Expert offers tips to craft effective enterprise social media strategy

Organizations must assess their enterprise social media strategy to see whether social technology supports their business, says AIIM's Jesse Wilkins.

Editor's note: This is the final article in a two-part series about how to assess an organization's use of enterprise social media and establish a strategy for success. The first part discussed six ways to gather information for a social business assessment.

These days, it's hard to imagine doing business with an organization that doesn't have a website. In fact, if most companies found that a prospective business partner had no Web presence, that prospect would probably be eliminated from the list of contenders.

Information management professionals are eventually going to think the same way about companies and nonprofits that lack a formal enterprise social program, according to Jesse Wilkins, director of research and development at the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) in Silver Spring, Md. In other words, it's becoming essential for businesses to have an enterprise social media strategy.

More than three quarters of organizations are using social media, and more than half consider social media technology critical to their success, according to a recent AIIM survey entitled Social Business Systems - success factors for Enterprise 2.0 applications.

According to the survey, only 21% of responding organizations make no use of social business applications. Among those companies, about 6% reported that such activities are specifically discouraged. But 38% of respondents are moving to an enterprise-wide strategy, and 18% think social media is something that should be actively used and coordinated throughout the business.

Organizations interested in launching a social media strategy -- whether to enable collaboration within the enterprise or establish more meaningful relationships with customers -- need to begin by examining their current and potential use of social media tools, Wilkins said. The key is to determine whether incorporating enterprise social network (ESN) technology into business processes makes sense and aligns with the company's overall business strategy.

"Social media shouldn't take the place of a lot of existing processes," Wilkins said. "[It] can be very complimentary in support of them."

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In addition to an initial assessment, organizations should continue to review their use of social media tools on a regular basis, Wilkins said. These social media assessments will give managers the information they need to make sure that the organization's use of social media stays on target.

"It's too easy to lose track of what's going on," said Wilkins.

As described in the first article of this series, the goal of a social media assessment should be to uncover information about how the organization is currently using social media. That includes any information about social media processes, technology assets and governance structure. After that work is completed, it's time to make use of the information that has been gathered.

"Review and analyze," Wilkins said. He added that there are a number of different tools, including Google Analytics and others, that organizations can use for digging into and making sense of the information that has been collected. He suggested using the same cross-functional group that gathered the information for the review and analysis phase.

"It's time for them to come together and figure out what they want to accomplish," Wilkins said.

At worst, the team will find that it has no social media strategy at all. At best, it will find ways to improve an existing program. But this stage is particularly important, Wilkins said, because organizations that fail to plan may open themselves up to the prospect of disjointed marketing messages and perhaps even legal liability. For example, tweets can have the same legal ramifications as email, Wilkins said, adding that he thinks many organizations fail to consider the legal aspects of ESN use.

The review and analysis phase should ultimately pinpoint the gaps in the organization's approach to social media and establish a roadmap for filling them in. "In essence," Wilkins said, "[the process of] developing an enterprise social media strategy should follow the general approach of the development of websites."

Some of the other key steps in creating a social media strategy include the following:

  • Developing a timeline for the release of ESN technology;
  • Establishing social media priorities (perhaps with one department at a time);
  • Forming a communications plan to keep employees, partners and/or customers informed; and
  • Creating a training program

As the team works to put an enterprise social media plan in place, it should begin to assign more specific tasks and establish clear processes. Some organizations have created a new position to take charge of and maintain social media activities once they're established. One of the latest titles to emerge, Wilkins said, is that of the social media strategist.

Companies that have recognized value in creating a social strategy will go on to launch internal centers of excellence, which are similar to social media command centers. And many organizations also appoint someone to monitor any regulatory compliance issues that might pop up.

Once they begin to see the value in managing enterprise social media, some groups will begin attaching metadata to posts and tweets so the content can be recalled when necessary. Wilkins said it can be challenging to establish context and ensure that the content of posts have value. "It can be complicated," he said, "but there are consulting organizations that can help people with this."

The good news is that as an organization moves ahead on this path, it becomes much more adept at figuring out how to bring all the strategizing and new processes to bear on business goals.

The last step of launching a social media strategy, Wilkins said, is to deploy and optimize. Some organizations choose to launch the program within just one business unit before spreading it to the rest of the enterprise. But ultimately, the success of an enterprise social media strategy hinges on high-quality content.

"You can lead people to your Facebook page, but unless there's real content there, people won't go back," Wilkins said. "You need to provide value."

Jonathan Gourlay is the site editor and news editor for SearchContentManagement.com. Follow him on Twitter @sContentMgmt_TT.

This was first published in September 2012

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