The emergence of social media as a core business function has created enormous opportunities for public relations and communications professionals to get a bigger piece of the organizational pie—an opportunity, to be sure, but one that isn’t without its fair share of challenges. Among those challenges: Moving away from an organizational mind-set that operated in silos, where any given department—human resources, marketing, investor relations, etc.—worked toward its own objectives with little-to-no interest in the activities of their colleagues down the hall.
Social media turned that vertical model inside out and upside down, as transparency, stakeholder empowerment and two-way conversations demanded more cohesive messaging, and more collaboration among all organizational departments.
As communications professionals well know, this evolution enhanced their value in the eyes of senior management. But with this power comes great responsibility—in this case, leading the movement to integrate communications, especially the digital sort—across the entire company.
“Social media is an engine of organizational transformation and requires recognition that social media is not just a marketing/communications issue, but an organizational issue,” says Rob Key, CEO of Converseon. “Listening [to conversations among various stakeholder groups] and acting on what you hear should be integrated across the enterprise, including R&D, product development, communications/marketing and customer service.”
How, then, should communications executives facilitate this integration, and do so in a manner that can deliver measurable results along the way?
â–¶ Think in terms of reputation. Reputation management has been a huge impetus for senior managers to welcome communications executives into the C-suite, and it remains a viable argument for the need for a wholly integrated communications function and strategy.
“It’s really up to the communications professionals to be at the table insisting on that degree of transparency, and to ensure that the messages being delivered to every audience are consistent and complete,” says Reid Walker, vice president of global communications and sponsorships at Lenovo. “There will be a lot of other players advocating for decisions to be made in certain ways, but they may not be considering—or even have the skills to understand—how those decisions will affect the company’s reputation.”
â–¶ Get (re)organized. For integrated communications to be truly effective, organizational structures must be altered to accommodate more streamlined reporting relationships.
Fortunately, according to various industry studies, this appears to be happening (see sidebar). Changes in reporting relationships have given many heads of communications more direct access to the CEO. For example, according to Jose Zavala, director of global communications at Fox Mobile Group, his group reports directly to the CEO.
This is an ideal scenario, as it implies unprecedented access to available resources, including valuable data “owned” by multiple departments that can inform messaging and measurement strategies. Communications executives’ involvement in senior-level decision making is also crucial to preserving the message consistency and transparency that is so necessary today.
To take steps to reorganize internally to facilitate integration, Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, recommends the following approaches:
• Creating informal communications councils;
• Creating a unique “communications integration manager” position; and,
• Leveraging technology.
â–¶ Let technology be the driver, and embrace the vast gray area of metrics it is likely to produce. Technology is rapidly becoming one of the only ways to arrive at a fully integrated business strategy that is ready and able to speak to every stakeholder group in its own language without compromising the core brand identity.
“Social media is a primary driver of organizational transformation that transcends marketing and communications,” Key says. “Most brands are not organized effectively to act.”
Part of the disorganization can be upended by its very catalyst: social media.
“Nearly everything we do today from an integrated marketing perspective lives on the Web in one form or another, from banner ads to viral video to online earned media, to blogger seeding,” Walker says. “That makes it nearly impossible to establish clear delineations and discrete cause-and-effect measurements to pinpoint the source for increased awareness and favorability, demand generation or traffic for online purchases.”
This absence of clear delineations doesn’t have to be a disadvantage when it comes to fostering and measuring integrated communications efforts; rather, it can actually serve as an impetus for multiple functions to work collaboratively.
“The reality is that if our combined communications activities are all working together seamlessly and are surrounding our customers with mutually reinforcing messages that drive purchase influence and traffic to our site, then that’s a success metric we are more than happy to live with,” Walker says. “In the future, I anticipate that we will benefit from improved Web analytics that can provide greater specificity and historical context regarding individual customer or audience message receptivity, uptake and resulting behavioral outcomes. Armed with this type of data, we’ll be able to direct integrated marketing campaigns using all the communications tools available in a much more targeted and efficient manner.” PRN
Reid Walker, firstname.lastname@example.org; Rob Key, email@example.com; Paul Argenti, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jose Zavala, email@example.com