What Comes First, Multichannel Integration or Social Business?

FUTURISTIC HOUSE by Architect Ephraim Henry Pavie
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Most of the online hype about organizational social media adoption revolves around the “social business” craze. In my conversations, most businesses say they’re grappling with the multichannel integration into marketing. It begs the question, “What will come first, the full integration of social media into the marketing wheelhouse or the widespread rise of socially-enabled enterprises?”

Last January, we debated whether social business was BS or reality. It’s a good question, and one that’s still not fully answered in my mind.

That’s not to belittle my many talented colleagues who are working towards the goal of a social media empowered business. Social business acknowledges that the media form empowers two-way dialogue between disparate groups of people in different roles — not just marketers and customers. I, too, have dreamed of the “social enterprise,” and even wrote a white paper on the topic back in 2008.

The problem with social business adoption lies in three crucial areas: First, the actual nature of business — its traditional industrial era structure (silos) — and the way companies culturally adapt to new technologies conflicts with the ideal. It requires business to reform processes to enable conversations with customers, a mighty challenge as time has proven. Throw in the challenge to completely do business differently, and well, you have the many issues that we see to this day with businesses struggling to adapt social.

Just a refresher on some statistics:

Second, the wide varying definitions offered for social business muddy the picture. Some say social business is simply adapting conversations across marketing, or worse, thinly veiled stand-alone social campaigns. I think it’s more than that. The social enterprise is one that embraces two-way conversations with customers AND employees AND other stakeholders to impact some or all of its business operations, not just marketing.

Lastly, the wide range of definitions is complimented by an equally disparate group of solutions. These include complicated software offerings from technology companies like IBM, PR firms like Edelman and Ogilvy, and then social media consultants, some battle-tested in corporate cultures and others who have learned their wares in the Twittersphere. With a wide range of offerings comes an equally varying quality level.

Unfortunately the bottom feeders will likely doom social business solutions to a cliched sales pitch rather than a veritable movement. The term “social business” could come and go as quickly as e-Anything, .com, and 2.0, and with less success.

Why Multichannel Integration Will Come First

Futuristic city
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The social business ideal is a good one, and one that business should strive to reach. God knows that some companies like mainstays Dell and smaller unheard of players such as Newly Weds Foods and Red Funnel (see IBM’s Social Business page) are leading the way. In reality, most businesses will address multichannel marketing integration of social first.


Easy, businesses are lazy, and integrated marketing with social is the easiest thing to do first. It affects their bottom line, and businesses are profit oriented. Increasing direct sales impact makes more sense to a company driven by quarterly dividends and/or short term profits than full operational integration of social media. Further, integration within the larger communications mix delivers better marketing results with social media.

Secondly, executives and marketers understand integrated and multichannel. Integrated marketing is a commonly accepted best practice dating back to the 90s when it was the craze. Since then we’ve had the dot com bust and the social media revolution. The current integration movement incorporates new social and mobile tools into the larger fold, as opposed to redefining business as we know it.

Finally, businesses have already had a fair amount of time playing with social media, and most of them struggled to deliver hard financial results. Asking them to take a deeper commitment and change their business makes little to no sense when they are still struggling to use social effectively as a marketing tool set. Asking them to use the tools more strategically as part of a larger mix is much less risky.

I’m not saying multichannel is visionary. I am saying it’s the easier softer way for companies to improve social performance.

For the record, even with integrated marketing efforts businesses won’t have an easy time with social because of their cultural issues. Two-way conversations remain difficult for businesses, but it will be easier than the social business ideal. At the same time, successful multichannel integration can pave the way towards larger social business initiatives across the organization.

Which do you think will become widely adapted first, multichannel integration of social media into marketing or social business?

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