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Expert reveals six ways to assess an enterprise social media strategy

Organizations that regularly review their social media strategy can expect improved collaboration, greater efficiency and less risk, says AIIM's Jesse Wilkins.

Editor's Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series about how to assess an organization's use of enterprise social media and establish a plan for success. The second part offers tips for analyzing assessment information and crafting effective enterprise social media strategy.

Organizations investigating the potential rewards and challenges of enterprise social media tools are likely to find out that employees are already using some form of social media or file sharing program to exchange information and ideas with others. This often occurs whether or not company leadership sanctions those activities. 

To do a better job of engaging their workforces while improving efficiency and generating more cross-departmental collaboration, virtually every enterprise collaboration analyst or consultant will suggest that companies formalize an enterprise social media strategy. Without one, an organization could expose itself to public relations issues, legal risks or worse.

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Experts say that organizations must get on top of the enterprise social network (ESN) trend to get the best business bang out of social collaboration possibilities and turn possible liabilities into clear advantages. Getting this right means conducting regular assessments of social technology use.

"You can't just leave it up to the employees," said Jesse Wilkins, director of research and development at the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) in Silver Spring, Md.

Wilkins, who has written extensively about conducting social business evaluations and has presented seminars on the subject, said that social media assessments will help organizations focus on matters that support business objectives while avoiding those that don't. Such assessments also go a long way toward helping organizations fine-tune their social media strategy.

"Most of the time we don’t know what we are doing," he said, explaining a hard truth about corporate use of ESNs. A carefully planned assessment will reveal what's working, what's not, where potential problems might exist and how to fix them, Wilkins said.

The process of gathering the right information for a comprehensive social media evaluation should be divided into six parts, according to Wilkins:

A strategy assessment examines the overarching goals of an enterprise social media initiative and should help define the appropriate social media use cases. It should also seek to identify what competitors are doing in the social media space. An enterprise social media strategy does not have to exist when an organization begins to gather the information for the assessment, but eventually it should lead to one, Wilkins said.

Wilkins pointed to the much-heralded example of Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer run by a CEO who used to use Twitter all the time. Though he hasn't been active on Twitter lately, the CEO earned a reputation for leading his company's efforts in customer service. "It might not be directly replicable to many other companies," Wilkins said, "but Zappos has been so open and so transparent in the stuff that they're doing on the Internet and elsewhere that [their success] should serve as a partial example for other organizations to follow."

A technology assessment should ask what external sites are in use, what tools are in use, which sites and tools are of interest but not being used. "Start simply by asking who's using this or that, or find out what the flavor of the month is," Wilkins said.

An external brand assessment asks whether there are any unofficial or negative presences or communities on external sites. It also identifies who the influencers are for a given page or community.

"Ask the other people in the organization what company sites they know about," suggested Wilkins. Find the social media sites that are languishing and close the accounts that are no longer needed. "They are liabilities to the organization."

Wilkins said that getting a handle on how social media is representing the customer-facing brand is key. He said @BPGlobalPR was an example of a Twitter account someone set up to mock petroleum giant BP's public relations efforts after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. The account grew by tens of thousands of followers a week, unnoticed by BP until someone informed the company and it moved to shut the account down. Wilkins said there are agencies and tools to help organizations keep track of their brands' mentions on social media.

An internal culture assessment determines whether the organization is open and transparent, whether it restricts access to any social media sites and whether managers lead it who are committed to support a social media initiative.

"I'm a big fan of anonymous surveys," Wilkins said, explaining that such surveys should not be designed to track the IP addresses of individual respondents. "Follow it up with interviews with key people without managers present, so you can get a feeling for the timbre and tone of the answers to the questions," he said. The interviews will also give organizations a chance to gauge whether employees are being sincere in their answers, or if they're simply saying what they think managers want to hear.

A skilled facilitator or interviewer will be able to figure out what's not being said, which is just as important as what is being said. "It's a little bit like using a private investigator," Wilkins said.

The process assessment evaluates the business processes that social media tools enable. For example, an organization's research and development department might benefit from designers or researchers using an internal social media platform. Some questions to ask during this phase include: What tools are expected to be used? What are the inputs and outputs? Who is affected by them?

Finally, a governance assessment should determine whether there is an existing social media policy, if externally facing social media content requires review before posting and if there are dedicated governance roles in place.

"That's the biggest challenge for most organizations," Wilkins said. "Governance, when it's applied at all, is applied to eyeballs, click-throughs and numbers. It doesn't talk about all the things around information management, risk, compliance or liability." Many people still think about governance as a roadblock, he said, "but organizations ignore this stuff to their peril."

Once organizations have completed the research into these areas, they'll begin to see where gaps exist and how to move ahead with establishing a formal enterprise social strategy if they don't have one already. For those that do, making a social business assessment part of the regular routine will help focus their social media strategy and improve efficiency.

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