The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Gets Social: The Social Media Strategist Offers a Deft Guide to Corporate Social Media Success

By Vickie Bates

Christopher Barger’s new book bridges two of the biggest gaps in the proliferating social media category: strategy and how to manage an effective social program in a large organization.

“Demands and expectations of big companies – and even laws governing their behavior – are different from those for individuals or small shops,” Barger notes in the introduction to The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out.

This is welcome insight for anyone working for corporations, institutions and other large organizations. Far too many popular social media tomes miss this basic distinction: “If you haven’t been inside a company or organization – if you don’t know corporate culture and bureaucracy, or have no experience navigating internal minefields – then you don’t know how to make social media work inside a company.”

Barger is just the person to tackle this subject from the insider’s perspective, having led early social media efforts at IBM and built the social program from the ground up at General Motors – two of the largest organizations going.

The Social Media Strategist provides a blueprint for communications and marketing professionals spearheading social programs in large organizations. It’s also for PR and marketing firms with large corporate clients.

The book walks you, chapter by chapter, through the seven elements required in an effective organizational social media program, including:

  1. The executive champion – the leader who secures adoption of the vision, backs the program with budget and headcount, and stops the spread of parallel programs.
  2. Organizational “ownership” of social media – and how to bring HR, Customer Service, IT, PR and Marketing to the table to collaborate.
  3. The social media evangelist – not a “rock star,” explains Barger, but “a business leader who is equally adroit inside your walls as outside – someone with the brand not just to represent it online but also to build social media into a business practice within that company.”
  4. Tangible metrics to track progress and effectiveness – solid information about establishing baseline metrics and creating, implementing and measuring social media activities that have a positive financial impact.
  5. Partnering with the legal department – beyond Federal Trade Commission guidelines and regulation of online activities to understanding the legal nuances of your own industry, vetting social media policy, developing a genuine partnership with lawyers, supporting their learning curve, and even getting the legal team to engage in online communities!
  6. Social media policy – what to include in policies and usage guides.
  7. Educating employees – an in-depth discussion about training, from policy adherence to teaching staff social media best practices to dispersing expertise throughout the organizational functions.

The book doesn’t really explore using social media for internal communications and offers minimal practical tips for gaining buy-in for functional ownership of the social media program if there are disagreements within your organization. But these could be topics for entire books and are minor quibbles when viewed against the strategic perspective of the whole.

Barger shares strategies for starting small – taking advantage of social media’s ability to target and engage customers where they live and in the local communities where you do business. Plus, there’s an intriguing chapter, entitled “Dealbreakers,” which provides astute advice for both organizations and practitioners when it comes to hiring or being hired into a social media team.

Social in Serious Situations

Barger’s expertise orchestrating large-scale social media programs is never more
apparent than in the last two chapters on crisis communications.

“When All Hell Breaks Lose” shares six case studies, including self-generated social media crises, customer service issues, and how to combat campaigns against your organization.

The final section is a full-chapter case study of the social media communications
program Barger and his team implemented at GM, announcing the company’s
Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. You couldn’t ask for a better roadmap for a social crisis communications plan than this chapter, which also focuses on what brands must do in the aftermath.

“Reputational recovery and repair requires follow-up. Lots of it,” he emphasizes. The people representing large companies need to remain in the social space, acting like human beings. They need to ask lots of questions, and, above all, listen to feedback.

Barger gets – and has worked inside – organizations that “cannot behave quite as openly as they might wish.” His experiences offer tremendous insight to those engaged in creating corporate programs that audiences want to be part of.

“Ultimately,” Barger concludes of organizational social media, “it still is about
relationships, humanizing, and people liking your brand or organization because they like your people. Humanizing your brand does no good for you unless people like the humans they meet from your brand.”



Vickie Bates - @nobadlanguage

Vickie  Bates is a communications consultant specializing in social media and employee communications. She is also a member of SMCLA. Her blog, No Bad Language, focuses on great writing and ‘no bad language.’ Follow her on Twitter and add her blog to your RSS feed!