#SMDay2017: How Social Media Became Essential for Business

Have you ever really thought about how much the world has changed since 2007? For instance, would anyone back then have thought that we would now be in our eighth year of celebrating Social Media Day?

Back when America Online CD-ROMs arrived daily in the mail, most Americans misunderstood that AOL was the Internet. By 2007, the same phenomenon was already happening with social media. MySpace, in its first five years, had flattened Friends Reunited and Friendster to become the dominant social networking platform.

MySpace hadn’t just conquered the marketplace, MySpace became the marketplace. For years, any mention of “social media” would conjure up images of the worst of the worst profile pages, with that jarring navigation, obnoxious animation and intrusive autoplay music. Wild, raw and untamed, MySpace was a multimedia assault on the senses. Few businesses cared to chase this wild beast. Truth be told, it was hard to see its strategic value in the workplace.

Of course, there weren’t many challengers on the early social media frontier. Even after seven years, only the most serious professionals were using LinkedIn. Twitter, only months old, was struggling to find an audience and a purpose. Facebook, which began as a university networking tool in 2004, was experiencing meteoric growth after finally allowing anyone (over 13) to join.

Adoption and acceptance was slow coming for one major reason. Social media was strictly a desktop experience that occurred far away from the action. It wasn’t very social and it wasn’t very scalable.

All things considered, you can imagine the hard sell that aspirational social media managers had ahead of them, approaching the C suite with proposals to “go social.” As one of those early explorers, I can tell you that the battle was not easily won.

Working in highly regulated industries, including financial services and health care, most of my leaders saw social media as a threat and a menace. I can remember a management meeting where none of the senior leaders wanted to own social media – not Public Relations, not Marketing, not HR, not Corporate Communications – because failure would mean career suicide.

Activating social media meant removing barriers – corporate policies, site access restrictions, even hardware and software – that prevented employees from participating in the conversation. Accepting and embracing social media meant up giving control: of the dialogue, of the reputation, of the brand. It wasn’t just what people would say about customers, but what employees might say about the company. As we encouraged our employees to become brand advocates, many expressed concern about the privacy of their online profiles and behaviors. Did the company now have a window into their personal lives that could be used against them?

When you haven’t lived in a transparent world, transparency can be terrifying. It’s when everyone starts embracing transparency that the real magic happens. Our groundswell didn’t just ignite – it went thermonuclear.

Everything changed very, very quickly after the iPhone launch in 2007. Within months, Facebook became the world’s largest social network, with more traffic than Google and double the membership of MySpace. Twitter became a real-time, organic newswire covering major world events. With ever-improving cellular bandwidth and camera quality, video became a core function of every social platform, making mobile interviews the new normal.

Early social media managers like myself watched culture and communications change before our eyes. Where we had always spoken with the voice of the company, we could now tell stories in the voices of our customers and employees. Where we had spent millions on traditional advertising with limited tracking or targeting, we were now able to attract, engage and grow audiences with minimal time and cost. Where others saw risk and incrimination, we began to see a more humanized and personalized brand. We learned that social media raised brand awareness and affinity that, if consistent and compelling, could eventually drive conversion and create brand loyalty.

In the world of work, employer branding evolved from an annual satisfaction survey to an everyday, all-day process. Employees, watching their brand behave one way online and another way in the real world, began to hold them accountable on social media. After the advent of Glassdoor, companies began to realize that reach alone wasn’t enough to attract top talent. Experience, and the reputation built by positive experience, are now more important than ever.

Mark Twain once said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Never before has this been more true than in our mobile-first, social-first, always-on world where everyone’s opinion matters. Today’s social media users wield powerful voices with dangerous consequences. Social media, once used only to share the news, now defines the global news cycle. One wrong tweet from the right influencer can devastate a brand’s reputation and destabilize its financial worth.

Know this: every experience, at every company, is under constant internal and external surveillance for success or failure. Employers, and their CEOs, are being reviewed on a daily basis. Sadly, most companies spend so much time reacting to negative experiences that they don’t even recognize positive experiences.

Today’s social media managers need to be multidisciplinary, with expertise in Public Relations, Corporate Communications, Marketing and HR, to operate with confidence and authority in the employer brand space. Social media isn’t about “going viral” anymore; it’s about reinforcing reputation, experience and relevance every single day.

On Social Media Day 2017, the brands that recognize this new mission are the brands who will win.


Posted by Michail Takach, Global Digital Director of Brand and Social. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.