Study Social Media Governance 2010

How companies, the public sector, and NGOs handle the challenges of transparent communication on the Internet


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Social media have been introduced to organizations and feature high up on their agendas. This is not only true for the United States, but also for Germany as the largest and most innovative economy in Europe. Within the scope of “Enterprise 2.0,” the rise of social media not only applies to public relations and corporate communications, but to other departments and functions as well.

Top management is faced with the challenge of finding ways of dealing with this relatively new and usually anarchically introduced topic. As a result, the demand for systematically reflected strategies and associated regulatory frameworks for social media activities is greater than ever.  These were the findings of a recent scientific survey entitled “Social Media Governance – How companies, the public sector, and NGOs handle the challenges of transparent communication on the Internet.” While 54 per cent of the surveyed organizations already utilize social media, so far only 16 per cent have the necessary groundwork for strategic measures in the sense of Social Media Governance.

Social media no longer a mere hype

What has already been implied by previous studies was scientifically proven in the current research – the application of social media is generally considered to be relevant for the future design of corporate communications. In addition, the positive assessment increases significantly in line with social media expertise. This indicates that the topic is no longer a short-lived hype. On the contrary – the findings show that social media are classified as a strategic component of communications, for example as an additional channel within the media mix, as a driving force for change in the social communication culture, or as a key to a paradigm change in corporate communications.

Social media are suited for the quick dissemination of information – 82 per cent of participants considered this to be their major advantage, followed by improved services and customer loyalty (46% of participants). The most frequently stated risks of social media can be summed up under the heading of “loss of control.” Most frequently stated were difficulties in controlling communication processes (66%), and the need for quick reactions (64%).

Youtube, Facebook, etc. established as part of everyday life

Currently, one in two organizations utilizes social media for communication activities. However, just under half of these have only become active within the past twelve months, a further 41 per cent more than one year ago, and only 11 per cent have more than three years of practical experience in the area. The most frequently applied tools are video sharing, microblogging and blogging; the most popular communities are Facebook, Xing and own social networks on the Intranet/Extranet.

A survey of the social media applications in public relations departments showed similar results – 31 per cent of the PR professionals in Germany operate official Facebook profiles or pages, while another 21 per cent plan to do so by the end of 2010. One in four PR departments already twitters and one in five includes social media elements in the corporate website. However, the use of corporate blogs (11%) and social media newsrooms (5%) remains nominal. Nevertheless, 15 per cent of respondents plan to establish social media newsrooms, while 24.3 per cent plan to complement existing websites with social media elements. Overall, only one-third of German organizations report an average to high level of social web activities by now.

Experience is present, expertise not fully developed yet

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The best prerequisites for the utilization of social media are found among joint-stock companies (37%) and non-profit organizations (46%). The majority of these have been active from one to three years in Facebook, Twitter and other interactive platforms. A longer experience of the organization correlates positively with the skills of communication managers regarding the development of social media strategies, the evaluation of social media activities and the knowledge of developments in this field.

Notwithstanding – the professionals evaluated their own social media skills to be low (41%) or medium (42%). The most deficits were stated to be in the areas of technical expertise, evaluation, strategic development, and the management of web communities.
The list of departments utilizing social media is topped by communication departments (46%), followed by advertising/marketing communications (37%), sales (12%), and human resources (11%).

Individual strategies present, regulatory frameworks missing

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Just over half of all communication managers indicated the presence of strategies for the utilization of social media within their organizations – with the most advanced strategies found among joint-stock companies.”A closer inspection however, reveals that most organizations lack the required expertise and structural prerequisites (governance). Strategic considerations seem to be at an early development stage. Accordingly, only few utilize social media tools, networks and applications comprehensively,” remarked Stephan Fink, member of the board of Fink & Fuchs Public Relations and co-initiator of the study.

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For example, there is a lack of key performance indicators for social media (87%), specific budgets (88%), social media guidelines (81%), professional development opportunities such as seminars and training courses (78%), or staff resources (72%). Only five per cent of the organizations already operate a dedicated social media department. At the same time, strategic pillars, such as managerial commitment and a participative corporate culture are only found among one-third of those surveyed.
It is interesting to note that in the vast majority of organizations (more than 50%), the overall responsibility of many tasks related to social media is allocated to the PR department.

A possible solution: Social Media Governance

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The research shows that it is not enough to focus on basic strategies and concrete applications to integrate social media into corporate communications. Eighty per cent of organizations lack developed governance structures. Those who want to avoid short-lived hypes and uncontrolled growth must set of a structure early on, said lead researcher Professor Ansgar Zerfass from the University of Leipzig. “Statistical analysis of the data indicates that there is a correlation between social media activities and governance structures. This can be explained based on the theory of structuration by the sociologist Anthony Giddens – actions of individuals only lead to success if all involved can resort to structures in the sense of a common pool of (informal) rules and resources. This is precisely the approach of a Social Media Governance solution.”

Governance structures enable and limit individual actions, while their repeated updating reproduces and stabilizes them. Ideally, organizations should first develop a basis consisting of a regulatory framework for social media, then train their staff to develop strategies and measures. Stephan Fink detects a positive trend: “Given the complexity and importance of the topic, the results of the study give us cause for optimism, indicating that corporations, governmental institutions and NGOs in Germany have detected the signs of the times and have started to invest in social media.”

Further informations:

Download the full report as PDF.

About the study

Research topic: The status quo of Social Media Governance, i.e. the existence of regulatory frameworks for the strategic management of social media activities, among German organizations. The identification of influencing factors, opportunities, risks and basic requirements for communication in the era of the social web.

Participants: 1,007 Communications professionals from joint-stock companies, private companies, governmental institutions, associations and NGOs.

Initiators: Joint project of the University of Leipzig, Pressesprecher magazine (Berlin), and the PR agency Fink & Fuchs Public Relations (Wiesbaden).