Why, it’s déjà vu all over again

Managing social media gives corporate web executives familiar challenges, the advent of the iPad lends them hope of coping more easily, David Bowen says.

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Earlier this month [June] we held our annual Web Effectiveness Conference, in Munich. With 60 online managers from big organisations in Europe and the US joining in, the conference acted as a super focus group. A good place to spot trends and canvas views.
The overwhelming feeling was that the delegates were excited by the future, but had too many current challenges to spend long pondering it. The good news is that some of these challenges are at the cutting edge and moving fast; the bad news is that others are the same old story. Ignorant bosses, uncooperative colleagues and incompetent agencies just don’t seem to go away.

iPad, uPad

To start with the exciting bits. One theme stood out – apps – and I homed in on it in my last column. But others emerged, not just in the speeches but in the reaction and general chatter. Apps are at the top of the list simply because they have sprung from nowhere in the past year. An important point I touched on only lightly in my last column is that they also seem to be getting to the top of budget lists because so many bosses use and understand them. Which in turn is because they have iPads. Which is turn is because the iPad is an affordable (to bosses) toy that can also be justified in business terms. If that isn’t a ready-made business school case study, I don’t know what is.

Crowd view on social media

Next stop, social media. In the four years our conference has been running, the mood among the audience has shifted from scepticism on this issue to inquisitiveness to informed acceptance-cum-scepticism. In other words, people (or at least web managers) now have a pretty good understanding of how to handle it.
Before the conference we carried out a survey of our network of online managers; during it, we had a workshop. There are five clear points of consensus.
•No one can now ignore social media.
•There is variation in understanding about what it actually is. Everyone agrees that Facebook, Linked In and Twitter are social media. There is almost but not complete acceptance of YouTube, Flickr, online forums and blogs. But majority exclusion of podcasts and RSS.
•Social media most affects reputation management and engaging with stakeholders.
•The big issue now is governance. Our survey showed that almost everyone thinks that web and social media channels should be managed together. It also showed that only 21 per cent are already doing that; a further 63 per cent say they are planning to. Additional confirmation that social media has moved beyond the hype phase came with majority agreement that social media is ‘simply a set of channels that should sit alongside the website’.
•This is turn leads onto a mass of detail problems, which came up in the workshop: senior management buy-in, technical issues, need for guidelines, etc. In other words, all the things so familiar to anyone managing websites.

Same old same old

And there were plenty of moans about the same old governance issues, including a hair-raising story from a manager who started by saying ‘I am a website relaunch survivor’. As a tale of internal squabbling and woeful incompetence poured out, there was much empathetic nodding across the hall. Will the situation ever get better? It is, as more bosses and colleagues understand the principles if not the detail; but progress is painfully slow in many organisations.
Crisis and reputation management: a recurring theme at the conference, with some strong but very off-the-record stories (latest issue – making sure delegates don’t tweet, which is a deprivation for some of them).

Gains from pain

Finally, there was a good deal of discussion about how online managers can benefit at a time of budget cuts; currently more relevant for the public sector than the private, but always useful. One case study – also off the record – showed just how the numbers add up when you propose moving from paper to digital. Factor in the iPad, a device that even technophobes seem to accept, and we suddenly have real movement.
In fact, if I had to come up with a single Big Shift, it would have to be the arrival of the iPad and its rivals. They act as a bridge between computers and the Great Unwired – by which I don’t mean the poor (that’s another story), but the many people who still don’t really like computers. Many of these are at the top of organisations; convert them, and the life of the online manager becomes so much easier.

First published 29 June, 2011
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