Social Media To Cost 20 Percent Of Budget

Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 17 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last seven years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky's and Moe's Southwestern Grill).

For your retail social media strategy to work, you're going to need to put 20 percent of your budget toward that strategy. You will also have to keep doing that for the next three to five annual budgets. That's a radical change from the way you probably think about social media. Forget just hiring a "Twintern" to manage the reputation of your brand in the social space. The toughest part of any solid social strategy is the business-case pitch to the executive team. The new world of everything "social" will absolutely be a game-changer for business as we know it. But it will absolutely not happen overnight. And it certainly won't be cheap.

A bunch of people out there want you to believe social media and social networks are the ultimate shortcut in the world of business. I, however, am here to say that except for a lucky few, that is not the case.

If anything, social has made it harder—not easier—to succeed in business, because the playing field has been leveled. After all, solo entrepreneurs have a greater social media reach than some of the world's top brands. For example, there is a guy whose YouTube videos are watched over 3 million times each, and that same guy produces new videos twice a week. Would you believe he is having "apartment issues"? Is that a success story?

I have always taken the approach that a good social strategy is simply a different lens on a good business strategy. I've spent a lot of time working with various functional groups in my organization trying to get an effective social strategy in place. I really feel that these tools are going to change the way we all do business. And I can see that a few "tweets" and a few more "fans" or "friends" are not going to produce bottom-line results. I believe IT needs to take a leadership role in a company’s social strategy, helping the business partners avoid shooting themselves in the foot.

As a result, I decided to network with others who feel the same way. That is when I found the Social Executive Council (SEC), a group of senior executives who are the social thought-leaders within their organizations. The group includes marketing folks, PR people and, of course, IT leaders. Various businesses, such as retail, B2B, brands and service companies, are represented.

The members of the SEC get it. They understand that business fundamentals haven't changed. Instead, the way we communicate and interact with each other has.When I talked to SEC Founder Judy Mod about the "free, overnight success" myth surrounding social media that is being sold to so many marketers today, she told me that she tells senior executives they need to start thinking about social business in terms of budgeting—and to allocate 20 percent of their budgets to social media over the next three to five years.

"When they pick themselves off the floor from shock, I explain that the impact to business is that disruptive," Mod said. "When you are talking about major budgets across many companies, you realize the disruption could be as impactful as many of the technology disruptions we have seen in the last few decades."

Are you prepared to put 20 percent of your budget toward your social strategy? And are you ready to pitch the business case for making the investment in that social strategy to your executive team?

Well, a radical change like this does not come without some significant impact to IT. (Isn't it all just about IT anyway?) I am a strong believer that the most critical element of this fundamental business shift will be the impact it has on how we capture, manage and consume data. I have been working diligently to design a new information architecture that will meet the needs of this new world.

A solid social strategy is not based on an iPhone app or a viral video. The folks who are hiring a "Twintern" to manage the reputation of their brand in the social space might get some short-term PR over the idea of hiring such a role. But the companies that embrace social media as the new PR—well, that's a whole different ball of wax.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make when executing a social strategy is delegating strategy to junior people and then wondering why the firm doesn't get a real value out of social media. How many "what were we thinking?" Web sites did we see in the 1990s? We also see companies silo their efforts in social media from their business initiatives.

At the end of the day, if your social strategy isn't driven by your main business drivers, 90 percent of the value of "social" is left on the table. Bu the real disruptive threat is that you open the door for a competitor to leverage that 90 percent to lower its cost of customer acquisition at your expense.

My advice to everyone who is considering the next steps in a social strategy: Focus on doing business socially, not on doing social business. Start with a strategy. Then set goals. Next, build a plan. Execute it violently. Brag.

Term Of The Week: "Social Scrooge"—slang for business leaders who believe they must enforce tighter controls on social media than they do on the Web or in E-mail. "Our executives are a bunch of Social Scrooges. They have implemented a zero-tolerance policy about using Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at work. There go my sales leads."

What do you think? Leave a comment, or E-mail me at [email protected]. You can also follow me on Twitter: @todd_michaud.