Business Strategy

Wells Fargo has Chastity, Sateen, Haila, Kimarie, Jay, and Ruby. These are the six official faces of Wells Fargo presented on the Ask_WellsFargo page on Twitter. Comcast famously has Frank Eliason attending to the ComcastCares account, joined now by Doug, Bill, Bonnie and six other Comcasters, responding to concerns in the ever growing Twitter channel.

It has become a much recommended best practice for companies to use real names with real faces in Twitter accounts of companies. Social Media are supposed to be about people, after all? (By the way, have you ever tried to get real names or an email address from call center reps?). So these are the faces of the company – for the Twitter world at least? Dispensing support in doses of 140 characters.

What about the other faces? Wells Fargo has over 250,000 employees. Comcast employs about 100,000 people. Thousands of them are on Facebook, having identified Comcast as their employer. Over 20,000 current Comcasters can be found on LinkedIn. Over 60,000 employees of Wells Fargo are on LinkedIn, many with pictures. That’s a lot of faces. By identifying their employer, they are faces of the company as well. Not to everyone, but to someone in their social network. No surprise, I have a few Wells Fargo connections in my direct network. Another 500 are just one link away. Let’s say I have a question about Wells Fargo or banking in general, I may reach to one of these connected faces in the network, rather than to Chastity, Sateen and co (who I don’t have a network intro to).

The proliferation of social networks has made corporations more into “companies of faces”. As I discover on Facebook that the brother of a member of my sailing crew works at Comcast, he has become a face of Comcast, at least to me. What see him doing or saying – online or offline – will be somehow connected – in the back of my mind – to the company he works for. If I ever have a question about Comcast, there is a good chance that I may approach him.

This is not to say that we all have to be “on”, representing the company which employs us at all times. However, companies appear not have fully grasped the implications of being a company of faces. Many organizations spend a lot of energy on getting their members on internal networks. In many Enterprise 2.0 projects, adoption success is measured by the percentage of employees who set up their profile, ideally with a picture. Rightfully so, as many improvements on internal collaboration depend on active members in such networks. In the meantime, the same employees have already active profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, interacting with former classmates and fellow members of their PTA. This fact is not lost on many companies. HR departments issue policies and guidelines for how employees should conduct themselves in the world of social media.

In applying traditional PR and customer service approaches to social media, most companies have focused on a few faces of the company, not yet grasping the potential that they are now a more visible company of faces. Yes, policies and guidelines may be useful. However, the image of a bank may not be shaped by people who stick to corporate persona, but by a banker who I see as extraordinarily friendly and amazingly helpful in my online of offline communities.

Most initiatives we have seen face any of these tricky challenges:

  1. There isn’t anything solid about Social Media. Yet. We are all just learning how this works – while the target is still moving at racing speed. Some are thinking without doing. Others are doing without thinking. Without a good dose of humility about try-and-error approaches, we won’t get very far. However, corporate governance for new initiative prefers predictable outcomes with a “proven ROI”.
  2. Real budget dollars are at stake. Recently, when asked where the dollars for Social Media come from, a retail marketing executive – after hesitating – pointed to print and direct marketing budgets. Social Media is not the land of honey where everybody wins. There are entrenched incumbents who stand to lose significant resources.
  3. The culture eats the strategy for breakfast. Business leaders can’t afford to speak out against Social Media. However, their organizations are rarely set up to accept the risks along the opportunities. Engaging in true conversations?
    “We just have a myriad of 1-way paths to the customer.” What about the potential damage to our brand if we don’t have this under our control?”
    “Not sure if we can trust our people with postings, without web compliance involved.”

Using Social Media for customer Engagement is not so much a technology or education problem as it is a challenge to the culture. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff acknowledged that at the heart of their “Groundswell” contribution.

When you happen to talk to vendors of Social Media, try to figure out if you are meeting someone with expertise in changing cultures.  – More on that later.

“We need a strategy for Social Media – can you help us?” Many of my clients and business friends have me asked this popular question in recent months. “I need to be on Twitter asap.”

Given that that Social Networking and Social Media gained new attention in most business, yes, a game plan is dearly needed.

However, it’s not about a Social Media strategy. It’s about a solid business strategy.

A strategy that centers around Social Media will sub-optimize sooner or later.

Social Networks are made of people. Who do you want to reach? What do you want to achieve with these people?

Business needs to be clear about their Customer Acquisition strategy. Do you have a Customer Retention strategy? Do you have a bought-in strategy for managing Customer Relationships? Employee engagement? Reducing service cost?

If the business objectives are understood, then yes, Social Media provide powerful, evolving tools to engage with customers. These tools require well thought out tactics, making them serve the business strategy effectively. However, the strategy won’t be centered around the tool set.

If we were in gardening, would we formulate a “wheelbarrow strategy”?

Most businesses need plans and skills to use the tools available. That’s what Social Media and Social Networking are – a set of new tools to engage with people.

Social networks are for people. People – customers, prospects, members, employees – have been using the Social Media tools more and more. Yet their lives cross the boundaries of specific media or life contexts. Any customer-oriented business is served best with strategies anchored around customers, not specific toolboxes.

On the other hand, a customer strategy that does not include a deliberate game plan for using Social Media tactics will fall short of engaging with customers where they choose to engage.