The Five Questions Companies Ask About Social Media

I just visited a client who had several groups in their company doing quite a bit around social media (they are trying to answer the 4th and 5th question). They were what I call “walking” and were on the verge of “running”. Often, when I meet companies for the first time, I try to find out which of the following questions that they are answering, as it determines their level of sophistication.

As one might expect, brands in tech, media, and some consumer goods are more advanced, and finance, insurance, and sometimes government are trying to answer the first questions.

Five questions companies ask about social media:

What is Social Media?
For many folks, corporations, the question to answer was “What is a BloB”. Blogging was the primary tool that we saw in the marketplace, for some, it wasn’t taken seriously, for the savvy, they quickly adopted. We saw scare tactics from the threatened mainstream media, such as “Attack of the Blogs” and light of amateurisms, angry customers and crazies were painted. For many, we wanted to know what are these tools, how to they work, and what’s the impact. Early on, this impacted corporate communications, PR, and mainstream media.

Why does it matter?
As we’ve evolved, many were realizing the impact of exploding batteries, brand hijacking, and blog evangelism. Savvy companies were starting to adopt these tools, a few provided integrated communities that were scrapped together or built from existing platforms. For the majority, trying to understand why these tools matter to a business. In addition to corporate communications, PR, we started to see other marketing and business units being impacted by these tools, as well as adoption.

What does it mean to my business?
We’re here now. This is the year of ROI, measurement, and experimentation. Many corporations have deployed resources, headcounts and budgets. Corporations are afraid to make mistakes, so plans are created, and measurement is critical to help manage and prove the worth of new programs. ROI was proven, new social media measurement attributes were defined, and many new tools were deployed, I did what I could to further this industry (see all posts). In addition to Corporate Communications and PR, business units are starting to experiment with these tools, often out of the PR budget. A new role started to appear more frequently, the digital marketing manager, the community manager, the social media strategist.

How do I do it right?
Now that experimentation is done, and business units are starting to apply these tools, like advertising, PR, field marketing, and customer references, companies will want to do it right. Frameworks will be developed, consultants will offer packages, and a loosely developed process will be used. For companies that don’t have enough internal resources to listen, manage, and deploy, consultants will be a very sought after service. Nearly every brand will start to have an ongoing budget for social media, the new role to manage these tools will appear. IT departments will start to deploy enterprise 2.0 tools.

How do I integrate across the Enterprise
Normalization is happening, A checkbox for ‘social media’ on every announcement, product launch, product development and support will be using these tools. Social media tools to listen, converse, collect knowledge, and build new products will integrate across the customer cycle. It’s not just external, intranets will start to deploy suites for collaboration, such as blog accounts issued to many internal and external employees. Product Teams, IT departments, HR, Finance, Executives, and of course Marketing will be using these tools.

This post, for the most part is a rehash of what I’ve posted nearly a year ago, but I think it holds merit to discuss again

Update: June 10th. I’ve scheduled 52 inquiry calls with clients since April 2008. Inquiry calls are 30 minute discussions with clients that want to pick our brains, and I tell them everything I know that will help them meet their business objective. While the range of questions wily varies, most are asking questions 3, 4, 5.

What question is your company, or your clients trying to answer, this is often a good post to send to your internal teams and try to trigger a discussion.

67 Replies to “The Five Questions Companies Ask About Social Media”

  1. The last three questions. I deal with B2B comms for a huge MNC. And in a country (India) – where everyone’s gung ho about the next 2.0 wave but no one really has their facts right – it’s really confusing.

  2. Great post. I can see my org being question #2. In a large corp, being able to define roles needs to happen. Worst thing would be to engage without end results in mind.

  3. This is a great post except for question #5. One of the major facets of Social Media that large organizations must grasp is it’s decentralization. You can’t integrate it across the enterprise. You can integrate procedures, and guidelines. But the very nature of social interaction and social media defies integration.

    Therefore I would change the question to “How do I integrate Social Media Procedures across the Enterprise.” It’s not just semantics, it’s recognizing the nature of the beast.

    Chris Kieff,

  4. Uhm, no all the experimenting is NOT done. Not by a long shot. Are you going to honestly tell me you know everything there is about your consumer ethnography, how to leverage the different styles of sites, and that you keep up on the thousands of new ones appearing daily? I’m on hundreds of sites and struggle to keep up, build profiles, adjust, learn how they work and understand their user base and how to leverage the conversation.

  5. Nice and timely post, Jeremiah.

    Don’t forget the, “So, how do we track if anyone is reading our blog/FB Group/viral video [insert next one here] and how do we make money?

    John Carson.

  6. Chris

    Yup, the right way to approach is not to control social media.

