Your Company’s Social Debut

Planning Your Company’s Debut or Strategy in the Social Media Sphere

Corporations have long been regarded by the law as having “legal personality”-  which means they have rights, privileges, responsibilities, and protections just like humans (with some differences, like marriage).   It should come as no surprise then, that they’re acting like humans more and more – now they’re relaxing with friends, and socializing! As communication gets easier through digital technology, humans are now able to interact with corporate personalities.  And these personalities are just beginning to awaken to the new freedoms they can find in the digital landscape.

If you’re like me, and I bet you are, you are both human, and, also a part of bringing business personalities to the social scene. In this capacity, I recently attended SocialTech2010 in Jan Jose, CA, right from my desk in NYC.

As the Twitter stream flowed by rapidly with commentary and quotes from the speakers, I watched and listened to advice, case studies and stories from the experts on Social Media for Business. I came away with the recognition that Social Media for business is just like a big networking cocktail party!

Companies aren’t accustomed to acting as social creatures and the adjustment will take some time. We all had to learn social skills growing up; companies can do the same. There are a few things that etiquette would require of a cocktail party attendee and that’s the same strategy the speakers at SocialTech2010 are recommending:  Know who you are, be interactive and respectful, don’t gossip, be a good listener, and don’t be afraid to share yourself.

As businesses gain proficiency in this kind of interacting, they follow an arc towards maturity. Kathleen Malone of Intel outlined the following 5 stages of a Social Media Approach:

1)      Listen: In this stage a company finds out: What are people saying about my Brand and/or my field? Where are they having this discussion? Who are the major players and influencers?  Services like Radian6, which Malone says Intel deployed 18 months ago, make this possible.

2)      Analyze: This is the time to read the room/space, figure out what your angle will be when you eventually do pipe up. Which conversation will you enter? What are your expectations? Why are you going to participate?

3)      Create: This is the stage where the business comes up with something appropriate to say. To participate effectively in the conversation, Malone says your content should be: useful, interesting, human, “snackable” (meaning in bite size pieces, easily consumed), inspiring and should cater to egos and build community.  

4)      Engage: In this stage you go public and enter the conversation, getting your content out there in new ways and/or by participating in the conversations that already exist.

5)      Measure: Your social media approach is not complete without an understanding of how you’re doing. The internet is an amazing forum for measuring how people behave with your content, and you should use a variety of tools to understand the response to your forays. Measuring properly will provide insight on how to proceed, both in the ongoing conversation, and with the business itself.

Both Malone and Brian Ellefritz of SAP outlined the natural evolution of Social Media programs at large companies  – first there are what Ellefritz calls “Grass Roots” efforts, where excited individuals branch out in ways that are unpredictable and non-uniform. He says companies should encourage these exploratory missions. Leadership will begin to emerge internally, and informal education will get the ball rolling. Following the “Grass Roots” period, Ellefritz sees “Silos Form.” This may not feel 100% smooth, but is an important step, as “coop-eteition” (a kind of cooperating/kind of competing relationship, sort of like sibling rivalry that spurs each one on) sees different silos jockeying for position. During this step, Ellefritz encourages companies to “invest in leaders, not laggards”, and to get the players from various silos together to learn from each other.  Also, he says, “don’t wait too long for governance.”

The next evolutionary phase in a corporate Social Media Program is “Operationalizing” – where leadership becomes clear, channels become well formed and in alignment with the divisions in your business.  Tools begin to consolidate and more emphasis on measurement and results appears. By this point your business may have headcount devoted to social media, and content should become less problematic, less of a focus, because it’s running more smoothly.  During this stage it’s important to align and integrate silos, and focus on strategy, ownership, metrics and priorities.

After this shift, the next phase is what Ellefriz calls “Lifestyle.” This is when the Social Media program has engaged and competent employees and success is understood and positive outcomes are frequent. This is a level of Social Media implementation that is fairly rare in today’s scene, though Ellefritz points towards Zappos as an example of a company that may be at this level.

.. .. ..

The wonderful thing about participating in social media is that it lets your personality out! For a business that hasn’t previously seen itself as the kind of entity that has a social life, this might seem daunting at first.  That’s why Ellefriz’s evolutionary arc makes so much sense to me. The way I see it, people and businesses want more than ever to get clear on who they are, and who they want to be, in order to present themselves well, and to participate in Social Media conversations. The best advice is to be authentic. Just like at cocktail parties, the people you’re conversing with generally know if you’re “full of it”, or if you’re being sincere.  Your conversational counterparts like to be complemented, offered nuggets of useful information, and generally considered and included.

