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'Extreme' collaboration: TV spurs success in social media strategy

An "extreme makeover" on television leads to a social media strategy triumph. Experts agree there are three things common to such success: forethought, careful plan execution and ongoing measurement.

When ABC television says it wants to put your company on TV, you listen. So when Alure Home Improvements in East...

Meadow, N.Y., learned it would be rebuilding a house on the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, it scrambled to put a team of volunteer plumbers, electricians, carpenters and painters together.

With barely a month to filming and only a seven-day window to complete the entire project for the popular show’s 2011 season, Alure put together a social media strategy to gather its necessary volunteers from among employees, partners and customers.

“We had to ramp up very quickly to get a pep rally together,” said John Doyle, director of technology and communications for the home improvement business. But Doyle saw an opportunity for social collaboration beyond the television show, so he contacted The Pulse Network, a content automation platform focused on video based in Canton, Mass.

The Pulse Network helped Alure start a campaign using video on Facebook, its own blog, YouTube and Flickr. Doyle also used Twitter to send out text alerts about the upcoming project. In all cases, Alure asked customers and partners for questions about home building and home improvement. It got roughly 100 different questions, and the best were selected as the basis for how-to videos Alure would produce with Pulse Network’s help behind the scenes during the filming of the project.

The Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and blog distribution of that content contributed to a 10%-15% increase in traffic to the Alure Home Improvements website since summer 2010, when construction took place.

The Alure Home Improvements example supports the notion that customers and partners will be drawn to effective social media and that employees who find a collaboration platform intuitive and useful will make it a key aspect of their day-to-day processes. And, with a little effort, the interaction that takes place on both sides of the organizational firewall will add to the bottom line.

Three keys to success
Experts agree there are three things common to successful social media strategies: forethought, careful plan execution and continued measurement. Taken together, these steps can direct organizations down the right path, make it easy for users to share content with real value and help lead to success.

Companies need to offer unique experiences for each user as part of their social strategy, said Harish Ramachandran, vice president and co-founder of Cignex Datamatics, a consultant specializing in open source collaboration and content management matters based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Think Facebook. “It’s really about 800 million individual sites depending on your individual characteristics,” said Ramachandran, explaining that Facebook’s success in social media is partly due to users who feel the experience is personalized. “Each person’s connection makes it a unique site.”

A clear vision
Enterprises looking for success in the social realm need to develop a clear understanding of the business goal for implementing social media.

“That’s where the biggest challenge is,” Ramachandran said.

Allen Bonde, chief marketing officer for The Pulse Network, said organizations need to know what content assets they have. The best approach, according to Bonde, is a content audit arranged into four categories -- viewed as levels of a pyramid with high-level content at the top.

“That top section is expert content,” Bonde said. “Then from there, you have curated content, filtered user-generated content and user-generated content.” He said most businesses and organizations have a good handle on both user-generated and expert content “but are less adept at the middle layers of that.”

Curated content is that which has been repackaged and reprocessed, perhaps added to by experts, while filtered user-generated content has been vetted by a knowledgeable source, according to Bonde. He said Alure Home Improvements understands the divisions and has combined its customer-facing presence with an internal social media strategy that results in valuable expert, curated and filtered content.

Simplicity in execution
An organization will improve its chances success if its social strategy, internally and externally, centers on simplicity, Ramachandran said. “Look at Facebook: No training needed.”

Of course, once it’s easy for users to begin collaborating on a social platform, there are other challenges to meet. “If you look at the number of contributors that might write … that increases multifold as soon as you make it easy for them.”

A dramatic increase in contributor numbers will affect workflow processes and might require a network moderator. An increase in the workload tied to an implementation might mean redistributing personnel to handle it. “It’s a pretty significant investment,” Ramachandran said.

Additionally, the bigger the community, the harder it is to manage, said Philip Rogers, client partner at Revenue Architects, a Boston-based consultancy focused on the Web, social media and mobile technologies.

“If anything,” Rogers said, “that will give small businesses an advantage because they can move faster. The reality should be that social engagement ought to be part of a company expectation of employees, but it isn’t yet.”

Optimize and measure
The next step on the way to success is finding the right business problem, such as a project that would benefit from internal social collaboration, and then proving its bottom-line value. It helps to demonstrate that in business terms.

Measurement capabilities should be set up right from the start. “This is one big experiment and it is easy to measure results and make changes,” Rogers said.

The trick, Ramachandran said, is to “change the platform itself into an idea generation system for the company,” act on the ideas and tag people as being more relevant than others according to the areas of expertise they demonstrate. This is where measurement and fine-tuning come in, he said, “and rehashing your strategy if something doesn’t work.”

This was last published in January 2012

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