Creating social media strategies

A recent ICM Research survey uncovered some alarming findings about companies’ abilities to implement robust, effective social media strategies. Matt Burn, managing director at ICM Research tells us more.

Matt Burn
Matt Burn

Marketers are in no doubt as to the future significance of social media. Eighty-eight per cent of those surveyed for a recent ICM Research survey said social media would have a future impact on their brand reputation; 79% foresaw a future impact upon the size of their customer base and 71% said it would impact on their brand’s market share.

But surprisingly, only 30% of those surveyed declared their company as having any kind of social media strategy. And, among those able to claim such a strategy, one in three told us their business lacked the understanding to develop an effective social media strategy, while two thirds of those without a social media strategy expressed this. A further 55% declared they ’lacked the resources needed’ to implement such a strategy. Hardly the vote of confidence the industry needs!

Just as worryingly, while 54% hoped to have a strategy in place within the next 12 months, we found clear signs pointing to a lack of corporate coherence, a lack of general business understanding and most seriously, a lack of board-level support.

Almost one in three told us they found social media ’overwhelming’ and that ’the business doesn’t know where to start’. One in four said the business ’fears biting off more than it can chew’.

Interestingly, the number of people from various departments busily engaging on social and business networks exceeded the percentage of companies who had a defined social media strategy presently in place. Organisations are already grappling with how best to keep social network conversations suitably ’aligned’ with brand values.

Yet while individual brands strive for alignment, the obvious question is whether companies have sufficient controls in place at a corporate level. Are senior managers devising processes and protocols in this regard and communicating them widely across the business?

The corporate dissonance we are seeing isn’t helped by the apparent reluctance of any one business function to grasp the social media nettle. Surprisingly, departments traditionally responsible for ’messaging’ seem particularly slow at coming forward.

When asked ’Which department, if any, engages most in social media activity?’ the communications team came to the fore in just 15% of companies. PR came in at 14%, the digital/online team at 10% and customer service/CRM at 4%. It is marketing departments that appear most willing to step up to the mark, with 36% claiming to take the lead.

Marketers believe that social media is just as relevant in other areas of the business with PR (48%), communications (36%), digital/online (25%) and customer dervice/CRM (24%) also scoring highly.

We asked these marketers to look beyond their own parochial agendas of customer numbers and market share. When it came to considering the wider impacts of social media, 59% believe that online social interactions will have a future impact on share prices. Yet separately they told us that social media was neither understood (66%) nor supported (58%) at CEO and board level.

It seems that marketers do seem to ’get’ social media – certainly as regards its future impact. They recognise that it represents good marketing ’value for money’. They want it to help develop their own careers (55%) and as a group they appear most willing to pick up the baton for its strategic integration.

Yet additional resources – whether it is in the form of internal staff or external agencies – will need to be deployed to service any wider social media strategy. So the ’Big Question’ is whether marketers can engage their reluctant boards and whether they can back up their views with a solid business case.

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