Can social media work for large companies?

This is one of those half baked ideas that I hope gets more fully baked by writing about it.
In the past few weeks I have been involved in a few discussions about strategies for rolling out social media inside large companies. I am starting to think that its not possible to do well. Its a problem of too many constraints.
To be able to engage in social media well there are two basic fundamentals that have to be in place: you have to (1) know what it is that the products your company sells actually do and (2) be passionate about whatever it is that they actually do. Why is this hard for employees at large companies to do? By definition, large companies almost always have a large portfolios of products. Large companies also almost always have a few designated spokespeople that are allowed to engage in public conversation, whether traditional or increasingly social channels. This means that a few people have to have a very wide product knowledge AND be passionate about those products. This is where is starts to break down: people that are allowed to engage AND actually know what the products do AND are passionate about that are extremely rare.
So what are the possible remedies? The obvious is to open the flood gates and let everyone who has knowledge and passion have a voice. This may be obvious, but it is hard to implement inside alot of companies. Another may be to change to job of the social media people: make them responsible for finding people with knowledge and passion and acting a a conduit for them to get their story out to market. Now that I think about it, this is how a few of the proto-bloggers (Scoble comes to mind) got their start – giving others a way to tell their stories.






5 responses to “Can social media work for large companies?”

  1. Rajah Cathiavad Avatar
    Rajah Cathiavad

    Hi Chris,
    Thought provoking post. My two cents… Open the flood gates within the company to get the conversation flowing. Designate proto or uber SM people to identify the most engaging ideas, thoughts and conversations and take them to the outside world….

    1. aakelley Avatar

      How do you go about 'identifying' those people?

  2. Dora Smith Avatar

    I'm don't think constraints are the problem. Even with few constraints, it takes passion (like you note) and changing your workflow. I think change is the problem.
    That said, I do agree we should be finding people or their stories. Internal investigative reporting if you will. But still takes passion and a bit of change.

  3. Susan Rice Lincoln Avatar

    I think your post is very thought-provoking … I too think you need to open the flood gates as painful as this may be for large companies who are used to broadcasting carefully massaged messagees in a controlled way. However, I would also like to add that social media has many functions–marketing of products being only one. Social media can be used to improve customer service, to help avoid p.r. crises, to manage logistics, give sales people an advantage and make human resources a much more vibrant entity. Thinking only about social media as a marketing tool is very limiting and problematic. And finally, large companies don't have a choice as to whether they use social media. It IS being used by their customers, employees and partners. Its not a tool. It is a new way of thinking, being and communicating. Any large company that avoids it because of small discomforts do so at their own peril

  4. MRB Avatar

    Very interesting and completely true of what my large media-producing company is jostling with at the moment.
    But further to those points, a big problem is that the people who have the most product knowledge, market knowledge, and passion are also the ones creating the content/products that we sell. The people who are responsible for marketing – including social media marketing – that content are relatively disconnected from it and don't know enough about the market. Crucial factors here are too many products, and too many different kinds of products, and not enough time to get to know about all of them in order to generate that 'passion.'
    Management is supposedly trying to figure all this stuff out at the moment, but meanwhile staff are starting to give up before they've even started…
    Anybody have any good case studies of large media-producing companies successfully implementing social media into their marketing activities – especially when marketing departments are spread out internationally?

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