The study “Social Media Delphi 2012“ combines a survey of 860 communications professionals who work for companies, governmental institutions, associations and non-profit organizations with a two-stage Delphi Survey of 32 leading experts from the world of business and academia, both in Germany. Well-known organizations like BASF, BITKOM, Deutsche Post DHL, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Greenpeace and Puma took part in it.
The results show that social media communications in Germany has established itself less quickly and that the necessary parameters have been installed more slowly than those responsible for communications had broadly projected. Nevertheless, if we look at how it has progressed over time, we see that there has been a constant development process.
Social Media Governance – highly relevant, yet many obstacles
The project concluded the three year study series “Social Media Governance,” a joint project of the University of Leipzig, Fink & Fuchs Public Relations (Wiesbaden) and the ”pressesprecher” magazine (Berlin). In addition to providing results on the status quo, the 60-page study report includes statements on trends and recommendations on practical courses of action.
The 60-page report on the results that also includes many helpful illustrations is only available in German and can be ordered as PDF oder printed booklet.
55.5 percent of the organizations surveyed already have medium to advanced governance structures for social media. The experts who participated in the Delphi Survey consider these structures to be extremely important (average approval of 4.34 on a scale of 5), yet difficult to implement. A manager on social media strategy for a DAX-listed company describes the problem as follows: “Obstacles include a lack of know-how in one’s own internal organization and thus insufficient willingness to change. Strategies and budgets can only be made available if the personnel can face change and wants to do so.“ The introduction of governance structures is thus a strategic task that management should attach special importance to. Despite the many obstacles, the experts surveyed expect to see more and more organizations create the necessary and success-critical conditions for communicating and depicting business processes on the social web.
There are no sample solutions for integrating social media into existing organizational structures and processes. In the meantime, however, centralized expertise and local implementation are being combined more and more often. Due to the specific advantages, nearly all of the experts who participated in the Delphi Survey feel that this model makes the most sense for directing social media strategies on an overriding departmental or site-related basis.
With respect to the final design of central coordination, the picture is far from consistent, as expert comments clearly show: “Public relations and corporate communication will play an important role when it comes to planning how social media are used, however a harmonious consensus needs to be found with other expert areas. The leadership role will no longer be left to marketing and sales in the future, but rather public relations and corporate communications.” (PR manager for an industry association) At the same time, experts also recommend “Let people find their own way!” (Head of corporate communications for an MDAX-listed company). With respect to regulating social media processes, one expert also points out in relativizing: “Social media [means] losing control over communication. Any attempts to control it are destined to fail. All we can do is set up crash barriers and rules. The rest takes place in a decentralized manner. One does not follow a centrally managed brand in social media because brands are neither social nor people.” (Head of online communications for a DAX-listed company).
Four out of ten of the organizations surveyed already have social media guidelines. In terms of the topics, “rules on how to behave for social media“ (10.5%), contacts for social media activities (9.4%) and the separation of professional and private activities (9.8%) are most often cited. Despite the fact that they are difficult to develop, the Delphi experts polled agree that guidelines are extremely important to communicating successfully on the social web. More than half of them are convinced that the acceptance of such rules can be increased significantly by involving the employees in the development process.
Only every fifth organization polled currently uses key performance indicators or performance measurement systems to gauge the success of their own social media communications. No broad scale improvement can be expected here either. According to the experts, the difficult link between evaluation and the strategic objectives of the organization (57% agreement) and measuring the reach (62% agreement) will continue to dominate the discussion. The press officer for a global ICT company emphasizes the relevance of measurable objectives: “You can only measure what has already been defined. In other words, what is my company looking to achieve through its social media activities? I’m afraid that most companies only pursue goals that are difficult to measure, an improved image, for instance.”
Basically, the experts attach a great deal of importance and potential to measuring success: “Social media evaluation offers an excellent opportunity to directly identify current opinion leaders among relevant stakeholders who are active on the social web. Furthermore, evaluation allows for strategies and activities to be executed in a more goal-oriented manner […].” (Head of Social Media Evaluation, analytic institute). The experts view the following to be the main obstacles: the complexity of the social web, the unavailability of adequate services and lack of awareness when it comes to setting objectives, measurement methods and how they can be used to make far-reaching management decisions.
