Most brands have by now dabbled in social media. They’ve most likely set up a blog, have a Facebook page and actively use Twitter. However, according to the June eMarketer edition, most of these brands focus on social media marketing and PR initiatives. While this makes me happy - I do work for a communications agency, after all - and while marketing and PR are obvious places for social media experimentation and incubation, to truly leverage the power of conversation brands need to move toward a fully-networked organization.
A networked organization allows everyone - from their customers and existing markets, to partners and employees - to participate in some aspect of their business. This can involve crowdsourced product development and new business initiatives to an integrated social recruiting strategy. Here are some key things to do to put a whole-organization social strategy in place.
- Get C-Level Sponsorship.
Like any other cross-functional business strategy, a social strategy that spans the enterprise needs buy-in (and investment) from the people who pay the bills. Without it, there is no strategy - there is only a dream. If you’re about to ask for an investment, remember that the ultimate selling point is return on that investment. Be prepared to talk about it.
- Open Doors, Break Down Walls.
Believe it or not, most corporations still function as a series of silos - HR, Marketing, R&D - with each more or less unaware of what the others are doing. Unfortunately for these organizations, markets don’t operate within these silos. In addition, it is increasingly likely that your company will have to act on multiple, coordinated fronts to be successful. By establish a cross-functional team to develop the overall social strategy - with each member representing a different group within the organization - you can start to overcome legacy organizational silos. It’s okay if the group is informal, but it should be recognized and legitimized by management. When choosing members of this team, think outside the box. A junior customer service representative that is passionate about serving customers and about being innovative will be a lot more effective than a senior manager that doesn't care about these things.
- Include the Legal Department.
They’re going to get involved at some point anyway. Be proactive and keep them in the loop. Consider JetBlue’s recent situation. It took the company two days to react to the social groundswell, and you can bet that it had something to do with the legal department. When one of your employees goes Steven Slater, you’ll need to react on multiple fronts. It is best to know in advance how to approach it from a legal standpoint.
- Actively Listen.
Listening is not just about how many times your brand has been mentioned on Twitter. What is your market - not just your existing customers - really saying, and how are you responding? One of the most common (and least talked about) mistake companies make when setting up a listening platform is the proper balance between biased listening - listening for only what you want to hear - and empathic listening - true understanding of what is being said and why.
- Look Inward.
Part of being a networked organization is allowing your employees to actively engage and share across departments. Same thing goes for the customers. For some time now, companies like Best Buy and Zappos have been been succeeding in listening to their employees for great ideas, and empowering them to engage directly with customers across sales and support channels.
- Start Small and Fail Small.
In my experience, the most successful social media strategies were first tested in a controlled (well, perhaps less controlled) environment, with a plan to learn on the fly, scale things that succeed, and scrap those that don’t.
Many businesses cite “maintaining relevancy” as a main goal of their social media strategy. Relevancy isn’t a goal - it’s an outcome achieved only by realizing a holistic strategy of recognizing and fostering conversation in the brand’s entire ecosystem. If you’re aiming for relevancy, than you’re aiming too low.