As early as 2012—which seems like ancient history in social media—Altimeter researched the uncontrolled spread of brand pages in social. The first sentence of our 2012 report captured our message:
“Like a disease, social media proliferation will leave companies crippled — unless they develop a strategy to manage now.”
Problem solved? No. The problem still resonates with social business leaders today, including Alison Herzog, Director of Social Business Strategy at Dell. Herzog said, “Global businesses like Dell are complex – they’re made up of many regions, varying languages and cultures, diverse audiences and interests and wide-ranging areas of internal focus. Creating a focused, scalable social architecture and implementing this with a governing body is paramount. We knew that centering on customer experience, strategic pillars and where real impact was possible matched with the appropriate resources would guide this, which became imperative when we completed the largest tech acquisition in history.” Prophet had the opportunity to work with the exceptional team at Dell to solve this challenge.
Social teams keep growing the number of owned accounts to keep up with continuous changes in social platforms, consumer behavior and business priorities. The result is a growing operational burden and a decrease in effectiveness per account. For many firms, like Dell, optimizing social account architecture is a requirement for effective social media innovation and performance.
Reinforcing the need for a solution is a telling data point from Altimeter’s recent 2016 State of Social Business report: 79% of the more than 500 strategists surveyed globally reported that “the social team is becoming more operational and a platform for other innovation teams.”
As a former social business leader at a major brand, that result didn’t surprise me. But, it heightened the importance of getting to the root of account proliferation. Business units will have a hard time using social platforms for business if they are too fragmented. As a mature practice, we can expect the scope of social business operational responsibilities to grow, but unchecked proliferation of pages amplifies this burden needlessly.
Can this be solved? Why hasn’t it?
Lack of governance lies at the heart of the problem. As a community of social business strategists, our “test & learn” approach has led to many impactful innovations, but rarely do we take the time to look back and decommission ideas that aren’t meeting objectives (especially individual pages/accounts that are perhaps perceived as low risk to leave abandoned).
There is a disconnect between business objectives that initiated the page and the social team tasked with managing it. Or, the page’s creator may have left the company, making it difficult to remove. For many brands without an account management team for the social platform, filing a DMCA notice of copyright infringement may be the only option.
Another key issue is the low bar required to create a new branded page—especially if listening tools or rogue page trackers aren’t in place. Well-meaning employees may create pages for their store, an event or as a test. A few abandoned or underperforming pages may incur little financial cost, but they quickly add up: crowding social metrics, complicating listening, confusing prospective customers with conflicting messages and – worst of all – creating the user perception that the brand doesn’t care or understand social media.
Simplifying a complex problem
As a governance problem, this is solvable—but it’s more than that. Not only do we need to fix the problem before it gets out of control, but better yet, this is the time to rethink the brand’s architecture of social media accounts.
Make a quick mental shift from today’s situation: If your current company had never implemented social media before, and had the benefit of starting from scratch, what would your social media brand architecture look like? You would want to consider the following:
The Customer’s Journey.
How do my social media pages fit within our broader, omni-channel customer journey? What pages do customers need and how do we create an intuitive experience that results in the outcomes we’re focused on? Does each organizational unit determine its own accounts in a silo, or is there a higher level perspective where fewer, broader accounts could make the journey feel seamless? When is an account so broad that it loses effectiveness?
The Social Network Landscape.
Where is there alignment between my business goals and the capabilities, culture, user demographics and consumer behavior of social networks? It may be easy to name Linkedin for recruiting, thought leadership or B2B sales needs, but what if alignment like this isn’t so obvious?
Your Team & Resources.
What social account architecture meets customer needs and has teams in my organization who are ready to commit to ongoing content and engagement? While internal reorganizations may be a constant challenge, finding teams who have strong alignment between goals and a new social page (that they can run with) is ideal. Of course, the danger to avoid here is an “inside-out” architecture, where your pages reflect your internal organizational structure, rather than the market and customer you’re serving.
Beyond the issues above, if you manage social for your company, you know the decision to take down an underperforming page can be problematic. How do you convince that leader that set up a Twitter handle she rarely uses that she should re-invest or decommission the account? What if you only have a single page in Chinese for that market, but it isn’t performing? Do you take it down, merge with others or reinvest? These are just some “tip of the iceberg” issues that emerge.
3 steps to redefining social account architecture
In our work with Dell, we found the secret to success is to work on three fronts:
1) Identify “social account territories” that reflect coherent customer journey needs. Once identified, it is possible to optimize the social account architecture (steps 2 and 3 below) one territory at a time;
2) use a data-driven, quantitative model for making easy decisions (e.g., those pages showing great or very poor results); and
3) use a decision tree—based on governance principles that leadership supports—to make tough decisions. Decisions range from removing the page, maintaining as is, re-investing, creating a new page where there is a missed opportunity, or merging the page with another.
With Altimeter’s deep research on this issue and Prophet’s brand strategy expertise, we’ve together developed a process that has delivered terrific results. For Dell, we helped to reduce the social team’s operational burden while allowing them to do what they do best: innovate and be a growth engine for the business. We’re grateful to Dell for working with us on this approach and pushing our thinking.
If you’re seeking guidance on your social account architecture or advice on how to re-architect your branded accounts, look no further. Contact us here or on Twitter (@EdTerpening, @ProphetBrand or @altimetergroup).