Effective social media strategy: A must for success in a social world

Successful organizations develop a formal enterprise social media strategy. According to Altimeter Group, they do this by moving through five stages representing a social business hierarchy of needs.

Enterprises large and small are embracing social media as a way for employees, partners and customers to collaborate and communicate, but many are doing so without being fully prepared. It’s an issue that many are finding costly in a number of ways.

Whether it’s to keep employees from sharing too much personal information on an internal social website or to address negative comments about a product or service in the external-facing social media universe, organizations must develop a formal social enterprise strategy

“A lot of companies are jumping into this space, but it doesn’t always work out,” said Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst for customer strategy at Altimeter Group of San Mateo, Calif., during his keynote address at KMWorld 2011 earlier this month.

Social media crises are on the rise. These are companies that have jumped into social with their customers but have failed to prepare,” he said, explaining that research shows 75% of these crises could have been diminished or averted with proper preparation. To be one of those companies that is prepared and has developed an effective social media strategy, Owyang said, organizations must have certain “readiness requirements.”

He outlined them for about 1,000 people gathered at the conference in Washington, D.C. They are the following:

  • An employee policy that establishes rules and regulations about what can and cannot be posted.
  • Internal education about what should be done in the social media landscape.
  • A moderation or review process for placing checks and balances on posts.
  • A team that listens and monitors the company on social media.
  • A triage plan for dealing with negative comments and disasters.
  • A process for identifying the top influencers in the social media world.
  • Clear and exhaustive community guidelines.

With those in place, an organization will typically develop a social strategy following certain models of organization, ranging from a decentralized approach described as organic and experimental to what Owyang called a holistic or “honeycomb” model, where each employee is empowered to participate in internal social media programs, but along very structured and organized lines. From there, enterprises will typically move through five levels of social media maturity.

Stage one: Get a program started
The primary goal of the first stage is to get a program up and running. “This is the foundational level, and companies that go through this do four things,” Owyang said. They set business objectives, policies, provide access to the social media universe and “educate employees in clear language on how to use these tools both internally and externally.”

“If you are turning on any of these tools … understand it’s only a matter of time before [employees] begin to use these tools outside of the organization,” he said. “Without proper training, you are putting your employees, yourselves and your company at risk.”

“Dell is taking an active approach on how to train their employees before turning them loose,” he said.

Stage two: Safety first
The next level is described as the safety level, which requires a dedicated team, a defined workflow and a crises preparation plan. “This is where a contract [with employees] comes into play,” Owyang said. “Customers must have the right to talk about their issues with your products as well.” At this point in the enterprise's social media development, the company should set up a social media triage plan, which is designed to be carried out by a team of community managers and analysts.

Stage three: Social media center of excellence
The formation level is the third stage of social media maturity. “We found that companies at this level … [have] an asset inventory, a way to share best practices and a center of excellence,” he said. “Panasonic, Cisco, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, all have taken an inventory [of various social media accounts] and put it right on the corporate website.”

Many companies at this level of social maturity regulate enterprise use of social media with a “social media center of excellence,” a committee that sets policy, develops governance rules and drives the process, Owyang said. “This group will determine the tools to use.”

Stage four: Tracking social media metrics
The fourth level is described as the stage of enablement. “You must get here to scale,” Owyang said. Enterprises continually measure their use of social media at this stage and are empowering workers rather than constraining them. The more advanced organizations at this level implement their social strategy across corporate functions, ignoring business unit silos.

“The savvy company is providing monthly metrics on how these tools are being used internally and across the corporation,” he said, explaining that Cisco provides employees with a “self-serve” hub and that Salesforce.com rewards employees according to how much they share information.

Stage five: Social media enlightenment
“When the entire company is using these tools within the connected enterprise, not just within the company, but externally with customers and partners,” it has reached the level of enlightenment, according to Altimeter.

 “We consider this the top maturity level,” Owyang said, adding that companies such as Zappos, Dell and Intel have reached this stage with a detailed and formalized social strategy.

“If your executive doesn’t believe that they are in customer support, chances are you aren’t going to achieve this model,” he said. He added that a few companies are pushing the envelope at that level by trying to “predict what customers are going to need and what employees are going to need.”

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