Speaking at SMiB in London

The current state of conversations in regards to Social Media and Business

Okay, look. I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes here, but how many times do business managers hungry for real Social Media know-how have to suffer through another “Social Media is what’s next” presentation before someone actually decides to help them answer real questions and solve real problems?

Yes. We get it already. Social Media is the future of now. It’s the answer to all of your old-school marketing problems. The holy grail of business growth. It’s all about people and conversations and relationships, don’t you know. Okay, fine. So now let’s get on with it: How the hell does a company actually put Social Media into play?

Before I go on, if your answer includes any of the following words, I may have to reach across the internets and smack you upside the head: FaceBook, Twitter, Blog, YouTube. (No, no, no and no.) Let’s take a giant step backwards here, because if your idea of developing a Social Media program for a company of any size essentially consists of creating a series of embassies on the most popular social platforms on the web, you haven’t just put the cart ahead of the horse, you’ve pretty much squashed it like a bug.

Let me be as clear as I can be about this: Having a Facebook fan page, a twitter account, a YouTube channel and a blog aren’t forward thinking. This is the default position now. The absolute minimum. If you aren’t already here, you’ve already shown that your business is grossly out of touch with the rest of the world (and dare I say, your market?). And by default, so are you. You’ve fallen behind. And if your company does proudly display those little social badges, if indeed you do have a presence on Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube and the blogosphere, congratulations: You’re doing the same thing everyone else is, which is to say that you are merely here.

Having a Social Media presence nowadays is merely the equivalent of what being listed in the yellow pages meant ten years ago. It simply isn’t enough to be there. And if you believe it is, you have seriously underestimated the situation.

Don’t get me wrong: The vast majority of business managers and C-suite executives still need to be shown that Social Media isn’t just a silly fad. That it is a legitimate business discipline worthy of not only investment but special attention. And perhaps most importantly, that by not understanding that Social Media fits in their business toolkit, they will begin to lose increasingly large chunks of market share (among other things) to their smarter, more strategically-minded competitors as early as H1 of 2010. These are realities and facts that still need to be conveyed to decision-makers in the business world. No question.

But the message has already reached a good number of them. So now what? You’ve convinced them to focus on Social Media, but aside from “get on facebook, twitter, youtube and blogs and start engaging,” you haven’t really given them a whole lot to go on. For the benefit of those folks, why don’t we switch gears and meet them where they want us to: In the real and complex world of “how the hell do we actually build this in our own organization?”

Let’s inject a little structure and order into the Social Media for business discussion:

First, let’s get a couple of things straight about the nature of Social Media when it comes to operations (yes, actually “doing” instead of just talking about how great it is):

1. The idea that Social Media professionals are one-size-fits-all needs to disappear. Understand that despite what you may have been told, Social Media practitioners aren’t all community managers and engagement aficionados. Some are data analysts and others are business strategists, while some specialize in operational management, market research, marketing communications or any number of commonly found business functions. Yes, that’s right: Social Media practitioners probably aren’t social media experts at all. They’re simply professionals who use social media because they understand its value to their job and organization.

The topic of incorporating social media know-how into existing organizational roles (rather than creating new layers of superfluous social media expertise to piggy-back on existing functions)  is one that we will revisit often in the coming months.

So the lesson here is that if your organization seems to a) suffer from a knowledge gap when it comes to Social Media, and b) filling that gap with dozens, if not hundreds of new employees seems daunting, don’t fret: Focus on training and development first and foremost. Don’t worry about trying to hire a bunch of unemployed marketeers with “social media” roles strategically added to their resumes in the last 18 months. That will get you nowhere fast. There’s a better way. (More on that in a minute.)

2. Effective, sustainable, scalable social media programs all have a basic underlying framework (hinted at by the X-Box Live avatars assembled in the image above.) At its simplest, you are looking at four major building blocks and operational elements:

  • Social Media program development (a strategy-heavy function)
  • Social Media program integration (almost exclusively an ops piece, especially in the enterprise space)
  • Social Media program management (the broadest of the three, basically dealing with the execution of the program itself. Some examples of management functions are listed in the image above.)
  • Social Media program measurement (an analytical function which requires little explanation given the amount of time I have already devoted to explaining FRY, ROI, and non-financial impact).

When you start actually building the structure of a Social Media program, especially for a large/enterprise space organization, things get complex fast.  But let’s learn how to walk before we start running marathons, okay? Not everyone here is ready to graduate from “isn’t social media just another marketing channel?” so we’ll move slowly out of respect for them.

First things first: Recognizing that in order to build a proper Social Media program within an organization, you must first start with the understanding that these four core elements need to be present in order for things to work properly. Just having a Social Media director and an engagement team won’t cut it. All you’re likely to end up with is a decent management piece with perhaps some light strategy,  completely accidental integration thanks to an IT guy or two, and some made-up measurement based on whatever metrics seem to be popular on the Twitternets that week. Sorry but that’s not good enough.

If a half-assed DIY-style Social Media program appeals to you, your boss and your customers, by all means, have fun with that. But if you are the type of manager or business leader with even an ounce of vision,  professionalism (and sense of self-preservation), you already know that winging it isn’t really going to produce the results you are expected to deliver.

The alternative is to try and do it right: Actually building an effective and sustainable social media program within your organization by integrating social media (embedding it, even) into every department and business function – and doing so with purpose.

