Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Social Media Software + Silos Redux

This is a post I wrote for SocialFishing, but I thought I'd share it here as well. This is an issue I'm kind of obsessed with, in case you can't tell from the post. ; )

The big thing these days is social media software–everyone wants to get into the game. Whether it’s social media monitoring, social media management, social CRM, community platforms, social media measurement, the bottom line is that every company seemingly wants a piece of the social media pie. I mean, why wouldn’t they, with revenue from enterprise social software projected to surpass $769 million in 2011?

While it’s great for software companies, for associations, I think it’s a recipe for potential disaster in the form of redundancy and overspending, especially at large associations.

Why? Think about it. Large associations have large staffs which, in all likelihood, operate in silos. Each department probably is empowered to select software and services that they need to do their jobs effectively. Typically departments that use some kind of customized software may include advocacy, marketing, PR, education, web, publications, membership, fundraising meetings…to name just a few. Over the past few years vendors have been hard at work adding social features to the software that supports the functions of each of these deparments. Capwiz recently added a Facebook feature. Vocus added social media monitoring. Avectra acquired NFi Studios, a  white label online community platform. Small Act’s Thrive is a social media management system that helps organizations identify and nurture relationships with donors and influencers. HighWire Press’s H2O platform incorporates social features. iCohere features online discussion boards….as do content management systems like Ektron, community platforms like Higher Logic, and event community platforms like Conference 2.0. I could keep on going but I’ll spare you…suffice it to say there are a dizzying number of social media-related software solutions out there, and a lot of overlap among the features of many.

If each department within an association is using these technologies without knowing what other departments within the organization are using, there is a lot of redundancy of features going on. PR using Vocus’s social media monitoring and marketing using Radian6? Education using a learning management software platform and membership launching a white-label online community? The association publishing a blog featuring member posts, but members encouraged to publish their own blog posts in the online community? Event handouts housed in the online event community platform but members uploading their own handouts from the same event in the online community platform?

What is it that we want members to do and where do we want them to do it?

While association staff in each silo are focused on providing the most up-to-date solutions to members, not only is there the potential for costly overlap, but members are most likely going to be confused and overwhelmed by too many conflicting choices. The result of this feature overlap? Poor member experience and poor ROI for these often expensive software solutions.

How can associations avoid overlap and overspending on social software? For small associations, this is probably a non-issue, as organizational culture and internal processes frequently keep these kinds of issues from occurring. But larger staff organizations are potentially headed for trouble.

If I were the head of a large staff association this is what I’d be doing as soon as I finished reading this post: asking myself “what systems do we have in place to prevent this from happening here?” And this is how I’d then answer: do you currently have procedures in place where the COO or the CTO–or, even better yet, both–know what software services each and every department are using, including a breakdown of costs for add-on social media offerings? Are departments communicating with each other when considering new social media-related services? Is there someone on staff who understands social media well enough to distinguish between which features are best addressed by one platform over another, and is that person empowered to keep less knowledgeable staff from opting into costly features that will go unused or that are unnecessary? Is that person in the loop to be included in all demos and decisions about future software purchases and/or contracts? If the answer any or all of these questions is no, I’d say there’s a decent chance you’re already spending money you don’t need to and potentially confusing members in the bargain.

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