In a recent blog post by Bloggertone, Frank Bradley brings up an interesting but often missed point – social media is not about the technology but the people. It’s about creating meaningful dialogue with your target audience. To be successful in your social media strategy and planning, you have to employ the right people leading the effort and dictating which social networking channels are appropriate for your business and its target audience. We often mistake social media as a “must” for any business to succeed in today’s fast-changing Web 2.0, when we first need to understand what the company wants to achieve before jumping in.
The year 2010 is being dubbed the “The Year of the Social Media Crisis,” according to Breakthrough Communications. This means companies cannot take a blind approach to social media by implementing any and all technologies that are deemed hot without first understanding the fundamental rules, which I’ll go into later. This type of ad-hoc approach can backfire, placing your company on the leader board for social media crisis help. Take, for example, Nestle. In mid-March Greenpeace launched a campaign against Nestle, one of the largest nutrition, health and wellness companies, criticizing Nestle for using palm oil companies that allegedly destroy Indonesian rainforest and threat Orangutan habitat. Nestle responded that they stopped using palm oil in their products. However, when the Greenpeace folks launched negative comments on Nestle’s Facebook wall, the moderator of the company’s page responded:
“To repeat: we welcome your comments but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.”
This is the kind of fire your company can face if you don’t have the right people managing social media. The people who are managing social media – the conversations – should be passionate and aware, but more importantly understand how these platforms work.
They should understand how to create and build dialogue outside of their standard company policy mumbo jumbo. In today’s world where information can be disseminated within seconds across Internet chat rooms, blogs and social channels, companies no longer have the luxury of communicating the way they used to – going through legal channels and putting out a statement. This is the type of mistake you can run into without the right people behind it. It’s about conversation, and this takes the right people using the right tools. It’s a balancing act. With that said, I want to take you through a series of very high-level steps which are also referenced in Altimeter’s recent webinar slides:
Research is pivotal. According to Altimeter, researching your customer profiles will provide some good visibility into where your target audience is online, their social behaviors, what social information or people do your customers rely on, how they’re using various channels, and how they’re being influenced in their buying decisions. More importantly, you should understand how they are using social technologies in the context of your products. You can do this by launching a social computing survey – no more than 15 questions. For more information and guidance, take a look at Groundswell by Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group. This book provides a specific list of questions you should be asking. For instance, which social technologies do they currently use, for what, how long, how often, etc.
With strong research as the foundation, companies should do their own social audit. This is essentially an internal social computing survey to gauge what social networking sites your employees are accessing, how long, for what, how often, etc. Further, invite key leaders from marketing, product management, the executive team and solution marketing for a meeting (Altimeter suggests a brown-bag meeting, which is not a bad idea) to discuss their experiences with social media and begin to identify key internal experts, which leads me to my next point: Who?
Social media typically resides in corporate communications or marketing. But, forget where it should belong because every organization is unique. Large organizations will typically allow everyone to socially engage, but my belief is that social media engagement, management and monitoring should be owned by a central point of contact where all information is filtered. You’ve identified the key internal experts, but you have to allocate management of your social media efforts – strategy and planning. People who understand the essence of social media, not because they use it for personal use, but because they understand the business objectives and goals as well as how these social media channels will be utilized to fundamentally help achieve the end goal.
I’d recommend a communications expert who understands not only the corporate side of business such as processes, crisis planning, etc., but how online community members behave, connect, engage, etc. Remember, you have different target audiences, and they all do things differently – media, analysts, bloggers, users, etc. The social media expert must understand the different personas your company is targeting and how to engage on all different levels. He or she should be passionate about your brand, products and services, but also the relationship management process.
Now that you have your external and internal research finalized and the right people behind this process, it’s time to define your strategy and determine where you’re going to invest your time and resources. By identifying your key objectives you can align those goals with the right social networking tools. The research allows you to gain strong visibility of your brand discussions online and should give you good guidance on where and why you should partake in social media. For instance, if a majority of your target audience is using communities and blogs to engage and make buying decisions, you would want to build a community to engage with your customers and foster an environment of co-innovation and deeper engagement.
Whatever your strategy is – the first and foremost priority is the people. And if you have the right people dedicated to cultivating this environment and fostering engagement on a consistent basis, you’ll be on the road to success.
Road to success starts and ends with a coordinated, integrated approach to social media strategy and execution to stay organized and metrics driven.