"The very factors that make social media so easy for individuals are what make it a sprawling mess for organizations," Joshua Michele Ross said in the introduction to his presentation on social media architecture at Web 2.0 Expo, a UBM TechWeb/O'Reilly Media event in New York.
Ross is a senior VP and director of digital strategy for Europe with Fleishman Hillard, a global communications firm. He has also served as a guest lecturer at Harvard and has spoken and written widely about digital strategy. He is a former VP of O'Reilly Media. His presentation was abstracted from a free e-book download he makes available on his website, Opposable Planets.
For the most part, he did not discuss architecture in terms of technology architecture--more like basic planning that most companies are failing to do when they create a new Facebook page for every marketing campaign or product launch. "We need to move from pages and campaigns to thinking about what's the durability of those," Ross said.
[Learn how one major corporation is leveraging Twitter and Facebook to deliver better customer support. Roomba Robots Listen To Social Media.]
Big company social media architectures today tend to look something like the Winchester Mystery House, the San Francisco landmark famous for its maze-like corridors and staircases that lead nowhere, Ross said.
As a first step to gaining control over the sprawl, he suggests diagramming out all the social media presences an organization has established and their relationships to each other. In the process of taking a full inventory, the organization will likely identify multiple redundant or overlapping efforts that need to be combined or coordinated in some way. From there, an information architect can begin to map out a navigation scheme and do a better job of directing users from one page or profile to another in a way that makes business sense, he said. Alternatively, there may be a justification for creating multiple pages to serve different communities or people who speak different languages--but those choices should be planned, not accidental, he said.
"You need to determine what's really unique from an outside perspective," Ross said.
Because this is social media, information architects also need to think through the "link/like structure" of their social media efforts--the specific actions they are asking users to take to engage with a site, application, or brand, Ross said.
One way of achieving greater consistency is to establish a simple checklist of considerations for every social media initiative, Ross said. In other words, just as no architect in the brick-and-mortar world would design a house without addressing its structural, electrical, and plumbing requirements and presenting them to a building inspector, every social media architecture ought to have a standard checklist of requirements. Some of the things to consider including would be a service level agreement, like the maximum allowed time for responding to a customer support inquiry, he said.
The desire for corporate control also needs to be balanced against the need for autonomy and initiative, Ross said, offering that it's usually "better to empower the people in the local communities and local markets who know what's going on." Those people also need to be given clear guidelines about what they can say and do online, he said.
Some of the organizations achieving the most success in social media, such as Best Buy, do so by empowering every employee to help represent the company online, providing a very broad base of customer support, Ross said. On the other hand, he suggested establishing a formal certification program for people who will be authorized to speak as the official voice of the company on social media.
Automated tools are important to managing social media at scale, but it's a mistake to select a software tool or cloud service and think you've solved the problem, Ross said. "There's a much more human, multivariate relationship you need to have with the outside world," he said.
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