39 percent of the organizations polled now have specific budgets for social media (22 percentage points higher than in 2011). They mainly invest in contents and strategies, establishing channels and developing networks – a typical pattern for emerging action areas. For the future, budgets for social media communications are expected to continue to grow. In accordance with the gradual shift of communications work, however, budgets will be shifted toward online / the social web to a greater extent. The head of corporate communications and marketing for a service provider puts it even more drastically: “In my opinion, dedicated social media budgets are nonsense. Good communication departments allocate all of their funds flexibly across all of the channels depending on demand and these are sufficient to serve all of the channels recognized as being relevant and capable of creating value.”
Although the experts polled in this study project a positive development for most of the parameters, one must still assume that a large percentage of the companies, NGOs and government organizations in Germany have not yet picked up on the subject of social media or are only just starting to do so. The growing number of successful cases gives us a clue as to the direction that this development might be headed in. The study report includes recommendations on courses of action to take, based on the results of the study:
- Taking a strategic approach is extremely important to start with: Basically, each organization needs to first ask itself whether social media are relevant to achieving its own individual goals. Only then should further questions on resources, organization and budget be asked.
- Even if an organization is not interested in becoming actively involved in the social web, it would still be wise to conduct monitoring and follow what is being said about the company in social networks and other topics of relevance to the company and perhaps its competitors.
- Due to the fact that, statistically speaking, nearly half of the entire workforce is already active on the social web; social media guidelines should definitely be introduced. They help educate and protect employees and set binding rules.
- Organizations that do not express what is to be achieved via social media and what objectives need to be pursued will find it difficult to convince the management of their company or organization to invest in this on a sustained basis. For this reason, a great deal of importance should be placed on acting wisely.
- Social media communications cannot be performed “in passing”. Serious, targeted commitments require considerable personnel and financial efforts. This definitely needs to be taken into consideration in planning.
- Communicating in social networks requires commitment, not only at the management level, but also from each and every employee. Therefore, thought needs to be given to deciding which of the employees should be included in specific development processes. Furthermore, due to the constantly growing complexity of the social web, one needs to invest in developing skills.
- Particularly in large, internationally active organizations, the organizational model of teams of an interdisciplinary composition or social media boards that are responsible for the strategic approach in their roles as centers of competence that offer guidance for decentralized social media communication are recommended.
- Willingness to remain open and renounce illusions of being in control: social media require a fundamental change in the communication approaches that companies take. Procedures that allow for dialogue and take the various interests of stakeholders into account are needed instead of strictly controlled one-way information.
“Social Media Delphi 2012” – Scientific study on the future trends in social media communication.
Object of the study:
This study looked into the question of the status quo of social media communications in Germany today and how it will continue to develop in the future. It provides scientifically supported conclusions on trends with respect to the following issues and identifies potential action areas:
- What framework conditions (rules and resources) are being created by organizations for social media communications?
- How are the processes and responsibilities for social media communications organized?
- To what extent do specific social media budgets exist and what are the main investment areas?
- What performance indicators are used to monitor social media activities?
Classification of terms:
- Governance refers to the institutional structures and processes of overcoming interdependences between various players in the specialized social science discussion. Analogous to this, social media governance includes the strategic design and realization of such frameworks for social media and represents an essential precondition to establishing them successfully in organizations.
- The Delphi Method of empirical social research refers to a “relatively strongly structured group communication process during the course of which circumstances that uncertain or incomplete knowledge is available on are judged by experts.” The name of this method reminds us of the antique Oracle of Delphi that once offered advice for the future. Polling the participants multiple times and confronting them with the previous results of surveys is intended to create a consensus among the members of an expert group.
860 communications professionals from listed and unlisted companies, governmental institutions, associations and nonprofit organizations in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, 70 percent of whom hold executive and management level positions. For the Delphi Survey, 35 experts in practical fields and science were interviewed. A list of the experts can be found on page 55 of the report.
Joint project of the University of Leipzig, the magazine pressesprecher (Berlin) and the PR agency Fink & Fuchs Public Relations (Wiesbaden). The findings are available at www.socialmediadelphi.de