For businesses, (and the teams of people that perpetuate them) this will mean really focusing on what the goals are, what opportunities exist to communicate clearly and uniformly around these interests, finding “friends” out there to talk with, and owning up to the inevitable minor mistakes that are so easy to make along the way. Since SM is such a public sphere, the resulting increased level of transparency is going to make businesses change and open up in new ways.

Coachdeb:”RT @MarketingProfs: “When someone says they need a Facebook strategy, a Twitter strategy, I say… Wait! Take it back… What’s your story?” @scobleizer #mptech”

So, armed with the Social Media/networking party analogy and with the stages of approach and evolution path laid out before you – what are you waiting for?  Participate!

Here are 10 tips to consider as you get started:

1)      Go where the fish are – target engagement carefully where the conversation already is.

2)      Social Media is Local. The goal is to be uniform while being decentralized – Intel communicates internally with their 1000 “Registered Social Media Practitioners” with guidelines and trainings (some mandatory). Intel also has their own internal newsletter that aggregates Social Media content – Malone says this makes management comfortable as well as keeps everyone updated.

3)      Have a Content Calendar for the year to coordinate Social Media messaging across channels and people, and to keep it focused on your message. Kathy Malone said at Intel, 2/3 of the content that gets put out falls under the guidelines of their content strategy calendar.

4)      Consider in advance how to manage Social Media Risk. One of the most interesting things Jaime Grenny of SalesForce said at SocialTech2010 is that all their employee training videos on Social Media strategy (and how to use online video for B2B marketing) are up for the public to see on YouTube (here).  This level of transparency lets everyone know what to expect upfront.  Malone outlined a “prevention/detection/response” approach in which 3 teams worked from different angles to mitigate risk on the social media front. And experience teaches: “if you screwed up, fess up”, and be transparent.

5)      If your company is doing moderation of dialogue, consider having a light hand to keep the conversation honest – as Intel puts it, they let the good and the bad in, but moderate the ugly – mostly meaning profanity and non-constructive comments, and they’ve found their audience appreciates it.

6)      Build a business case for your business so you know why you’re entering into Social Media – not only will it legitimize your efforts internally, but it’ll provide clarity for your message. Will it extend customer service? Will it increase SEO? Can you use it to create brand advocates and champions? Can you collect ideas on where to take your product?

7)      To measure, use Context. As with all web metrics, in order to understand what’s happening you need to understand the context of your data, and compare it to a baseline to view trends. Knowing your goals will assist you in setting up context.

8)      People are the PlatformLaura Ramos of Xerox encourages us to get our people out there and seen. Show video of your thought leadership. Get your salespeople to share their stories and knowledge with the rest of your company and make them heroes. Build relationships, and let your existing customers create new business for you. Social Media Marketing is not about reaching many to influence a few but engaging a few to influence many!

9)      Social is relevant. Here are some StatsRené Bonvani of Palo Alto Networks says that FaceBook has a 96% penetration in enterprise, meaning that only 4/100 people aren’t using it at work! He also said that only 1% is posting on Facebook but that people are 69 times more likely to use FaceBook chat than to post.  Another impressive Bonvani stat: 69% of business buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions.  No matter the numbers, it’s clear that with the cost of communication dropping close to $0, as social beings, we’re using the web to communicate more often with more people, and in smaller chunks regularly.

10)   Social media has to be part of WHAT you do, not something else you do. Jeremiah Owyang in his keynote said that the only difference between the Social Site and your business is the URL. He says that in the radical future, websites will be dynamically assembled on the fly based on social profiles. URLs and domains won’t matter – the web will be sorted around people and contextual situations.  Because of this, ads will become useful content.  This is already evident.

So – Get out there and participate!

Edgewater Technology provides strategy, consulting, web metrics, and implementation expertise to help you focus on the best ways your company can engage in these dynamic communities and track your success!

One thought on “Your Company’s Social Debut

  1. Great blog! very informative, logical, and definitely something to consider for a lot of organizations I speak to in the healthcare and life sciences industries. It’s such a huge benefit to professionals that can attend these conferences on opposite sides of the country from the comfort of their home or office. I’ve benefited from this, specifically the HIMSS conference last year. Keep this great information coming – love the 10 tips!

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