It’s time businesses took social media strategy seriously, says social media practitioner Eva Keogan

How long will it be until the boardroom recognises the importance of social strategy and we see the new role of chief social officer firmly established? While I think it’s an inevitable development, I know it will be a hotly contested role.

I've been working as a social media practitioner for six years, yet it's still considered by some as very “now” “new” and at worst a fad. There’s no doubt that being “social” ruffles feathers among the more established disciplines be they journalism, advertising, PR or senior management, but what many people are overlooking is the myriad disciplines that are cropping up. There are now many roles that indicate an emerging industry from social analysts and strategists, to social app and technology developers, but as yet no specific executive roles.

I see organisations failing to take ownership of this big opportunity, some keep their eyes closed completely, while others expect quick fixes for everything from failing sales to damaged reputation. What’s missing is a long-term strategic view and investment in the skills and talent required to implement it.

In the early 2000s as the internet, e-commerce, mobile technology and email became common business and workplace fodder; suddenly there were mobile warriors – people who could work on the move, aided by new communications devices – who needed strategic, board-level support as the hunger for new technology, first-mover advantage and competitive edge grew. Organisations responded and executives like Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, are living proof the role is now essential.

Ten years on, we’re at the same frontier of disrupted business, this time set against austerity rather than a bubble. Corporations and businesses are much leaner and start ups, aided by low-cost technology and low overheads, are entering the fore and moving the goal posts with innovation. The biggest change now though is consumers who’ve discovered using social media gives them very loud voices and they can exercise power over organisations like never before.

But where are we now? Respected industry insider Erik Qualman made the eye-opening and often quoted statement: “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in five years.” But what does that really mean? Evidence suggests that consumers are driving business change from the outside in and companies are on the defensive. Socialbakers’ quarterly Socially Devoted report monitors brands globally and they’re measured on social media performance in customer service; quarter-by-quarter brands are performing better, but there is a long way to go. Altimeter Group recently published The Evolution of Social Business report, which found only 52 per cent of the survey group agreed that “top executives are informed, engaged and aligned with our (social) strategies“.

It appears that social strategy is still an ideal rather than a reality, which is why I believe the time is right for board-level appointments of people who understand the implications of social media on infrastructure, reputation, customer service, workforce, HR, legal and of course sales. Is this the remit of the COO, CIO or CEO? No, it’s the CSO remit.

Eva Keogan is founder of Home of Social, the social media training company and also Conversociable, the start up digital and marketing agency

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