The big takeaway from Burson-Marsteller's fine Global Social Media Check-up (PDF file), which is chockablock with insights and snazzy graphs besides: While many of the Global 100 companies use multiple social media channels, few have holistic strategies for their social efforts.
Ed Moran, director of product innovation at Deloitte and one of the authors of its second annual "Tribalization of Business" survey, which examines how companies use online communities and social media, told me the same thing when I interviewed him in October. I asked him why companies tended to have one division, such as marketing, handle their social media efforts even though social channels crossed the functions of multiple business divisions. He said:
Going forward, [social channels] will be the primary way companies interact with their customers and future customers. ... Your whole enterprise should care, not just marketing. Your product development people should be sitting right there saying, "What does this mean for the next revision of our product?" It'll help you get smart about support. "What are the bugs in our product, or what's not clear about the owners' manual?" You can correct that almost in real time through better integration with your support. Think about HR, even. People who are really engaged with your company's product and services and want to help, wouldn't those be great people to employ some day? So when you go across the enterprise and look at the different functions, every one of them should have a seat at the table.
Burson-Marsteller found a somewhat different twist to this strategy problem. Rather than not including enough folks in their social efforts, many companies include too many -- and don't provide a unifying strategy to guide them. From Burson-Marsteller's report:
We found that each of these tools is being used extensively not only by corporate headquarters but also by local market offices, various divisions of the company and for one-time corporate events. To this extent, social media is providing great benefits and opportunities by helping different niches of a company reach their target audiences. But, it is also introducing challenges by creating mixed messages and tones and by leaving abandoned Twitter accounts and Facebook fan pages which may be detrimental to the brand.
Specifically, Burson-Marsteller found 65 percent of Global 100 companies have active Twitter accounts, 54 percent have Facebook fan pages, 50 percent have YouTube video channels and 33 percent have corporate blogs. Seventy-nine percent of the companies use at least one of these social media platforms, but just 20 percent utilize all four channels, suggesting they are missing opportunities for deeper interactions with customers. While just about a third of the companies blog, Burson-Marsteller says blogs are "ideal venue[s] for a more in-depth interactive discussion." (You can only say so much in 140 characters, right?)
Our blogs are home base. Whether I am on Facebook or Twitter or any other social site, most of my conversation is still going to happen on the corporate blog.
Interestingly, Burson-Marsteller found 90 percent of the corporate blogs attracted comments from shareholders. Again, echoing what Rhoads and my other story sources told me about their blogs, Burson-Marsteller says:
It is important to include blogs in the social media mix. Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, and other social networks can be very helpful in driving traffic to company blogs. No single social media tool can stand on its own. For a company that wants a truly effective communications strategy, leveraging multiple social media tools for their individual strengths is required.
Twitter was the channel that saw the most activity from the Global 100, with 82 percent tweeting in the past week. For comparison's sake, 59 percent posted on their Facebook fan pages in the past week, 68 percent posted videos on YouTube in the past month and 36 percent posted entries on corporate blogs. Many companies use Twitter as it was intended, as a two-way communications channel. Forty-two percent of the companies were being tweeted about by others, and 38 percent are responding to other posts. Thirty-two percent re-tweet content posted by others.
About that fragmentation I mentioned at the top of this post, Burson-Marsteller found each active company has on average 4.2 Twitter accounts, 2.1 Facebook pages and 1.6 YouTube channels. Blogs are different. While organizations with blogs have an average of 4.2, they tend to be maintained on the corporate site in a cohesive way, creating fewer issues with diluted or contradictory content.
With multiple Twitter accounts, there was often a primary corporate account -- but also other accounts started and managed by a local market office, representing a research or special-interest division at the company, or related to a corporate sponsorship event. As Burson-Marsteller notes:
Often it took a few views to determine which Twitter account was the primary corporate account - if there was one - and it was not always possible to affirmatively determine if there was a primary corporate account.
That's a problem, it found, because customers usually want specific information about a company by using social channels, and they can end up confused, frustrated and/or misinformed by multiple accounts with multiple purposes. Also harmful to a brand are Twitter accounts and other channels that are established and then not used. Burson-Marsteller calls this "deleterious" and encourages companies to post something -- even if it's just press releases -- instead of letting the channels wither on the vine as they mull their broader social media strategies.
Burson-Marsteller wraps its report (which you can access for free by clicking the link in my first sentence) by offering nine points of advice, many of which have been mentioned pretty frequently right here on this blog. Listed roughly in the order you should do them: