Tech & Communications

It is time for grown-up social media

by  — 21 January 2013

The new information hierarchy must become a C-Suite concern in 2013, writes Rishi Saha, a Gulf based digital communications expert.

Social media is transforming the way organisations interact with all who have a stake in them. Senior executives, marketers and corporate communicators are no longer the sole gatekeepers of public information exchange between companies and their most important stakeholders. And in this ‘court of public opinion’, hard-earned reputations can be trashed in minutes.

Yet rational decision making about the true role, goal and ROI (return on investment) of social media is often obscured by hyperbole. Social media strategies turn into boilerplate checklists espousing the same array of well intended but superficial sentiments around engagement, relationships and ‘Likes’. All are important, but their over-use has stripped them of real meaning. But this is the unfortunate consequence when junior staffers are tasked with overseeing the function. The tendency to equate social media with youth has made many organisations believe that an active Twitter profile and iPhone 5 are qualification enough to design a rigorous social media strategy. 

Many firms in the Middle East – including large multinationals and government organisations – bemoan the historic lack of clarity and impact in their digital operations. Many feel a pressure to ‘do’ social media, even though the business case is confused. And many feel the lack of due diligence, legal compliance and risk management underpinning their social interactions leaves them vulnerable.

So what is the solution? Here are three thought-starters:

Return to first principles

Social media is just a way of describing people’s expressed interactions and experiences with each other. This principle can be applied to many business functions: sales, marketing, internal communications, PR, R&D, data insights, recruitment and much more. Establish a strong business case for social media first, then choose the appropriate channel. All too often, creating a Facebook page or Twitter profile becomes the core objective in its own right, rather than the method to achieve a specific goal.

Operational set-up

Organisations are weighed down with cumbersome approval processes that limit real-time interaction. The war room, common in political campaigns, is a useful operating model to replicate. This high-tempo environment embraces rapid decision-making is by far the leanest, quickest and most reliable method of managing mass communications.

Data analytics

Too often, the focus is some arbitrary number of Twitter followers, Facebook likes or YouTube views. As social media matures, more sophisticated data modelling techniques will be required to aggregate output alongside more robust datasets. Without this, ROI becomes impossible to discern, and strategy is replaced by gimmickry and tactics. 

Let us hope that 2013 is the year that corporate social media grows up and finally takes its place in the C-Suite. Without this shift, it will continue to overpromise and underdeliver at an organisational level.

Middle East-based Rishi Saha is the Regional Director for Hill+Knowlton Strategies. He previously led digital communications for the UK Conservative and Prime Minister David Cameron in 10 Downing Street.

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  • Tom Dibaja

    I’m not sure I’d say social media quite deserves a C-suite spot on its own, but definitely as playing a very important role in the overall part of marketing/communications mix of a larger company. Good article!


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