"There seems to be an undercurrent of fear holding organisations back from fully embracing digital. Digital opens up multiple entry points to let the consumer inside in a very intimate and in-your-face way, which is completely foreign and understandably daunting," says Lara Bryant, chief strategist at NATIVE, South Africa's largest fully-integrated digital agency.
Bryant says the biggest misconception that companies have is the mindset that one team or one department can be assigned to implement and monitor its digital strategy. "Traditionally one department within an organisation assisted by an external agency would be tasked with managing the marketing and advertising function and budget. This is no longer the case, comments Bryant. "Rather, it is incumbent on each and every person within the organisation to get involved in and take responsibility for their brand within their consumer community."
Bryant explains that by its very nature digital and social media opens up an ongoing conversation between the organisation and only through deliberate and conscientious listening and adjusting will organisations really succeed in the digital realm.
Bryant says that there is still the tendency for organisations to see the role of digital as belonging to a department, usually marketing, assisted by an external agency. "Companies adopting this approach have not understood the concept of digital and social media at all. It's all well and good telling your customers that you are 'on social media' but when you have not provided anything to build the relationship and without actively engaging in the conversation it is not a true conversation. More specifically, listening is active and not passive."
Bryant says the question that CEO's should be asking is whether they as CEO are willing to re-launch their brand as the chief celebrant of its community rather than its celebrity. While executives should be answering the question as to whether they personally are willing to take responsibility for the alignment between what the company says it stands for and how it practices its business.
"Saying yes to these questions means relinquishing control and that is always difficult. However, each individual company is still in control of the pace and how they go about doing this. There is no one-size-fits-all digital strategy solution that needs to be implemented in a certain time-frame to be successful. Each company can decide for themselves what they are ready to do and when," adds Bryant.
Although companies are in control of setting the parameters of their digital strategies, Bryant emphasises that there is one non-negotiable when it comes to succeeding in the digital world. Crucial to the strategic process, believes Bryant, is what NATIVE refers to as Devolution.
Devolution begins a process of opening the brand by identifying an angle of attack that will limit the company's exposure to risk while providing the biggest potential impact. For instance running a pilot project first that can be ring-fenced and managed separately from the company's day-to-day operations. The teachings that arise from such a project can then be cascaded throughout the organisation allowing for constant adjustment.
"Of course organisations will still need help from external agencies but they need to own and drive the success of social collaboration within and outside their organisation. Digital media has far reaching effects and organisations will need to change significantly or take the major risk of being left behind. Digital media belongs to the organisation not a particular department. Your entire business is a social business. Pigeonholing it into one box is like putting a round peg in a square hole," concludes Bryant.