, if only these doctors were easy to find!

From Computerworld Hong Kong, September 2010


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