The Social Media Bus

I dig Jeremiah Owyang’s blog. The guy is wicked smart, usually spot-on with everything he says, and when it comes to digital media analysis, I can’t think of anyone who does a better job (Forrester Research really scored when they landed him).  But last week, one of his posts stopped me dead in my tracks – not because he got something wrong, but because he got something so painfully right: Large consulting firms (as in the “Big Four”) are joining the social media gold rush and already looking to plant their victory flags in the enterprise space. (My words, not Jeremiah’s.)

What that version of Social Media strategy, implementation, training, execution and measurement will look like is everyone’s guess. But before we get too far into this discussion, watch this little video to get into the spirit of today’s topic:

Here’s a link to Jeremiah’s post about Social Media and the enterprise space: Click here.

The part that really jumped out at me was this point:

Large consulting firms are preparing to offer million dollar packages to enterprises for change management and social integration systems.

Incidentally, when I first read that post, I started rapid-fire-DM’ing Jeremiah on Twitter about it, but after a string of about 30 140-character comments, he politely suggested that I stop blowing up his inbox and just write a blog post about it – so here we are, and as you can tell from my relaxed demeanor in the video, I have chilled a bit about the ramifications of this whole Social Media gold rush debacle.

Even so, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s take a few steps back and put the Social Media bandwagon in perspective for you:

Prologue – Social Media becomes the marketing world’s newest buzzword. Twitter starts to explode. Everyone with half a brain sees the writing on the wall: There is money to be made in Social Media. The gold rush begins.

Phase 1 – Independent business consultants (mostly marketing consultants) start rebranding themselves as “Social Media Consultants” or “Social Media experts.” In some extreme cases, even “Social Media gurus”. They spread like locusts… By November 2008, you can’t throw a cat without hitting at least two or three Social Media experts. The epidemic reaches catastrophic proportions.

Phase 2 – Marketing firms, ad agencies and a few PR outfits start to look into this whole Social Media “thing”. Billings are shrinking and clients are asking “hey, do you guys also do Social Media?” Many of these firms stretch the truth and say “yes”. Agencies and Marketing firms now start billing clients to launch blogs, Twitter pages and Facebook groups with absolutely no concept of what they’re doing. (Overheard in the men’s room: Where does the ad go?” and “How do you write a 140-character press release anyway?”) Web analytics people get brought in to measure clickthroughs, impressions and web traffic from social sites to prove effectiveness. This methodology fails to impress. Ineffective strategic planning, poor execution and a lack of measurement insight result in  Social Media getting a bad rep in the business world.

Phase 3 – Large Consulting firms jump on the Social Media bandwagon. Better late than never, right?  There’s money to be made after all, and since they’realready the experts in everything else, why not Social Media as well? Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy… is it.


And that’s just the rub: How many people in the world really know how to strategize, implement and execute a Social Media program for a company (large or small)? I can think of maybe 50-100 in the US, and that’s stretching it.*

Now tell me how many people in the US know how to actually measure the effectiveness of Social Media programs? (Not just impact on X, but actual R.O.I.?) You can probably count them on the fingers of one hand. Maybe two.**

*/**  It won’t stop thousands of people from claiming that they can do it, but we all know where that conversation is going. ‘Nuff said.

So back to my point: If we know pretty much who belongs to the small community of truly Social Media-savvy professionals we just mentioned, and only two or three actually work for the “big four,” then who is putting these million dollar social integration packages together?

Whom within the big four is building these programs?

Whom within the big four is capable of training clients and implementing these programs/packages? Of customizing them for each individual client? For each brand, market,company culture and distinct business objective?

Whom within the big four is capable of executing on any of this? (Listening outposts, Customer Support, customer engagement, online reputation management, blogging, HR, PR, promos, true social web integration, community management, etc.)

Whom among them actually knows how to set up real measurement methodologies that look beyond web analytics? (Back to the R.O.I. discussion again.)

Will it be some guy with a digital communications background who read a few white papers about Social Media and follows a cookie-cutter methodology that a few analysts and MBAs put together, or will it be a team of Social Media-savvy pros with extensive hands-on experience (and a relevant presence) in the Social Media space?

Right now, though the latter would be 1,000 times preferable to the former, it seems pretty unlikely. What seems most likely (unless you guys prove me otherwise) is that the large consulting firms Jeremiah mentions in his post are mostly winging it, just like the rest of the Social Media hacks looking to take advantage of the Social Media gold rush.

If you disagree, that’s perfectly okay. Actually, I hope that you can prove me wrong. This is one of those rare times when I truly hope that I’ve assumed the worst and completely missed the boat. So if you want to prove me wrong, please do – and here’s how: Give me names. Tell me who the big consulting firms have hired to put these packages together and help deploy them for their clients. It’s that simple.

Once we know who they are, my quick little assessment of their “worth” in this space will be simple: Are these people we know? People who actually live and breathe this stuff? People with an ounce of credibility in this space? People who have been doing this in some way shape or form for more than… six months? Not just analysts, mind you (I know some great ones who fit the bill) but practitioners. The folks who actually DO this stuff.

If so, great.

If not, the enterprise space is about to be taken for a very expensive ride… and I don’t think I am alone in thinking that the stakes (economic, professional and contextual) are too high for this sort of nonsense to go unanswered. So… in the event that I am right, that large consulting firms are about to launch blindly and clumsily into the world of Social Media consulting, how do we come to their rescue?

  1. How do we make large consulting firms realize that they have a wealth of resources out here in the real world who cold help them actually bring their social integration packages to life?
  2. How do we make them understand that it is in their best interest to reach out to many of you and seek your help, advice, insights?
  3. How do we give them visibility to who you are and what you have to offer, and give you the kind of access ?
  4. How do we bring together large consulting firms with a need for expertise in this field with those of you who have key pieces of the Social Media puzzle they so desperately need to be effective in this space?

Am I being naive? Is this type of logical partnership strategy too much to expect from organizations that aren’t in the habit of asking for help? I don’t think so: We aren’t talking about ERP and CMS here. This isn’t a vendor-driven discussion. This is not about technology or systems integration. This is about something far more organic than that. Change Management and Social Integration don’t quite plug into a company culture as well as conventional enterprise products plug into an IT infrastructure.

So how do we fix this? How do we bring everyone to the table to actually make this work? Do we create yet another conference? Do we set up closed-door meetings with these firms in which we discuss likely candidates with specific skillsets so they can create talent pools for various contracts? Do we create a forum using the various tools at our disposal to discuss issues or trouble-shoot with them? You guys tell me. What do you think?

The forum is all yours.