Understanding social media ecosystem top priority for middle managers.

Time-crunched middle managers and dismissive executives should take note: Deferring social media to your organization’s marketers or techies will soon become a relic of the past. At companies large and small, social media is expanding beyond the jurisdiction of the communications, marketing or IT departments. It requires corporate level strategic attention.

For that reason, according to Beedie researchers, social media sites — including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FourSquare — should increasingly become a priority across organizations. And middle managers must figure out where their firms’ business activities intersect with these social media venues.

Their article, published in a special 2011 edition of the management journal Business Horizons, is entitled “Social Media? Get Serious! Understanding the Functional Building Blocks of Social Media.” It was authored by the SFU team of Jan Kietzmann, Ian McCarthy, Kristopher Hermkens and Bruno Silvestre.

The authors present a number of recommendations for how firms should develop strategies for monitoring, understanding and responding to different social media activities – on the premise that different social media arenas correspond with different organizational functions – from employee recruitment to customer service to public relations.

“This is a social media world, and yet a lot of middle managers know very little about social media, and as a result they are feeling the pressure,” said Ian McCarthy, Beedie School of Business Professor and Canada Research Chair in Technology & Operations Management. “There is an abundance of evidence indicating that it can significantly impact a firm’s reputation, sales and even survival. Even if you are in the potash industry, you need to be aware of how social media impacts your organization.”

The authors point to a number of real-world social media situations – involving customer service, consumer feedback and brand reputation – that have had major business consequences for companies ranging from airlines to restaurants and retailers.

To help managers understand the social media ecology they will inevitably confront, the authors have articulated a honeycomb model that reflects the spectrum of social media sites in terms of their scope and functionality. The model includes seven functional building blocks: identity, presence, relationships, conversations, groups, reputations and sharing.

“Differences do matter in social media, which is why you need to set your priorities,” said Jan Kietzmann, Assistant Professor at the Beedie School of Business. “For example, LinkedIn is all about identity, while FourSquare is clearly about location. That’s why it is increasingly important for companies to understand and where necessary develop these social media platforms.”

The research concludes that by carefully analyzing the layers of the social media ecosystem, firms can monitor and understand how these activities vary in terms of their function and impact – and act accordingly.

Since publication, the paper’s findings have continued to gain traction in management and communications circles – and in November, Business Horizons and Elsevier awarded the Beedie authors with the prestigious Best Article Award.

“The article is an excellent exemplar of the best of Business Horizons in that it addresses an important and timely topic while offering practical lessons for managers,” said the journal in a special announcement. “It also reinforces our commitment to be one of the leading publications for social media research and practitioner usage.”

Business Horizons also noted that the paper has been widely cited in industry and academic circles. It appears on a list of articles recommended by the US Department of Health for health care professionals to understand emerging health communication issues, and is listed as a key reading by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) policy paper on social media and its impact on employers and trade unions. The paper was also listed among the Top 10 of ScienceDirect’s hottest 25 articles published in its portfolio of business management and accounting journals.