Social Media Success is More Than Skin Deep

Augie Ray from Forrester wrote an awesome post about the difference between social media success and social media marketing success. He makes the great example of three retailers whose stores he recently visited, two of which were horribly staffed and maintained--yet those same two stores boast "successful" social media campaigns. Social media marketing-wise they're doing everything right: engaging fans, enabling social sharing features in their online stores, doing special promotions for fans, etc. I have no doubt their marketers are gloating about the million Facebook fans they have attracted, or the authentic way in which they are engaging customers. But who cares if the fitting rooms look like pigstys and the registers are inadequately staffed?

I see this a lot. Social media is the shiny thing and there's lots of acclaim for those who do it. I hear stories every day of social media doers who write their tickets to the big-time: book deals, big raises, big-name job hops. Yes, there are downsides to social media jobs--lots of them--but there are also many benefits, not the least of which is some measure of job security. In a crap economy and job market, if you have experience doing social media marketing or community management, you're definitely in a better position than many other job seekers. It is, after all, the year of the community manager, right?

The thing is that, while the recent trend of social media and community management jobs being super hot is great from the employee perspective, as far as it translating into making every company the next Zappos, forget it. Look at Comcast, at Pepco...and, in the spirit of ASAE's annual meeting that's wrapping up today, look at associations who are "embracing" social media. Just how deep does this commitment to putting the customer (or member) first and being transparent and open go?

In the cases of Pepco and Comcast, both are companies who are doing a great job with their social media stuff--especially Twitter. But does that mean the rest of the company scales with that commitment to the customer, to a great product and experience all the way through? And how about associations? ASAE is a good example. They've got their mobile apps, their online community platform, their blog (which rocks), great use of video, bases covered with incorporating social elements into their magazine, etc. They've got some super smart awesome employees who are truly committed to optimizing social media use. But then they have senior leaders who don't actually believe what they're selling at every event: that associations MUST embrace social media. Because they're not embracing it. Their culture is still about stuffy politics and committees; they still ignore the dozens of blog posts about stuff members wish they'd change or address; and they still operate like a old-guard association mired in hierarchy and "we've always done it this way."

Not to call out just ASAE--an organization which, despite the things I don't like I still have respect for; associations, for all their talk about how the importance of social media, are almost uniformly only scratching the surface when it comes to social media. As Augie Ray puts it "The difference is not found on Facebook or Twitter but in the ways companies are led." So an association is "embracing" social media and has the fans and followers to prove it; does that mean anything else about the organization's operations has changed? Are org charts being recallibrated to reflect the nature of open communication and transparency? Are silos disolving? Are outmoded ways of doing things being discontinued? In short, is this about embracing social media because it's one of the ways to make the organization, through and through, the best it can be for members, or is it so associations can check off the "we're using social media!" checkbox?

If it's the latter, do everyone a favor and just skip it.