By Mark Burgess
It is every brand’s responsibility to leave as large a footprint as possible in the digital village. There must be no mistaking that, yes, your brand was here, and yes, its presence is worth paying attention to. This is a process undertaken in thousands of small steps. The challenge is to make sure these steps look deliberate and coordinated. The more focused the effort, the greater the impact, and the larger your brand’s digital footprint will become.
Social businesses are ideally suited for this task. During our interviews with IBM for our book The Social Employee (McGraw-Hill, 2013), we had a chance to speak with Ethan McCarty (@ethanmcc), Director of Enterprise Social Strategy, about the company’s own digital footprints. In the course of our conversation, he provided a very useful analogy that I think typifies the value of social employee engagement strategies.
The analogy goes something like this: Let a baseball represent a traditional, command-and-control organization, and let a bag of marbles represent a social business. Both of these objects have roughly the same amount of volume. However, because the bag of marbles is comprised of many smaller, independent objects, its total surface area is considerably greater than that of the single baseball. Not only that, but these marbles are capable of freely moving around within the bag, making new connections and forming new configurations from moment to moment.
Following McCarty’s analogy, in order to leave a big footprint, brands must leverage their employee bases to create as much surface area as they can. It’s not that brands need to have bigger feet than Bigfoot, it’s that they need to produce greater surface area through the cumulative impact of their smaller, individual footsteps. By engaging more frequently through smaller, user-focused interactions, a brand can cover more ground in the same amount of time, thoroughly explore and understand that ground, and create more opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and innovation in the process.
A brand might leave a footprint in the mud every once in a while, but once everyone has had a chance to examine that single, ambiguous depression in the mud, they will realize that they’re no closer to understanding the brand, what makes it tick, or where it’s headed. This is not the kind of impression today’s brands can afford to make.
In the world of social business, we should aspire to be less like Bigfoot and more like the millipede, which is ultimately better equipped to leave the larger cumulative footprint in the digital bazaar. The millipede, after all, coordinates hundreds of individual parts to propel itself forward, gets where it’s going without much of a fuss, and quickly and decisively changes direction without wasting too many costly, errant steps.
As Cheryl Burgess, my co-author of The Social Employee said last month on this site, before a brand can communicate externally it must first engage internally.
So it is with leveraging social employees in the digital bazaar. While each individual act or engagement may not seem like much, when taken as a whole, they create a rich network of connectivity, knowledge, and authority can’t be matched. For a social business to move like the millipede, a social employee culture must be established early and reinforced regularly. That way, moving forward will always feel natural, effortless, and instantaneous.
Mark Burgess is co-founder and president of Blue Focus Marketing and co-author of The Social Employee (McGraw-Hill, 2013). He has held senior level positions at McCann, PwC, and AT&T and ranks as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter, currently serving on the adjunct marketing faculty at Rutgers University and as a Professor of Marketing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Follow him at @mnburgess @SocialEmployee and @BlueFocus.