· 3 min read · Features

Harness the corporate digital footprint


Despite all the advances in technology, many organisations are still constrained to operate in an archaic IT landscape that may lack the capacity to embrace today’s social media networks and associated connectivity requirements.

Upgrading technology is a complex task, especially when balancing business-as-usual, client and internal demands with a strategic vision for increased speed of competitive advantage. Little wonder that with economic and operational pressures, allocating significant spend on state-of-the-art technology infrastructures, not to mention the added complexity of re-aligning customer platforms, may lack prioritisation. Circumnavigating these inevitable operational constraints are individual employees utilising their own, preferred technology equipment, which can bolster their confidence in their capacity to personally deliver.

The context is indeed challenging - yet the opportunities are out there.

Much has been written about the social media boom and its impact on businesses and this area is advancing at a far greater pace than many other corporate issues, with significant consequences for organisations.

The explosion of social media networks has created major opportunities for companies and employees alike, with some employees in key positions encouraged by management to flourish as thought leaders and entrepreneurs, to develop their professional networks. With the unprecedented reach of the social networks, members of the social media community can develop a loyal following and their readers will track them wherever they go. This can be a positive while they are with your organisation, and a negative should they leave and take their 'loyal following' with them.

Mastering the social media tools and creating a significant digital footprint can produce huge benefits for organisations, however, securing ownership of this digital footprint has yet to be contractually articulated. Users of the social media highway don't want to communicate with brands, they want to communicate with people. This is one area where numerous companies have come unstuck.

Many employees established Facebook and Twitter accounts long before the company they work for did, and they continue to be active in their use of them. It is strategically essential for organisations to consider how best to leverage and align the personal digital footprints of their employees, while ensuring that their brands' digital footprints grow exponentially to those they employ.

While responsibility for managing the organisation's digital footprint may lie with the chief information officer, linking it to technological connectivity, what is required today is a different set of competencies and business-related expertise. Corporate social media is a rapidly evolving area where aspects of the digital footprint also encompass areas such as marketing and sales channels, in addition to knowledge management and internal communications.

The digital reach of employees is, for many organisations, still undervalued. A good example of this is that of global technology and market research firm Forrester and one of the organisation's key strategists, Jeremiah Owyang. Employed by Forrester in 2007 as a senior analyst, Owyang was thought to be the first blogger to be hired as a professional analyst and was regarded by many as a leading web strategy and social computing expert. After just a short tenure of two years, Owyang left the organisation. Owyang very successful generated and cultivated extensive social media connections while at Forrester. The long tail effect of his personal blog alone was massive as he had worked as a thorough and systematic aggregator. Crucially, Owyang had more than twice as many followers as his employer, and had tweeted some 16,000 times versus Forrester's almost 900.

To ensure companies achieve a competitive advantage in the digital evolution, the concept of a digital director is now emerging, as organisations begin to recognise the full impact of a robust, dynamic flow of data, knowledge and information across business interests and through social activity streams. This is pioneering territory where the digital director - the social media gatekeeper - should "own" the digital agenda and be accountable for the organisation's digital identity (both corporate and individual). Additionally, the incumbent should also be responsible for controlling and monitoring content to ensure corporate values and strategies are upheld, and securing the knowledge-based connections created throughout the work environment for corporate benefit.

As exemplified in the case of Forrester and Owyang, a key function of the digital director should be to ensure that employees align with the corporate social media accounts rather than remaining in isolation. However, this may require companies making major changes to the way they use social media networks since it has been suggested that individuals are often more successful when using their own accounts than those of their employers. There may be merit in this view where followers have an inherent mistrust of the controls around company-operated accounts and therefore there is likely to be a job to be done around repositioning a company's social media credibility.

Work-based connections generated via social media remain long after an individual leaves a company. Even though contracts of employment may prohibit individuals from making direct approaches to clients and staff after leaving the organisation, people remain highly visible, connected and accessible via social media connections. Therefore, it will be incumbent on a digital director to fully harness the skills of employees in using social media to communicate to a wider audience, even if this means drawing a greater following for the employees. Successfully leveraging the digital footprints of both sides will create a win-win situation that benefits all concerned.

Identifying and recruiting people with the relevant competencies and experience for the role of digital director will be an area in which HR has an opportunity and responsibility - to help shape the company's social media agenda as a competitive advantage. This is definitely an era where combining a series of skill sets in a fresh and innovative way will prove to be a valuable investment.

Carol Mote head of technology and strategic change at Tyzack Partners