Making the Jump – Successfully

24 03 2011

After six posts regarding why social media applications are an innovative, promising tool and how corporations are using them, if you’re not ready to make a push for some sort of initiative in your workplace, I hope the insight has at the very least piqued your interest. Now that the value of social media programs is understood, I can offer some additional knowledge concerning how to launch a social media program and what other organizations have learned in the process. Since social media applications are generally very cheap – if not free – some organizations are taking a foolhardy stab at implementing these social media technologies. They might set an existing employee up with a twitter, in addition to his regular responsibilities, and offer no guidance or advice as to what this employee should hope to accomplish. Such an approach would likely lead the company to believe social media is a waste; they would be wrong. Additionally, in some cases an online presence without value (infrequent updates, lack of content) is seen as worse than no presence at all — if you’re going to do something, do it right.

First and foremost, before thinking about jumping into the realm of social media, make sure you know exactly what it is – and I’m not only referring to the tools, but to the philosophy as well. Social media is honest, genuine, and authentic, the point is bottom-up control. You shouldn’t come to engage in social media only to drive subscription sales (though this could likely happen), the goal should be broader and customer focused; social media is not a push medium.

The first step to getting started isn’t diving right in as a corporation, though it’s probably wise to start experiencing social media through a personal account, if you aren’t already.  As a corporation search the web for those already engaged with social media and look at whose doing what and why it works.  Start following them, checking back regularly to learn the expectations of social media. It might also be a good idea to try connecting with them, since they may be willing to offer further insight. Recognize that they might be using twitter very successfully, but this doesn’t mean the same tools will work for you. You can’t start with tactics (specific social media), you need to define your strategy. Think about what you hope to accomplish with the initiative, and think about your audience – your employees aren’t a homogenous bunch – how are they interacting online, what tools are they already using, where are they getting their information? When you start answering these questions the choice as to which social media application would be most helpful becomes more and more clear.

Starting with strategy is crucial, it’s important to have objectives and goals as with any other project in business. Additionally by starting with goals it allows you to measure as you go along, and evaluate the program. Although it’s admittedly difficult figuring out exactly what to measure, companies are learning which factors are the best indicators of growth, and professional-measurement software is beginning to flood the markets. For example, measuring the number of profiles doesn’t mean a whole lot since it’s unlikely all of these profiles are active – a more effective measurement would be the number of active users, or the number of requests transmitted.

As I said in the first post, the involvement of executives in any social media program is key, this not only brings value to the program it raises the credibility. While the executives should be building buzz, using and talking about the initiative or program, it may not be smart to overload your audience with some sort of marketing push. You want your constituents interested and involved on their own terms, social media is unique in that the tools are provided but the user really determines how it’s used and what it’s used for.

Social media’s emphasis on user contribution and participation is generally very different from the typical corporate culture. This can be hardest part for many organizations, breaking away from hierarchies, corporate politics and competition amongst peers, and transforming that culture into one that promotes and recognizes value in individual opinions and contributions. This is only the tip of the ice berg when it comes to incorporating social media into your organization, there are many other things your organization will need to consider. For instance, you’ll need to designate someone to head the initiative and you’ll need to develop a system for regulating and monitoring user contributions/comments as well.

There are numerous benefits to an internal social media program, yet according to a July 2009 study about 40% of organizations block access to social media sites. This number isn’t that shocking, but considering that over 80% of organizations surveyed believe social media can enhance relationships with customers and build brand reputation, it begs the question why is there this double standard? The success of internal social media programs have the potential to generate good will and buzz, not only inside your company, but outside as well. For instance Deloitte, a large professional service firm, created an employee film festival urging their employees to create short films showcasing the companies’ culture and values. It was a huge success internally, over 400 videos were created and the website counting votes received 400,000 hits. The finalists were then posted to youtube, which in turn created buzz and interest outside the company.

On that same note, all sorts of corporations are running headstrong into the public social media realm, if this you I would implore you to first think about launching such a project internally. If you first get your feet wet with your employees there’s a lot less risk.  Your launching a similar program on a smaller scale, allowing you to learn some of the risks and problems you may encounter, which would provide a sound foundation on which to build a larger, more public program for the consumer – and succeed. Additionally, these social media initiatives help to humanize a large corporate workforce, leading to greater trust and employee satisfaction.  It’s hard for many companies to financially support a program without a distinguishable ROI – but many companies justify the spending, putting stock in the belief that engaged employees stay at a company longer, perform better, and produce more results.

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One response

21 06 2011
David Christopher

Yes, too many companies (and execs) get drawn to the tools and start with the technology and try to fit their business model around the technology. This clearly is the wrong approach.

I like the POST Methodology from Forrester:
People – assess your customers social activities
Objectives – decide what you want to accomplish
Strategy – plan for how relationships with your customers will change
Tools – decide which social technologies to use

Any social media program needs to address that change in mindset and to focus more on the customer and less on the technology.

I also agree that the ROI is difficult to measure in terms if direct revenue but not everything should or needs to be measured in such a way. Increased productivity, better efficiency and improved employee satisfaction are also valuable ROI’s of a good social business infrastructure.

Nice and intriguing post.

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