October 2, 2013 4:17 pm

The Social Media MBA in Practice, by Christer Holloman

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The Social Media MBA in Practice, by Christer Holloman, Wiley, £16.99/$27.95

So you have a corporate Twitter account and a Facebook page. Now what?

More than three-quarters of companies recently surveyed by the Harvard Business Review use social media channels or are about to. Forrester, the research group, predicts that US marketers alone will spend $4.8bn on social media tactics this year.

But it remains hard to decide if any of this is working – return on investment is difficult to measure. And there have been plenty of missteps. Big retail brands such as Gap, JC Penney, Nordstrom and Gamestop, for example, rushed to open shops on Facebook in 2011 only to close them less than a year later because they were not generating any business.

Nearly a decade in, the discussion about social media is no longer whether to do it, but how to do it more cleverly, measure it better and avoid the known pitfalls. The Social Media MBA in Practice, a follow-up by Christer Holloman to his The Social Media MBA published just 18 months ago – which arguably shows how fast this area is moving – tries to address this. Through case studies ranging from Honda to the Minnesota Wild ice hockey team, he looks at what strategies have worked so far.

Non-MBA readers be warned. This is very much a business school-style book, full of buzzwords, jargon and using 10 words where one will do. Somedescriptions of companies might have been cribbed from the corporate brochure. But if you can ig­nore that and get to the real meat of the case studies, there is plenty of good advice.

Facebook, for example, has helped the Israeli foreign affairs ministry make contact with people in the Arab-speaking world, in places where no physical embas­sy can be founded and Israeli websites are block­ed. There is no evidence yet that this has resulted in any material warming of relations, but the page does generate discussion where none was possible before, and it is an example of brand building in hostile circumstances. Com­panies trying to recov­er from a consumer backlash might learn something from the Israeli approach, which includes a kind, of­ficial, explanatory tone, respectful use of high-level Arabic language, and variety of content.

Getting companies to understand that social media are not about broadcasting information at customers, but having conversations, sharing and often giving up “control”, is a recurring theme in the book. Hobart, the professional kitchen equipment company, for example, created a movement called “Get Back to Scratch”, which gave people in the food industry a website where they could talk about their love of preparing food from scratch. Much of the content came from baking enthusiasts and was more about recipes than anything overt­ly to do with Hobart mixers, but by hosting the discussion the company gained brand awareness that an ap­­pliance manufacturer might otherwise struggle to achieve.

There is an emphasis on having genuine conversations with customers. But for anyone looking for a “silver bullet” – a secret tip on how to get that corporate video to go viral – this book will disappoint. Study after study reiterates this point: soc­ial media are not a quick fix.

Play.com, the online ret­ailer, may have increased its social media fan base from 35,000 to 380,000 within a year by making its social posts more fun, engaging and varied. But Holloman says: “There was no watershed moment or standout post that increased the value of the social channel for them.”

Companies grind out their social media victories through incremental im­prove­ments and consistency. Paul Beadle, social media strategist at Nationwide, the lender, puts it best: “Don’t be lulled by the snake-oil salesmen ‘social’ gurus . . . social media is just a new ap­proach to good old-fashioned customer service.”

It is not an exciting message, but it is a helpful one.

The writer is a social media journalist at the FT

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