When Social Media go Wrong –1– The Enterprise Dilemma

Large corporations carry big burdens causing them to break their customer relationships over and over again. This first post in the series “When Social Media go Wrong” explores how the transition from “traditional” marketing to using social media marketing will backfire in organizations that are not ready to truly embrace the expectations that come with it.

happy-figureImagine a small product group in a large enterprise, they are just about to bring a new product to market and they want to do the “right thing” – they want to connect with the customers, listen to their feedback and engage in a conversation. Since this team was born in the social media era, nothing is more natural to them than creating a forum for all voices to be heard, where all voices will be engaged.

As the team prepares to launch their product they make sure the listening apparatus is in place, the blog is prepared for sharing news and deep insights to the audience, the wiki is made ready for the community to capture information, the volunteer partners are prepared to engage the onslaught of questions and comments, the support team is ready to address any tricky problems, the PR team is on standby in case really bad news turn up. Everyone is ready – the ribbon is about to be cut. Noting must go wrong, nothing will go wrong.

A year later, the situation is very different.

  • It was 6 months since the last update on the blog.
  • The wiki is falling apart with no leadership.
  • The partners that were once so committed are abandoning the communities.
  • Desperate pleas for help in the support forums are left unanswered.
  • Product updates are still launched but there is no coherence, no “voice”, no “face” to represent the product.
  • Customers and partners are raising frustrated voices, voices that are starting to threaten, threaten to turn away, to turn to the competition – but no-one hears them.

It is all a mess!

So what happened?

Before attempting to answer the question directly, let us explore some of the tenets for success in the social media arena:

  • Commitment: Being social means to care, to stick around when it gets tough, to not abandon when it really matters. It also means to stay connected, to listen and respond to the best of one’s ability. unhappy-figure
  • Transparency: A key tenet emerging in the social media community is a moral standpoint of being open, not trying to deceive, and not trying to make light of bad news or brush them under the carpet. Transparency means being open, respectful and honest.
  • A true voice: If anything is a core tenet in the social media word, it is to stand up for your beliefs and stand true with your own voice. It is hard to do in a world where commercial interests, allocated budgets and fiscal timelines dictate what your voice and commitment is. It is so much easier to enlist a professional to represent the company story, to let a corporate PR expert lead the storytelling. But what everyone wants to hear is the story told directly from the horse’s mouth, from the people behind the product.

Why is this such a challenge in a large organization? My own experience with a large enterprise taught me a number of situations that will trip you up.

  1. The team was given freedom, but it ended when the fiscal year ended
    Since everyone knows that the small team is closer to the business, it is more effective to give them freedom to drive their business without the burden of large corporate overhead. However since that freedom is limited in time, and money, to what can be spent and accomplished in the current fiscal cycle, there never was true commitment backed by the company’s senior leadership.
  2. A management change brings a new regimen
    As the team acts on its core beliefs, based on what was articulated at the inception of the product strategy, it initially gains good traction. But at some point there will be a management change, and new managers bring new strategy, whether needed or not. The stronger impact the new manager wants to make, the more divergent the new strategy will be. The transition from the old to the new will be perceived by some as unwanted, uneducated or even hostile. But no-one will say that aloud and instead a fine dance of change will take place where transparency and respect are its first victims.
  3. Disillusionment takes place
    walking-away-figureChange is often good, but change that is not anchored leads to disruption and people lose their commitment and passion. The people who once were the spokespeople and pillars of the engagement will eventually start looking for greener pastures. With new people coming in, the promise that was once communicated has no longer any meaning. A new voice, a new strategy, a new commitment is about to be shaped.

But the customers are not ready to move on, or they are not even invited to the journey. This is when the upset voices are raised. As they go unanswered, alternatives becomes viable and competition gains ground.

In the next post we will continue to explore what happens when Enterprises go wrong with social media.

A question for you!

What social media projects have you seen fail, either in your own organization or elsewhere? Please share your observations in the comments below!


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