Social media culture: No such thing as “one size fits all”

The following story may sound familiar: someone from management in your company insists on setting up a social media campaign, because “it is the thing to do these days” and “we cannot keep on lagging behind”. A meeting is called, and everybody around the table agrees: “a social media campaign is exactly what we need!” Right. But beware ! As Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general and philosopher, already said centuries ago: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

If you would look at similar stories in the advertising arena, marketeers would immediately say it is quite obvious there needs to be a brand fit between the message and identity of the company. This is known territory, been there, done that for ages. In essence, social media is not different. If you embark on a social media adventure with your company, you will need a brand fit too.  The first thing to do, is start from your company culture and keep that company culture in mind with whatever step you take. The conversation culture should fit into the DNA structure of your company.

Many of the larger companies create social media policies these days. And that is often the main thing they have in common. There are companies with the policy to restrict the use of social media, and there others with a policy to motivate the use of social media. The former indicate what one should or shouldn’t do, whereas the latter encourage employees to use their common sense, and engage and collaborate with the customers, and learn while they go.

Who’s right? It all depends on the DNA of your company.

What makes your company the company it is today?
Every company is unique by definition, but some companies are lacking awareness about what makes them unique. It is key to be aware of your unique proposition in order to reflect this in your social media strategy, and it needs to be part of your company culture as every employee is contributing in some way to your virtual company. The DNA of your company is based on a complex composition of different elements like your employees, management style,  company history, location, success rate,… For example, companies leading in the field of “Operational Excellence” have another DNA than companies leading in “Product Leadership” or “Customer Intimacy”.
Use social media the way you are, with in mind what you really want to be, without trying to immitate companies you adore… because they may have a different strategy than yours.  It will be to the benefit of the authenticity of your company. So, when you go social media, it is important to select a mode that is in line with your company DNA.

Some examples of different social media modes:

“Experimental” mode
The company is all about product performance and being first. Product leadership is the way they differentiate. They often target early adopters, and word-of-mouth has been an important marketing tool, long before social media ever existed. Typically, these companies are the first to integrate social media in their media campaigns and into their products.
This audience of early adopters, is often familiar with the latest and the greatest, they are not afraid to experiment with new and immature technologies. These experiments will reflect on the brand and contribute to their product leadership perception. Often heroic brands get away with applying push strategies in social media, and their brand ambassadors keep the conversation going. Probably this approach is only acceptable for true heroic brands, with a lot of brand ambassadors.

“Operational monitoring” mode 
In case your proposition to the customers is focussing on low price and hassle-free service, this is probably the social mode you prefer. Operational excellence is driving all decicions. Companies like this are monitoring and will only start using social media from the moment their customers do. Basically, they will immediately implement customer support via social media from the moment they are sure this will reduce the number of tickets in their call centers. Their customers love them for their hassle-free service, so that’s the way they expect these companies to behave online as well. They start interacting via social media with customers, partners and prospects in case there is a mutual benefit.

“Conversational” mode 
These companies specialize in building tailor-made relationships and satisfying unique needs, knowing the customer is their reason for being, hence their core business. Customer intimacy is in their DNA. Social media is kind of natural to them.
This social mode is probably the closest to the way humans use social media and closest to how a lot of business is done in real life. Typically, businesses where relationships are very important, ranging from local stores owners knowing customers by name and habits, to larger B2B companies with long sales cycles.
The challenge is to be perceived as a nice person, and in general it helps to be a nice person in order to be perceived that way. It’s all about respect, being authentic, building trust, avoid self promotion and understanding your customer needs. Chances are great that all this is already nicely captured in your mission statement; now is the time to implement.

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” as said by Oscar Wilde
A social media strategy starts with a reflection on your company culture, as this culture makes your company unique, and it will translate in your social presence. In case you want to change your social presence, you probably have to start changing your company culture. So don’t expect anybody to tell you how to behave in the social media arena, but just be yourself. We are really convinced this is the only way to proceed, because with every new user on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,… it becomes virtually impossible to shout you are the best in class or the greatest ever if you don’t own the place. In other words, the “brand-building” days are over, today, the essence is “brand-being”.