April 2, 2012 | last updated April 21, 2012 9:37 pm

Big Firms Struggle To Rein In Their Social Media Houses

If you think Fortune 500 companies have a better idea of what to do with social media, you're wrong.

It turns out that added resources don't necessarily equate to a more strategic approach to the latest craze in online marketing. That's according to a recent report from the Silicon Valley-based Altimeter Group entitled, "Buyer's Guide: A Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation."
The report, which involved interviews of marketers at large global companies, including the likes of Caterpillar and Cisco Systems, found that the average number of corporate social media accounts at big businesses totaled 178.

If you're thinking, "178! That sounds impossible to manage!" you're right. It's no simple task to keep the growing world of corporate social media working efficiently, but there are tools on the market that are making it at least a little easier.

Social Media Solutions

Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst at Altimeter and the report's primary author, said companies that don't get their social media houses in order expose themselves to "social media crisis."

"The occurrences of that are actually increasing," he said, noting some corporate blunders like the time a social media agency hired to run Chrysler's Twitter account sent out a tweet with the f-word in it.

The Chrysler situation was "an extreme example," but any company that doesn't have a strategy around its social media may run into embarrassing situations. And even if there isn't some giant "oops" from a scattered social media strategy, you can end up sending mixed messages to customers because different people are managing different sites or different brands without coordination.

There's good and bad news in the Altimeter report. The good news is that there's a growing number of vendors aimed at helping companies integrate their social media efforts. The bad news? It can be very difficult to distinguish between those vendors, which now number 30.

The available social media management programs range from freemium programs like Tweetdeck and HootSuite, which, at their free, basic levels allow users to monitor social media and time posts to sites like Facebook and Twitter. On the other end of the spectrum are more costly, enterprise-level packages that aim to integrate social media across global companies. Some examples of vendors in this category include Genesys, Sprinklr and Comufy.

Raytheon's Plans

One company eyeing an investment in a more integrated approach is Waltham-based Raytheon. Corinne Kovalsky, Raytheon's director of digital and social media, recently went through the process of selecting a social media management tool that would help the company move from a very centralized and inefficient workflow for social media to a "hub and spoke" model, in which the process of posting to social media sites would be decentralized.

Kovalsky and her team already have their hands full, keeping an eye on four Twitter accounts, several LinkedIn pages, two Facebook pages, a Google+ page and a Tumblr account.

When Raytheon was evaluating vendors, "a one-stop shop [was] really important," she said, adding that Raytheon wanted to avoid multiple accounts and sign-ons. It was also important to use a system that would allow more people to generate social media content, while not adding "risk to the process." In other words, the Raytheon team was looking for a tool that would allow various people to compose social media posts, but require oversight and editing before anything gets published. In the end, the company settled on Awareness Networks of Burlington.

Because this industry is still very new and growing, it's very difficult to find a complete list of vendors to evaluate. Altimeter's report is one place, but otherwise, it really requires some sleuthing, according to Kovalsky. She started her process with a basic Google search and sought recommendations from other marketers.

'Hub And Spoke' At EMC

One local company that has already moved to the "hub and spoke model" is Hopkinton-based data storage company EMC. The company has more than 100 social media accounts, according to Keith Paul, EMC's chief listener. On a corporate level, EMC focuses on five key sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Spiceworks, a networking site for those in the IT industry.

EMC uses a variety of tools to manage those accounts, including Buddy Media, Social Report, Jive and HootSuite. And so far, the company is finding success.
"These tools also help our social champions leverage common goals and techniques amongst each other, while also giving EMC some insight into how effective we make those connections," Paul said in an email interview.

In terms of goals, Paul acknowledges that even at a technology company like EMC, "business process are slow to change," but adds that "the more nimble among us can greatly influence how these processes evolve." And the beauty of social media, he points out, is the potential to gather valuable data to better help the company serve its customers.

And while it's a struggle today to integrate social media effectively to gather that all-important data, Owyang predicts that in time, it will become easier and more seamless.

Social media management tools "will disappear into the background, swallowed into a digital communication suite," he said. "When a new employee is hired, he or she will get a mobile phone, a desk, a computer, an email address and a social media account. It will all be linked into one system."

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Follow the people quoted in this column:

• Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group
@jowyang

• Corinne Kovalsky, Raytheon
@corinnekovalsky

• Keith Paul, EMC
@kemipa

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