“Social media as a distinct and ownable mission is cooked.”
So said Ethan McCarty, director of tech behemoth IBM’s marketing and communications labs, in a recent blog for The Guardian.
“The argument has been successfully made that social is critical for businesses that want to thrive in a contemporary, connected marketplace,” he said. “It has fundamentally changed the way we produce, distribute and promote products and services.”
But here comes the kicker: “For this reason, social is too important to simply be a specialisation within your organisation. We need to think beyond ‘social media departments’ and finding the next ‘director of social media’ and start looking for ways to make social an integrated part of our workplace and a core part of our company-wide training.”
The Bloomberg strategy
Reading his blog immediately reminded me of the enormous job Robert Harles, Global Head of Social Media at Bloomberg, had on his hands when he joined the company four years ago. I met him on a visit to Bloomberg HQ during the recent UKTI Digital Mission to New York. Prior to Robert joining Bloomberg, the firm had no social media presence at all and employees were not allowed to use social privately, such was the fear that sensitive information might leak. Not only was he starting from a place where there was no social media strategy in place, he had to tackle a company mindset of mistrust.
Now, not only does Bloomberg have a thriving social media presence, people within the organisation are empowered to use it. Robert hasn’t erected a big fence around himself and his strategy to become the sole purveyor of all things social for Bloomberg. He has spread the love, but with a core group steering the ship, as he explained to me over email after my visit:
“The way we structure and deploy our social media strategy at Bloomberg is hub and spoke. We set policy, develop strategy, deliver training and provide measurement centrally, but we work with our social editors and managers in the businesses who administer the day-to-day. Our goal overall is to move us from simply managing social media channels to driving and growing real strategic impact through the promotion of Social Business.
“A key part of Bloomberg’s social strategy is to focus first on the needs of the business. We start all discussions with our business partners with the same question: ‘what are your business needs and goals?’ It might be driving traffic, growing subscriptions or building an audience for our thought leadership. We then develop strategies and tactics that support those goals.”
How can social help the business?
Bloomberg’s starting point should be the first question any brand, big or small, asks itself when it’s taking a look at social media strategy: ‘what are your needs and goals, and how can social help with that?’ Ethan advocates in his blog that all employees need to be fluent across all social media – and for the notion of a social media department to become obsolete.
I can’t help but think that this vision, while bold, is a little bit of wishful thinking – he doesn’t mention whether there’s an overall strategy at IBM for social. I can’t believe there isn’t. Without a team working on strategy – call them what you like – you might find that you have as many people using social in an inappropriate way as you have using it for the greater good, even if they are trained.
What I think Bloomberg has done so well – and so quickly – is to get the company to a place where its business managers are empowered to use social media in a strategic way and Bloomberg trusts them to get on with it. It’s in its business interests to do so.