I’ve had the opportunity to speak with communications folks at two very large organizations in the past few days: one a Fortune 500 company, the other a national nonprofit (neither is a client).  Both are eager to use more social media (especially Twitter) for branding and PR. Both are stifled – OK strangled – by the silo-ing of who does what, internally and externally, in marketing, communications AND website management at their respective organizations.

I found it dismaying to hear the uncertainty and even fear in the voices of the smart people with whom I was speaking. 

Nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter has written about the silo culture. It’s no surprise. Corporate roles and titles are built on org charts and based on hierarchy. We all know this. The social media mindset is completely opposite: flattened hierarchies, overlapping roles, entrepreneurialism. Still, I found it dismaying to hear the uncertainty and even fear in the voices of the smart people with whom I was speaking. If they were to start using some of the social media platforms, how would that tie into their overall communications strategy? What if… something they tried was not 100 percent congruent with their corporate messaging? They had so many questions. And they were not happy that I didn’t have all the answers:

Where should they look for proven examples of success using social media? For the Fortune 500 company, the answer was staring them in the face. But they didn’t seem able – or did not want – to see it. This particular company is successfully deploying social media strategies for its own clients. But hasn’t gotten around to using social media to promote their own brand. Different departments, you see.

They had lots of specific questions:

Who should take ownership of the corporate Twitter account(s)? (It depends. Corporate communications is usually a good department.)

Who should Twitter? (Several people can tweet, thanks to tools like Hootsuite and CoTweet. But you can’t force someone to be a Twitterer. It has to be in their DNA, as for successful corporate blogging.)

How will they get followers? (By tweeting really good content; not a constant refrain of Us, Us, Us. It can be hard to figure out how to do that. That’s why there are corporate social media consultants.)

What results could I guarantee if they launched one or more corporate Twitter accounts? The answer to the last question, of course, is “None… there are no guaranteed results when you use social media for marketing, PR or promotional goals.” It depends how well you use the platforms. It depends how far you can stray from a stiff, impersonal corporate identity. It depends how you tie Twittering into your Facebook account, your YouTube page, your blog and corporate site. There’s a reverberation effect when all are working together.

It also depends, in the end, whether you’ve got buy-in from the higher ups. Are they willing to look at your social media efforts as more than a “little experiment” or an “add-on”? Only a small number of large companies, to date, have embraced completely the social media mindset: Dell (listen to chief blogger Lionel Menchaca), Southwest Air, Kodak, to name a few.

My recommendations

If you don’t have buy-in yet, my advice is as follows:

– Start small.

– Pick one social media platform. (Twitter is a good one to start with, as it’s easier and faster to get off the ground than a corporate blog.)

– Get really good at using it.

– Then go back to management and show them your one small success.

– Rinse and repeat.

And one more thing, if you’ve been “tasked” with adding social media to your current marketing and communcations and you feel truly uncomfortable doing so, then by all means speak up. Pass this opportunity onto someone else on your team. But note that I used the word opportunity. For that’s exactly what it is.

Perfecting the art of sticky Twittering (whereby your tweets get re-tweeted and noticed and you get more and more followers) is your BIG CHANCE to start developing your own personal brand. No one can count on their corporate job these days. We all know that. You need to own your digital footprint. So if you’re a corporate denizen and reading this, go for it!