Social Media and the Organization – An Interview with Kathy Mandelstein

As Social Media matures, its impact on the organization expands to new functions.  This makes the management of the technology, content, platforms and increasingly challenging.  This is made even more complex by the fact that “the organization” is full of real human beings who are also social media users.  Our expectations are rising for our own digital interactions and also for our companies.  This article delves into the issues and some solutions for this growing organizational challenge.

I had the pleasure to interview Kathy Mandelstein, Director WW Marketing Programs, Web & Events for IBM Social Business and she also managed in its early days.  Kathy is also President of Social Media Club Austin & International Board at Social Media Club.  Net: Kathy knows social and ecommerce and how it works in a big company like IBM and their customers.

Hi Kathy, how is social media effecting the organization today?

Well, it’s really affecting most companies in two totally unique ways today.  First, there is the inwardly-focused use of social media where companies are evolving their ways of collaboration and communication internally across their company by leveraging social capabilities in their business processes.  We offer IBM Connections as an internal social network solution to companies who are transforming to Social Businesses.

Secondly, there is the more developed area of social interaction external to the company with customers, partners and suppliers.  This includes social integration into web experience, the use of social marketing campaigns and how social affects discussions occurring about the company on external social networks.

Makes sense.  It’s getting complex isn’t it?  Which functions are most effected by social?

Marketing and Sales are usually most directly involved externally.  But HR is also being affected and benefiting internally.  Product management and research organizations are also leveraging social to innovate more quickly.

What about Customer Service? What are you seeing out there in terms of how companies handle the inflow of customer inquiries?  Who is managing that?

In most companies, the function is still the formal customer service structure using primarily phone and email.  Most companies are just now learning how to adopt and manage these new social channels.  Some companies are far better than others.  For example, some companies have formal tech support functions that are working on how to handle customer feedback or inquiries coming in from social media channels.  Of course there are leaders like Zappos and Best Buy who really see social as a critical part of that function.  Both provide 24/7 support via social channels for inquiries.

Any interesting approaches?

Zappos employees will cover social platforms by “checking in”… notifying users via a post that they are there if needed. That’s a great way to invite dialog and take it to the next level.  But to be clear, most companies still have almost all of the “ownership” of social media within either corporate communications or marketing functions and are still figuring out how to provide 24/7 customer service.

It’s a messy business given that the consumer or shopper just sees one company but we have to sort it out on our end organizationally. What other functions in the organization are effected?

Ratings and Reviews are a big part of social media and social commerce. Massively important to online retailers and consumer brands. This area is typically owned by digital marketing or ecommerce.

Are the merchants also involved?

Yes, in most situations, the information about good and bad ratings is
being leveraged by the merchants to make better product selections.

Any other functions impacted? Seems like there are few that are not

At IBM, social has become a part of almost everyone’s job and we have had a very decentralized approach. IBM employees have had the ability to act as company representatives via their personal accounts on social platforms for years and we were one of the first companies to put out Social Media Guidelines back in 2005.  But we are moving toward an approach where there is more structure around IBM branded accounts, versus the personal accounts of IBMers. These accounts can be coordinated better.  This provides some structure to know which accounts are the official voice of IBM versus the personal accounts of IBM employees. Dell has done a good job of starting with structure from the beginning with a centralized approach to accounts and then Dell in the employee spokespeople’s account names.

So, wow, you just really opened up another major topic regarding the “social” organization… employees!  What a challenging task.

And a huge win if done right.  IBM did a brand study several year’s ago and it showed that the brand’s biggest value was the IBM people themselves. Customers highly valued the IBMers that they met and thought they were some of the smartest people they had worked with.  But with over 400,000 employees a fully decentralized approach is not realistic.  It works better with a centralized organization overseeing social and cross-organizational committees across the company meeting regularly. In fact we rolled out an internal Social Business Certification program this year to help employees learn how to be effective and follow the guidelines.

How should companies organize for success?

In many cases, the best approach is to accept that there are many different functions that have a play in social and the management of social interactions needs to be handled well on the backend so that the person that is most qualified to respond gets the social messages quickly and responds.  Identifying clear owners and responsibilities is critical to establish up front and to have a long term plan for building relationships online. Too many companies jump into launching social accounts, campaigns and promotions, but with little benefit because they didn’t begin with a clear strategy. They treat it more like traditional marketing, as megaphone instead of a dialogue. This is the wrong approach.

What’s missing?

A set of clear corporate goals, guidelines, processes that ensure that customer contacts are captured, reviewed and handed off accurately to the right function to manage.  At IBM, we developed a social “taskforce” that meets monthly to ensure coordination as well as weekly calls at a business unit level to coordinate specific plans and activities.  It’s about keeping everyone on the same page and collaborating. Also, before a company jumps into social, they need to listen first. Social listening should be the first and most important thing a company does and it should be done on an ongoing basis. Listening helps shape the dialogue they should be having in social channels.

Any closing comments?

Social Business is still in its early stages. It is sort of li
ke the “Internet” several years ago where a small group inside of a company was responsible managing it. Today the Web is at the core of most businesses.  Every single function in a company is affected by and leverages the capabilities of the Internet.  It’s the same situation with social.  We are still at the beginning of this journey. Getting structure, tools and business processes in place will be critical for long term success.

We invite SMC members to send Peter their questions or insights.  Peter Leech provides social commerce and ecommerce consulting as a Partner in The Partnering Group, a leading retail and consumer goods consultancy.  Previously, Peter was CMO for several leading ecommerce retail businesses including Onlineshoes and Hanover Direct and led the ecommerce business for Chico’s, White House Black Market and Soma Intimates.