I don’t know about you but I’ve been sensing a collision of corporate social media practices and disciplines stretching across sales, marketing, HR and customer service.

It starts to look daunting when you consider how the fast social media has become omnipresent in every corner of professional and private life – and the inevitable business opportunity that is trailing it. The usual suspects, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, the voluminous and verbose comments alongside every review site, product support thread, news story, blog and forum, they are all fodder for the unstructured mining revolution.

And while we’re mining for sentiment and behavior, we can add the corporate social networks of Yammer and the like, and why not collaborative platforms like SharePoint? Alex Bakker pointed out this connection in a blog posting that sounds like talent management’s new barometer of metrics, morale and retention. You could throw in Chatter, Zoho and many more.

Alongside the big data excitement and despite some presumptions from the IT community that these information streams can be managed from a central point, the breadth of this information is not something that can flow into an office or department tasked with social media. The work of brand building and customer retention and product launches and reputation management falls to different and often many owners.

We reported on an interesting study from Leslie Ament at Hypatia Research this week that companies moving into social media encounter a very piecemeal and fragmented progression of learning, captive investment and outsourcing.

Though Ament concluded that tools are presently ahead of organizational skills, investment also calls for accountability. Specific resources are needed to make all this actionable.

But where? It can’t just be delivering tools for IT to roll out. Marketing is one obvious place to manage social media but it’s trickier than that.

For an example, Kim Celestre at Forrester put out a report this week telling marketers at business technology vendors selling products, software and services about the value of direct social engagement and reporting. Forrester sees more than half of these business technology vendors boosting social media spending this year and the study cites a success story at Dell.

I have yet to reach Kim directly but a graph in her report shows that business technology buyers (prospects) are much more influenced by the support and discussion forums for products than by blogs or twitter or virtual events. So you’ve got to ask more broadly, are those support forums where the proper marketing folks are listening and hanging out? Who is and who should be there?

It gets back to Ament’s point about accountability, that somebody has to take on the project management and put together solutions and that it’s “too hard right  now” in her words.

Organizations all need to get started somewhere and will discover opportunities they had never been aware of through social tools and services. But we also need to try to get our plans ahead of the technology to the mission and the executors of the mission. Otherwise we are shaping our organization to a service or product on a quadrant rather than the other way around.     

I’m not sure the analysts I named here would agree with all that and I am not speaking for them. But I was struck by something Leslie Ament told me about getting serious about the opportunities before us.  From an executive view, she said, “creating charts and graphs that show positive sentiment on a product launch is great. But if you are several levels up and looking at that, you’re thinking, what do I report to my shareholders and board about the $100K we just invested in social business initiatives?”

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