- news + features
- case studies
- toolkits + templates
- training + consultancy
Inside the mind of a social media strategist
13 April, 2012 - 09:37
With his experience from GM and IBM, Chris Barger offers advice on how to launch a social media strategy and make it a success.
By Sophia Cheng
Christopher’s Barger's Social Media Strategist was written out of his frustration with current social media literature produced by so-called ‘social media gurus’. As the award-winning former social media director at General Motors and IBM’s former “blogger-in-chief” Barger draws on his wealthy experience regarding how to get a social media program off the ground.
Barger takes us on the journey with him and notably it doesn’t start with hiring the social media evangelist. He believes that for a large organisation to be successful at social media, much of the groundwork needs to be done before the recruitment stage.
He discusses seven essential elements you need to have internally before you can be successful in social:
1. An executive champion
2. Clear lines of authority
3. A social media evangelist
4. Sensible metrics & measurements
5. Partnership with Legal
6. A solid social media policy
7. Employee education and training
The role of an effective executive champion is of paramount importance for the success of the social media program. It gives the program credibility and is essential to C-Suite buy-in and sourcing budget.
The executive champion:
- Has credible authority;
- Can moderate disputes;
- Can sell to the C-suite;
- Can provide or raise budget;
- Liaise between social and greater strategy;
- Has a strong relationship with social media evangelists.
Barger strips down the notion of ‘the social media rock star’ and raises the pitfalls many corporates are susceptible to. He pulls apart the key ingredients of a social media evangelists, so whether you’re aspiring to be one or looking to hire one, Barger highlights the following:
- Established involvement in social networks;
- Age and Wisdom > Youth and Inexperience;
- A clear business outlook.
Barger says it's also important to show some online skin - it's perfectly okay for social media evangelists to share their personalities online and demonstrate that they can walk the line.
He quotes Zena Weist - former social media director at H&R Block in the States:
“The most important characteristic of the brand’s social media leader is to think like a renter. Do not have any ownership values. Do not try to build a social media empire that you claim yourself emperor of. It will fail.”
Barger also stresses that a willingness to place equal focus on the internal part of the role is critical, as is knowing how to delegate. He eloquently writes, “Employing someone who is good at social media is not the same as having a very good social media program."
Who owns social?
Barger joins in on this heated debate laying out the pros on cons of the various departments that claim a hold to ‘own social’ - from PR to HR, from Marketing to IT. Whatever the department, Barger stresses the need to "set the consensus early on" to avoid later turf wars. He admits a preference to PR based on his own experiences but emphasises that silo-ing in such a way is no longer the key to success. Just in the way that social means conversations and collaborating must be reflected inside an organisation building on the strengths of different functions to pool together a really successful social media program.
An example of this from Barger’s experience is the “Social Club” at GM - a weekly informal meeting with people across the organisation whose role touched social media, including a representative from the legal team. The meetings provided the opportunity to share best practices and make everyone aware of upcoming platforms. He stressed that these regular meetings allowed for collaboration across divisions and forged strong relationships that enabled the entire business to integrate social media into every function. Not to mention they constitute a rapid response team at times of crisis.
ROI and measurement
Barger devotes a whole chapter to the the topic, and whilst he does not necessarily introduce any new concepts, he explicitly reminds us the value of true measurement and not to be thrown off by meaningless stats.
Put simply, he advises, “Define success and know what you want to see before you start and know your zero point.”
On this hotly debated topic, Barger frankly points out that more often than not there is a bottom line for social media: sales. Use of simple but effective analogies make it clear: “Social media should be tied to business performance and goals and should be measured accordingly.”
And he certainly doesn’t sugar coat it: “Social media is a means to an end.”
Barger lays out almost step by step how to go about building up a holistic social media policy. He methodically describes the process, stressing that it will not please everyone. When it reaches its final stage, it should then be shared. He places a heavy emphasis on training, detailing enterprise-wide programs with the ultimate view that everyone is immersed in social and able to represent the brand online. He also describes how to successfully work with bloggers and market your social media strategy, suggesting a small targeted event where you can provide value can be more successful than a stall at SXSW.
When All Hell Breaks Loose
Barger was social media lead during the highly publicised bankruptcy of GM in 2009; his team's inclusion in the communication decisions made during that time were crucial as they weathered the storm. In the 18 hours that followed the announcement, the social media team took part in more than 900 conversations online, a figure that rose to 2500 by the end of the week. Barger attributes a dedicated social media SWAT team and their listening - as opposed to a telling approach - as the main factors of their success.
What if you don’t work for a large global corporate?
If you don't work for a GM or an IBM, there are plenty of takeaways those of us at smaller companies can take away from the book. The importance of compliance which Barger cannot stress enough. Whilst you may not have an entire legal team at your disposal, staying within regulations still applies.
Who should read this book?
Those in large corporates looking to build up their social media program or those working in any sized company looking to build one up from scratch. Those aspiring to be a social media evangelists or HR managers looking to hire one should also pick up this book. Barger makes The Social Media Strategist accessible to anyone interested in social media and how to make it work.
In short, the book is highly interesting and an enjoyable read. Barger’s honest but experienced tone is friendly and natural. His analogies vividly depict his argument, albeit with a heavy baseball focus! It offers valuable insights into exactly how to deploy a successful strategy in a multinational but the lessons are applicable to much smaller businesses as well. Indeed, being small may actually make it easier as Barger describes the difficulty of scaling up the ‘hyperlocal’ approach in a larger organisation.
Key quotes that particularly stand out in the book include:
“Social media effectiveness is crafted from building relationships, and that is very difficult to scale.”
“The biggest myth about social media is that it’s free."
Barger’s details on how to deal with crisis were particularly poignant - not only do they support his ethos “don’t be afraid to fail”, they highlight that in this constantly evolving sphere, making a mistake is inevitable.
Finally, he reminds us not to become preoccupied with the platform:
“The ‘social’ is always more important than the ‘media’ and it will always be.”
Chris Barger will be joining us on SimplyTV on Friday 4th May at 1pm BST. Register here.
Women are gaining a stronger voice at the pharma giant - thanks to the launch of an enterprise social network now up to 2,500 members across 55...
Mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us. Following Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, we caught up with Time to Change to learn how to erase...
Founded in 1945, Grundfos, the world's largest manufacturer of pumps, employs more than 19,000 workers worldwide. See how social media plays a...
Author and consultant Ian Buckingham explores the effects of positive thinking in an organisation, using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to look for the...
We caught up with longtime social media expert and President of IABC Belgium, Aurelie Valtat, to get her top tips for executing an effective digital...
Using IBM Connections, BASF - the world's leading chemical company - introduced an internal network that would transform communications for over...
A new breed of communicator is helping transform the traditional heart of the UK's largest pharmaceutical company into a $10bn fast-moving...
Ann Pilkington continues her series of articles on project communication, presenting top tips for keeping objectives SMART during three important...
Thanks to Einstein we all know that Energy cannot be created or destroyed - but can it be interpreted effectively as a corporate theme to unite 32,...