    But, as small groups become successful, other groups want to participate. Geographies, different product groups, then by departments.

    I’m not suggesting that it’s tightly controlled by any means.

    (As you’ve noticed, my blog isn’t on the Forrester domain, nor Forrester branded)

  7. Jeremiah, excellent blog post and it’s helped crystallize some things for me as I find my own niche as a social media evangelist for my agency and clients (along with my friends, family and any random stranger I meet and strike up a conversation with, these days!).

    I think it’s interesting that the size of a company can actually be a hindrance when it comes to looking at and answering these questions about social media. Smaller companies and even some non-profits seem to have an easier time progressing from “what is social media” to the “how do we use it” stage than the giant corporate conglomerates. This flexibility, nimbleness and adaptability is an advantage that may actually help the mom and pops to make a comeback against the big boxes.

  8. Jeremiah,

    Just wondering… are you being anecdotal when you say that companies are appointing digital marketing strategists or community managers? Has Forrester done any polling or research to quantify this?? It’s great news, of course.

  9. These are the ones that I am hearing…How can I use it for recruiting and What other companies are using this successfully?

  10. these questions are a good start, and as your readers aptly point out, there are many more questions companies are asking.

    Forrester has done a nice job analyzing social media and providing some guidance for corporate adoption of new tools.

    Since many companies lack the resources to tap into Forrester’s vast knowledge in this arena, our company has taken on the role of experimenter to find the best ways to help smaller firms identify an appropriate social media strategy.

    Jeremiah, any thoughts on how long before we see a shift towards questions #4 and #5 on a large-scale basis?

  11. We’ve found this to be all over the map. Some companies are ready with a spreadsheet of what they’re looking to implement, even have mock ups, and want to know how a provider’s capabilities map against them. Others are still in the education process, which is in line with your categories. Some of the ROI categories that we use to help companies consider the payback on investment to creating a branded online community are:

    1. Customer Communities:
    -Increase in customer acquisition
    -Increase in customer retention
    -Reduction in customer service costs
    -Increase in page rank and general site traffic due to the additional content on a community
    -Improved product and service allocation based on real time customer feedback and customer driven innovation

    2. Internal Communities (Employees):
    -Increase in productivity due to 1. General knowledge sharing, 2. Identification of subject matter experts to shorten ramp up, 3. Virtual team envirnoments for distributed teams
    -Increase in employee retention. People like meeting other employees, face to face and virtually. This produces a more enriching work environment.
    -Decreased hiring costs. It’s easier to hire from within. Finding good candidates can be done on a corporate directory, but internal social networks can provide even more information (both profile based and content creation based) about internal candidates.

    We did a blog post about this back in Novemberhere.

  12. looks like a good place to start. I know that when I talked to other companies that were new the area – these are pretty much what they asked.

  13. We’ve definitely answered the first three questions and are hovering around 4 and 5. I’m finding the best way to answer the last two is to just dive in, test and respond appropriately as you go. Take baby steps, fail small and work your way up. Oh yeah – listen to your community, always listen and then take appropriate action.

  14. Desaraev, Scott

    This post isn’t suggesting that these are the only 5 questions to ask and answer.

    These five questions are just a way that I can often gauge the level of sophistication of a company.

  15. Debbie and Scott (again)

    We need to do some research on “How companies are organizing” for social computing. A report I hope to take on soon.

    Debbie, see all my posts tagged “on the move” to see all the social media roles that are appearing within companies.

    As I mentioned in Twitter, we’re going to announce our Community Manager (full time job at Forrester HQ) shortly. Stay tuned.

  16. I think the questions posted here are great, however there are a couple of secondary but important ones and I would like your feedback on:

    – Assuming that a social media offering is targeted to a part of existing marketing budget (there would be cases where new money will come in, my guess is that these are limited), trying to capture either a part of online advertisement budget (banners etc), or a part of PR budget, or even a part of offline advertisement budget – suggesting a second chance for disappointed marketers to rethink the benefits of online marketing – has to provide solutions to existing business problems
    – Business problems such as : improve company’s public image, increase number of leads and eventually sales numbers, give a chance to obtain a new communication channel and of course exotic ones like incorporating customer feedback right through my product groups
    – Lets assume now that an enterprise has understood all the benefits of social media and is ready to invest in them, 2 questions raise very often and quite high in the discussion :

    1. How do I manage the negative feedback, will it hit us back strong when we open up the curtains ? What can I do ? Since I cannot bury the bad ones or not respond to them.


