Faddish CEOs and hulahooping apps: how procurement can dodge common social media bullets

Here's another thought-provoking post from Alex Ranson, our social media expert. You can contact her at alex@beaglethinking.com and follow Twitter @beaglethoughts

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BAM!   A BA Highlife magazine lands on your keyboard.  You eye it warily…it’s rather dog-eared and you don’t even want to think about whose sticky, germ-ridden in flight fingers have handled it for the whole month of February….

“I was reading about this social media stuff on the plane back from Belarus/Brussels/Bogota,” says your Highlife-lobbing CEO over her shoulder, as she heads into her office in a whirl of Burberry trench coat and cabin baggage.

“ Tweeting.  Yammering.  Or is it Hullabalooing?  Anyway… it seems to be huge. What are we doing about it?  And ‘apps’, for instance: it sounds like we should definitely have some of those.   Sort it out, would you, old chap – sounds like an IT sourcing one! ”

Your heart sinks.  As if you didn’t have enough on your plate already. You haven’t got a clue what yammering is, but you’re pretty certain it isn’t included in scope of your current exhaustive and exhausting negotiations with your biggest software provider.  You consider the odds that your boss will have forgotten all about hulahooping apps by the time your team has researched them and identified some potential suppliers… but you have a sneaking feeling that it’s just the sort of “innovative” thing she likes to mention in quarterly results calls ….

In just about any other category of spend, such a random, unstrategic nightmare would be unthinkable in a professional self-respecting organisation.   But when it comes to social media, this scenario is played out every day in corporate HQs across Europe.   An unholy mixture of media hype, peer-envy, panic and a huge dose of blind ignorance in the C-Suite can conspire to trigger investment in social media “initiatives” which never really catch on.   Eighteen months and significant sums of time, money and credibility expended later, it’s tempting for exasperated CIOs, CPOs and CMOs to mutter under their breaths, “Well it wasn’t MY idea…”

But it doesn’t have to be this way.    Don’t be discouraged by your apparent ignorance of social media. Regardless of whether you know what yammering is at the start of the process (see below if you are curious to find out!), insist that your organisation applies strategic, rigorous discipline to these decisions.  What business problem are we really trying to solve, and for whom?  What are the strategic options?  Is a social networking or social media approach one of them?  (Beware of social media agencies telling you that social media is always the answer - when you are a hammer, after all, everything looks like a nail).

What criteria will we use to evaluate these options?  And then – and only then – which social media tool/s might help us deliver, and how do we evaluate these?   This involves, very simply, a crystal clear understanding of the end user’s real needs and very firm discipline when it comes to value for money, total cost of ownership, ROI measurement and risk management: habits which should be second nature for any good procurement manager.   Do you really need to build or buy an expensive customised enterprise platform, when a Google product provides the same benefits instantly, more simply, more accessibly, and for free?

Jargon guide:

Twitter:  free micro blogging service, open to all to “tweet” on it .  Extremely interactive and flexible: great for real time news, external and internal comms, customer service, feedback, research, content sharing.  Capability limited for highly confidential information exchanges.

Yammer:   micro blogging service designed for internal corporate use.   Offers more security than Twitter.   Freemium model (monthly fee per user charged for full service).

Audioboo (referred to by Peter Smith as “Hullabaloo”):   Mobile app and website which allows very easy recording, posting and sharing of audio files.  Freemium model.

App:  piece of software, often designed for a smartphone, which helps someone achieve a specific task, eg check-in for a flight or scan groceries to a list.

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