Marketing’s Social Media Sin of Omission

Marketing’s Social Media Sin of Omission

The Internet is filled with articles, discussions, and blogs on how managers should “market” to employees.  We are told the best ways to motivate them.  We discuss the best ways to communicate with them.  We blog on how to “engage” them.

What is fascinating to me is that, for the most part, all these discussions, expositions, and explorations of the subject assume a completely internal world view.  We want to motivate them to work harder and be more productive.  We want to communicate the company’s financial objectives and (in today’s economy) the need for cost-cutting.  And we want to “engage” them in actively achieving these cost-cutting and financial objectives.

 The communications aspect of all this is, of course, HR’s job, with more or less senior management support and action (usually in the form of a speech or a “To All Employees” memo).

But search the literature as you will, you find very few discussions of making employees partners in a company’s external marketing campaign to the customers and prospects.

One exception is a little viewed article from 2009 by Augie Ray.  His position is that “the careless and irresponsible actions of individual employees have been shared with millions of consumers, harming the organization’s reputation, moving the brand off message, distracting leadership, requiring urgent PR response, and forcing organizational reconsideration of management processes.”

Even customer service reps usually have to pick up marketing’s message by osmosis.  After all, their job isn’t to engage with customers.  It’s to answer their questions or handle their complaints – and get them off the line.  In fact, they are often timed on how long it takes them to do it.  If they can up-sell, fine; but do it fast!

And I would contend that this over-all situation amounts to a marketing sin of omission.

While we spend our time trying to create an effective social media presence, while we hire SEO firms and “social media marketing managers,” we cheerfully ignore a tremendous social media marketing asset:  employees.  But this asset needs to be cultivated and informed about marketing.

Employees exist outside of the four walls of their workplace.  Many of them (probably most of the younger workers) have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Most of them are on their Facebook pages daily, and many of them tweet often.  All of them have people they influence – who have people they influence in turn.  That is the marketing power of social media, particularly Facebook.

Talk about a missed opportunity…

Even Christine Geraci’s excellent blog on using employees to go viral misses a key point.  It is not enough to have a “social media strategy” or a “road map for employee participation.”

Marketers spend no time ensuring that over-all strategy, carefully crafted messages, product positioning, competitive positioning, or any other “marketing” function is conveyed to employees with anything like the care it lavishes on external communications mechanisms.

We leave it to HR to communicate with employees.  Ray even goes on to suggest that since employees are on social media, potential employees should be personality tested by HR to ensure “they fit the brand,” that they be selected for “key social communications roles” in case they “become a viral media star.”  And so on.

This is silly, of course, carrying the need for employees to be marketing-aware to ludicrous lengths.

Rather, let’s look at real life in a real world business context:  Most employees are inherently loyal.  They want to believe that they are working for a good company, with good products and services they can be proud of.

How many employees are there in your company?  Five?  Fifty?  Five thousand?  Every one of these people is a potential spokesperson for your company and your products/services.

Doesn’t it make sense to ensure that they speak with the same voice we are working so hard to create on company web sites and blogs, on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter?

HR can’t do this.  Human resources people are not marketers.  It is not their job to be fluent in the company’s marketing strategy.  It is not their job to craft messages that resonate with customers and prospects. Personality testing won’t do this.  Spending the time and energy to find employees who “fit the brand” won’t do this; and it certainly won’t help as brands evolve, new products are developed, and strategies change.

But it is marketing’s job to lay out the key messages, strategy, and perceived market opportunities so that all employees understand them.  And it is marketing’s opportunity to leverage employee loyalty and pride into the social media marketplace.  Not everyone will join the marketing campaign, of course.  But doesn’t it make sense to arm them if they do choose to join the fray?  Leaving that to someone else is a potentially costly sin of omission.







8 thoughts on “Marketing’s Social Media Sin of Omission

  1. Dr. Coleman,

    Good for you! As usual you are right on the money and the problem as I see it is that most organizations take their employees too much for granted and don’t even think that they need to do what you have written about. Ergo, the employees feel estranged from their own organizations and don’t connect with the marketing that is created.

    Chuck Carey

  2. Amen, Emily. I (product marketing) once worked for a company that decided it wasn’t worth my time to do a company-wide internal launch for a new software release. I only needed to launch to Sales, Support and Client Services. This came right from the top. No matter how big of a company you run, you absolutely HAVE to launch and message internally, to everyone! Funny thing is, it’s the easiest most captive audience to hit.

    • Yes, it makes me very queasy to see the way employees are ignored by marketing – or senior management. There is sometimes a presumption that all you have to do is order them to do what you want with no explanation. It is really quite de-humanizing and very poor business.

  3. I’m of the mind that Jeff Epstein expresses. We can hold the marketing team responsible, for their part, for sure. And, yes, Marketers should not be missing the important task of communicating to the entire organization when budgets, leadership, culture, and time allows.

    However, looking around at the decimated marketing teams in companies I work with, They are stretched so thin in the midst of economic decline, multiple downsizing events and corporate distress – it’s hard to pistol-whip them much more for a failure at the top. The “stretch-goal” to get through a downturn is now compounded with the demands that investment in Social Media as a channel of communication increases the demand on small marketing teams, exponentially. On top of that, the evolving increased demand for bottom-line metrics-based, marketing contribution. The marketing staffs in many companies are bloodied beyond recognition, and go to work every day in fear for their jobs.

    If the C-suite is going to staff the marketing function at 20% of necessary capacity to “do it all, then the C-suite needs to know that expectations must be lowered by 80% and these new expectations must be pervasively communicated across and throughout the organization, .”

    Asking the remaining skeleton marketing group to define, set expectations and meet expectations across the company, with sub-par leadership in the CMO seat, no executive leadership over marketing at all, or the broken move to just have the few remaining marketing coordinators report to Sales is a proposition that can never succeed.

    I agree that HR is the wrong place to look. It’s rare that the VP of HR that has the knowledge and skill set to identify this mismatch between expectations of marketing, and the bench-strength it has. Proof point for me is all the HR consultants in this area!

    When organization is the root cause, as is common in today’s economy, I don’t see how marketing is solely responsible for this kind of fundamental breakdown. This case is a No Win situation. I recommend marketers in that situation, to look for a new job.

    • And yet, Andrew, marketing has time and money to hire social media managers, mobile marketing managers, etc. Marketing may be stretched thin; but it is also doing its best to become thinner yet by chasing the current fashions in marketing…

  4. It seems to me that this boils down to a clearly defined strategy that is clearly communicated throughout the organization. The problem to approaching this is the very ubiquitous silo approach of today’s organization. If social media truly fits into leveraging the unique selling proposition as part of the overall brand strategy, then it makes sense to devote some resources to it, and involving employees in it. But if utilizing social media s just for the sake of keeping up with a trend, then it’s not just the sin of omission, but also the sin of misused resources.

    • You are right, of course. But it seems to me that there is a use for social media in the marketing mix. And it is simply nuts for marketing to ignore employees in their messaging and outreach efforts – even if we assume away social media. People still talk to people, and they can either convey the message we’ve worked so hard to develop, or not.

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