The wrestling match is over. The social media revolution has come and gone. You might even say it failed.
From a leadership standpoint, the early days of social media turned marketing strategy upside down. Where in the past marketing was driven from the executive level, it quickly became the realm of mid-level, small business, and freelance. When social looked like technical, or even a passing fad, busy leaders didn't get involved.
In those nascent days, you first handed off social media to your IT department or SEO partners. That didn’t win you an audience because, while social media needs metrics and analytics, technology alone can't carry on an engaging conversation, much less produce one. The social ground was moving even faster than the growth of storage, memory, and speed. It just wasn't about chips or silicon.
Next, you gave it to the "kids" who knew something about marketing — the up-and-coming generation of connected consumers. Their voice was hip, and they had the nuance of online natter, but they often lacked the maturity and perspective that could generate and sustain your original business goals.
What's worse, you had a potential generation gap and cultural disconnect between who was speaking on your company's behalf, and who was listening (or tuning out). Instead of social media sticking with the young, Boomers became the fastest growing social users and biggest overall spenders, and Gen Xers starting spending more per head than any other segment. Suddenly, your 20-something "tweets" were failing to reach a technically emergent, e-commerce empowered, sophisticated audience who wasn’t swayed by “Dude, check out this new camera! It’s dope!”
If you weren’t a youth business or a geek company, neither millennials nor technoids could drive your social media strategy. The revolution that originally pushed from the bottom up, where early adopters and technical wizards ran the show, has since flipped onto its back. We still want client-centered conversations, but we also want company led business goals. In short, brands now need a more "top-down marketing." If that smacks of an embarrassing amount of authority, it at least shows where the objectives originate.
While we still might turn to a mix of in-source and outsource for our social media strategy, we've turned back to relying on the participation of the business owner (or at least the C-level) as thought leaders and keepers of the flame of commercial sensibility.
Perhaps more than ever, the role of the boss or, more correctly, the entrepreneur is pivotal. That's because the heart and soul of sustainable social content is the ability to see how it all ties together with the company's brand, voice, and vision. In other words, it’s more than just ROI driving the question “why are we doing all of this?” It’s the emergence of digital strategy as a central necessity in a highly competitive market where random isn’t effective and the venue isn’t new.
The most powerful conversations around social start even before discussion of overall business objectives. They start with what kind of lives we want to live or, perhaps translated, what kind of culture we want to create —not just in our companies, but in the world at large. In other words, social media isn't just another marketing channel like e-mail or print advertising; it's an inherently transformative environment. The range of conversation is broader that in any other venue. The impact a company makes in social is largely congruous with the impact it makes in the world. Those are high-level decisions that can't just be handed off to the marketing department. In effect, coherent social media strategy starts with ownership.
Business owners need to not only know 'how social works' from a basic technical standpoint, but also be judicious and farsighted about how commercial outcomes translate into strategy. Likewise, once social is a discussion at the ownership level, if companies value their marketing budgets, they need to understand how to measure authentic social gains. Getting followers and likes might be very reportable, but it's not very useful, unless pats on the back are enough to drive a business.
Social media is the market coalescing in an entirely new way. Breaking open new markets is rightly part of the executive adventure. Increasingly, it's a social-savvy CEO that guide viable social media behavior, at least a high level, and not the phone-blogging thumb-jockey.
Regardless of the company size, from solopreneur to big brand, the relationship to specialists is shifting, and the role of the internal company leader is being revitalized. For leaders wanting exciting new fields to plunder, and interesting climates to explore, social is serving up just the right momentum as it rolls over and plays nice for the boss.