For example, in January, the newly appointed head of Comms at Ryanair, Robin Kiely, made his first significant strategic announcement, revealing he would focus more on what he referred to as “traditional” media, and turn Ryanair’s back on social media.

One of the main reasons for this decision was his claim that Facebook is a ‘two-way tool’ and maintaining a dedicated account would probably mean ‘hiring two more people just to sit on Facebook all day’.

Another example, especially significant in the Financial Services sector, is compliance. Compliance legislation requires financial institutions to be incredibly cautious with their communication with the outside world.

The FSA, SEC and FINRA recently issued new guidance for FS companies using social. Promotion and advertising, supervision and monitoring, and recordkeeping have all come under the spotlight, and FINRA now requires detailed recordkeeping to prove inappropriate claims have not been made to a customer or prospect.

As a result social media is rightly viewed as a serious compliance risk. 

Workflow challenges

However, one of the largest obstacles that applies to every business is how can social media fit into an organisation’s day-to-day activities without disrupting the workflow?

By way of illustration, a business may well have a customer services programme in place, such as a dedicated phone line for inbound enquiries, an email address, or even something as advanced as Live Chat.

These services have an established workflow behind them, supported by years of developed best practice. A complaint raised will be sent through established channels to a team briefed to deal with the problem.

When a response is required, it will be swiftly and efficiently directed to a division that has the necessary background and understanding of the business and specific area to be able to respond according to company policy. However with social, it’s different.

Take Facebook for example. There is capacity for mass interaction on a wide range of issues related to the brand, at any time of day. This could be complaints, claims processing, change of address, accounts payable, uploading of images, and so on.

How do businesses collate this information and put them into the correct workflows without hiring dozens of execs to sit and monitor the information, 24 hours a day?

And at the same time, all enquiries are visible to those that land on the page, so how does a business act swiftly to deal with the enquiries, so that the Facebook page doesn’t just turn into a brand damaging wall of complaints and unanswered issues?

Brands like O2 and American Express have solved the workflow problem by injecting money and time into developing and managing a two-way, compliant social media workflow. It’s an effective solution and both have rightly been praised for taking a leadership position in the space.

American Express Twitter customer service

However, processes like these at enterprise organisations involve heavy resourcing, which then leads to justification on spend at board level. The spend is signed-off due to the clear mass migration of consumers to social media and ultimately, a business benefit, but it is still a drawn out process.

And because social media remains relatively nascent, there is no best practice and the resulting structures are based on trial and error. Translate this problem to smaller businesses, later adopters or those with a more archaic view on new media, and these resources disappear.

Facebook and Twitter pages become one-way company news portals that exist only to ‘have a presence’ and this reflects as badly on a brand as having a wall of unanswered complaints.

Social cannot be ignored by businesses

Nonetheless, economic volatility, expectant audiences and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets are forcing many businesses’ hand on social and a solution to the workflow issue will become a necessity as we move through 2013.

With all these conditions taken into account, you could be forgiven for thinking the challenge is almost insurmountable. However, because the workflow problem is becoming critical when managing effective customer services and protecting the face of the brand, substantial work has gone into software solutions to bring these issues together, efficiently.

There is now technology that allows a business to monitor all in and outbound information through textual analysis, interpret how a user has communicated, lock information for legal hold and then direct it into specific company workflows.

Communication has evolved and it’s now clear that businesses that fail to embrace social will get left behind as consumers’ social media expectations continue rise exponentially.

Social cannot be ignored by businesses and those that act swiftly to integrate it into their business processes will reap the benefits.

A fear of meeting the workflow challenge is no longer a valid excuse.