    2. What is the effort that I have to put in place in order to support this conversation ? In most cases marketing people are overbooked with commitments and metrics related with sales numbers, touches, promotion campaigns etc Will they find the time to respond to a new thread, a demanding one? Even though there will be agencies like ours that are willing to help them there must be people inside the company ready to discuss, search, form answers, discuss about them so the external social media agency execute on them. And this time is not about a Press Release dropped out of the window. It’s a live demanding discussion this time. Does that mean that companies have to create new roles and hire additional people inside the organizations devoted to social media support? That could make the ROI task even more difficult to calculate.

    Panos Kontopoulos

  17. @Jeremiah

    I like the idea of gauging the sophistication level of clients’ social media knowledge as a starting point. I’m surprised at how many companies want to skip straight to execution before forming a strategy — even with traditional marketing tools like direct mail or web sites — because “my competitor did it, so I should do it.”


    The questions you raise, such as how to respond to what you hear about yourself once you begin a social media campaign, are practical questions that show the importance of the gauging/screening Jeremiah has outlined. They’re great questions…they also highlight the tendency many companies will have to revert back to their “how do I control this tendencies.”

    Makes me wish there was a CliffNotes version of “Groundswell” or “Radically Transparent” we could offer as suggested reading before embarking on a social media campaign.

  18. Great article. I had to share with others via Twitter and they enjoyed it to. Really made good points that I will be able to use to help explain the importance of Social Media to business owners. Thanks for sharing such a great article.

  19. Jeremiah – as usual, a timely post and directly to the point.

    Far too many companies will try to take the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim!’ approach… this heads up is crucial for those wanting to get into Social Media and actually stand to benefit from it.

  20. An excellent summary, thanks. It largely reflects my experience in conversations with companies I talk to here in the UK.

    What I’m finding is that there’s a sixth question (“How do I include social media with my traditional communication?”) that’s very much related to the fourth and fifth you describe.

    And these aren’t all the question, either, as you noted.

  21. turf, territory, power, status, self-protection, self-advancement, avoiding blame, culpability, accountability, maintaining position, privacy, secrecy, …

    social media will totally ruin most companies, and is to be avoided at all costs

  22. Well said Jeremiah,
    The toughest question I get is “How will we measure it’s effect?”.
    As you said it’s all about ROI and they want quantifiable results. Typically I point to the millions of dollars they spend on magazine ads, billboards, and super bowl ads and ask them how they measured the ROI on that…

  23. Interesting article. Speaking purely as a user, I think that corporate America has to accept that in the realm of social media, they have to give up some control about the message. I read some blogs and it’s like marketing types want to attract consumers but also control what happens on the site.

    But although people might visit or wander in, they won’t stay unless they can have some influence (a voice). And I think a lot of corporate marketing types have a not-so-small contempt of the public and fear giving up the control that is required if a social networking site is going to thrive. You can’t have it both ways, that is, attract users/viewers and also control what is being said/done on your site. There are just too many other competing forums where people can go which don’t have restrictions beyond the “no flaming, obscene language or photos” maxim.

    No one wants to belong to a policed social network and companies that don’t realize this will have their carefully budgeted plans go down in flames. They have to accept that by opening up a blog to comments or creating a discussion forum or asking for user-created content, there might very well be some veiled or direct criticism of the company and it’s positions. It would be best if they had a sense of humor about it and didn’t try to silence those who are saying something they don’t want to hear. It could be much more valuable to the company than bland compliments.

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  25. It’s interesting that control is always such a big deal. There’s a sense that only big companies want to manage the social media message, but I’m increasingly coming across small business clients that want all of the benefits, but can’t get past the idea that this is just a cheap marketing vehicle.

    Of course, I can’t work with them if that’s the attitude.

  26. I’m afraid in my experience the question that gets asked most is: “So how do I control the message?” to which of course the answer is: “er, sorry, you can’t!” You then have to pick the client up off the floor and gently introduce them to the idea of developing conversations, open source content relationships and the wiki-wisdom of crowds. It’s not surpising these people have built careers on being ‘in charge of comms’ and have had PR people whispering control in their ears for years. We have a lot of work to do in helping them becoming facilitators and enablers of conversations rather than targetters of messages.

  27. Regarding item number 5- “How do I do it right”- the things mentioned here sound just like what you’d do for any other business. It doesn’t appear that social media is managed any differently. If so, disappointing; since if it’s managed the same way it will become homogenized and therefor no different from anything else on the internet.

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  29. Hi Jerimiah – I’ve come across your posts many times researching social media strategy. You MUST know what you’re doing to appear so far up in results;)

    My comment on your questions is another question: These are questions companies will ask us, but what should WE ask compaines when developing social media plans? I understand tactics and strategies will depend on the customer and their target audiences/goals…but is there a blanket “social media brief” template somewhere just so I can get an idea of what to ask?

    Thanks for all of your great insight.

  30. How do I measure what sites local neighborhoods are using and having conversations on.

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