There’s a story that sagely corporate emeriti like to tell about the day the Gods got a committee together to design a horse. Everyone listed their requirements: a place to sit on for a rider, four legs, capable of riding long distances without a break, able to carry cargo on its’ back. What did they come up with? A Camel. All the elements of what everyone at the table wanted, but the end result wasn’t quite what they had in mind.

Two men in a camel costume on parade route

A horse created by a social media committee

Russell Herder released a study of their study of corporate social media practices, and there were several startling contradictions in the corporate mindset:

81% reported the value of social media as a medium to enhance relationships with customers, 52% said management uses social media to see what customers are saying about their company, and 47% use social media to monitor their competition.

The same study by Russell Herder also found that 91% of companies that don’t use Social Media aren’t doing so because they either don’t know enough about it or are worried about potential security risks, and 40% of reporting companies block social media usage at work for any purpose whatsoever.

In summary, companies see the value of what Social Media can bring to enhance their relationships with customers and monitor their branding — but they just don’t want anybody at work to actually enhance relationships with customers and monitor their brand because they don’t know enough about it or are scared of an unknown security risk.

The logical next step for a corporate entity would be to form a committee, get input from several departments, talk about mission statements, wring their collective hands about the possible risks and rewards, and finally come up with a severely limited social media policy that is probably so frustrating for the company employees that any sort of tangible value to having social media outlets at their disposal won’t be realized.

I talked to a non-profit association recently that is extremely savvy in their leveraging of the benefits of social media, and the most important message I learned from the conversation is this: In today’s world, not just the social media world, a successful company has to be proactive, not reactive, and timing is crucial to success. If a damaging story is posted on Twitter at 8 A.M. EST about your company, and you don’t have the tools in place to A) know it was posted, B) what was said or C) be able to respond quickly and dynamically, the damage to your reputation will mushroom out of your control.

Here are just a few of many real-life examples;

To get all of your departments on the same page means taking a proactive approach. Being proactive in the Social Media field means that monitoring your brand and company reputation is the first step towards having a manageable presence.

Getting a department-by-department weigh-in on what to do next doesn’t work if you don’t know what the problem actually is. Being successful means having a common voice for the field to see. It might end up being horses of a different color for your different company needs, but knowing what’s being said by taking a proactive approach to monitoring is the most important start to a winning social media strategy.