That’s all fine and good, but what if you need help? (No worries. I have you covered.):

So where can you turn for help? Unfortunately, that can sometimes be hard to tell. On the one hand, you have the thousands of self-appointed Social Media “gurus” selling everything from rehashed presentation decks and derivative white papers to stale webinars about essentially nothing. (Thanks for charging me $650 for information I could have gotten for free just by reading Mashable for twenty minutes a week. Great.) And don’t even get me started on the hacks who shamelessly steal my work and that of others and try to pass it off as their own. (We know who you are. You aren’t fooling anybody.)

So how do you tell the good ones from the frauds? Experience. Luck. Savvy. In fairness, you could actually get lucky and find one who knows how to do this (with enough money and enough time, who knows,) but the odds aren’t in your favor.

You could also keep hoping that the operational knowledge you seek will emerge from the various social media conferences you keep attending. And to some extent, yes, over time, you will pick up enough nuggets to become dangerous. No question. But it could take a while. Industry conferences have their value, but real operational training isn’t usually on the menu.

And of course, you could partner with a reputable consulting firm whose team of of experts will guide you every step of the way, from choosing the right measurement tools to the way you should develop engagement strategies. If you ‘re ready for that, have found a partner you know you can work with and have the budget for it, it’s go time. But not everyone is ready or able to go that route quite yet.

A fourth option is to let those of us who know how to do this teach you how without asking you to break the bank or further burden your schedule. We aren’t talking about “boot camps” here. (The idea isn’t to throw as much information at you as we can in a few hours and see how much of it you can retain.) By the same token, you don’t want a training programs to be so light that you walk away from it with solid theoretical knowledge but no practical knowledge. There isn’t a whole lot of value to training if you can’t actually put that training to good use.  And to be honest, there’s only so much ground you can cover even with a full day of training. So a group of us put our heads together over the last few months and decided to create something to fill that gap for you and do it right. (Which is to say, do it exceptionally well.) The objective is then to blend training and consulting in a way that makes sense for everyone.

Enter the Red Chair Group:

There will be plenty of time for me to get into what the Red Chair Group is, who will be involved and what types of services we’ll offer in the coming weeks. For now, all I can tell you is that our official launch is scheduled for December of 2009, that our primary objective will be to provide expert level assistance to businesses in need of strategic and operational program management, and that geographically speaking, we will cover a lot of ground. (I haven’t been this excited about a project/venture in a very long time, so it’s pretty hard for me to keep from spilling the beans.)

To that end, one of the first things the Red Chair Group will be launching is a series of executive training programs specifically designed to teach C-suite execs, business managers and agency directors how to develop, integrate, manage and measure social media programs (what we have been talking about in this post). These trainings will be carefully structured day-long events held in major cities around the world. We are currently in talks with partners in 20 key cities to bring Red Chair events to your doorstep.

(I forgot to mention: The whole idea is to bring these training events to you so you don’t have to come to us. This is yet another way we thought we could keep your budget as intact as possible.)

Cities already being added to the 2010 schedule:

  • Chicago
  • San Francisco
  • New York
  • Seattle
  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Portland
  • Philadelphia
  • Paris
  • Houston
  • Sydney
  • Hong Kong
  • Charlotte
  • Orlando
  • Toronto
  • Brussels
  • Tokyo

(If you want us to add your city to the list, let me know. We’ll chat.)

The first Red Chair event will be held in London on December 4th of this year. (Yes, in just a few weeks.) Click here or on the image below to register. For this venue, A+G‘s Scott Gould (of #LikeMinds fame) will be joining me to cover some key topics and learning points. To provide the best possible environment for the event, we’ve secured a space at One Alfred Place, perhaps London’s coolest (and my favorite) business club.

Our schedule for the session on December 4th is pretty heavy, so we plan to promptly begin with introductions at 9:00 am and be well into the program by 9:30. To make things easier for everyone, we’ve set up some group and agency discount packages in case some of you want to buy your tickets together. I strongly encourage that companies with an interest in this level of training (especially enterprise class organizations) consider sending more than one individual.

A note about registration: Though typical Red Chair events are designed for up to 40 attendees, our London launch is limited to only 20 attendees. Since our registration process is first come-first served, you’ll want to register quickly to secure a spot. With our schedule the way it is, it could be a while before we’re back in London.

One last thing: Anyone who registers for Red Chair London will automatically be enrolled in our registration referral program. The way it works is simple: Once you’ve registered, you will be given a special discount code to give friends, colleagues and clients. If they in turn register for the event using your code, they will get 10% off their ticket price and you will get $100 back. Nice, huh? Yeah. We thought you’d like that.

I will let you know as soon as the Red Chair website is up. (We’re building it as we speak.) In the meantime, you can access Red Chair London information via EventBrite by clicking here (or the image below).

I look forward to sharing more about how the Red Chair Group’s plans to help companies of all sizes operationalize social media. I am usually a pretty quiet guy (no, really), but I have to admit that I am having a hard time containing my excitement about this: To know that businesses are finally going to be able to cut through the social media noise and BS in part thanks to Red Chair makes me feel pretty good. 🙂

2010 is definitely going to be a fun year.

Cheers. 🙂

PS: Let’s give credit where credit is due. Special thanks to Kristi Colvin and Doug Cone for the amazing work they are already doing on the Red Chair Group’s branding and website. You guys are already producing outstanding work.