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Prepare a formal enterprise social media strategy for business success

An Altimeter Group senior analyst describes the levels of maturity successful organizations go through in developing a formal enterprise social media strategy.

Jeremiah OwyangSocial media crises are on the rise and many organizations have found that they can be costly. Most problems associated with exposure in the social media realm, however, can be avoided.

“These are companies that have jumped into social with their customers but have failed to prepare,” said Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst for customer strategy at Altimeter Group of San Mateo, Calif. Research from Altimeter shows that 75% of what he termed social media crises could have been averted or successfully dealt with had the companies in question prepared properly before “jumping into this space.”  

Organizations need to develop an effective social media strategy, Owyang said, and those ranked among the most successful typically do his by moving up through a hierarchy of social media maturity.

Owyang spoke of these levels during his keynote address before 1,000 people at the recent KMWorld 2011 conference in Washington, D.C.  After his address, Owyang spoke with and explained the key to social media success is setting up a crossfunctional team and developing a flexible charter or plan.

What are the different levels of social media maturity that companies go through?

Jeremiah Owyang: At the very baseline, level 1 out of 5, is what is called formation. This is when organizations are just getting governance, policies and information programs in place and allowing employees to have access to these tools. The second level is when companies create processes, workflow and even a crisis response team and a plan. At the next level we see companies formalize their program with a charter and put together what is often known as a center of excellence. This group is [works to] coordinate all the different pieces involved in setting up a social media strategy. At the next level we see that team trying to enable business units to use these tools without them or at least within set parameters and guidelines because they can’t scale by trying to do all these things on their own. Companies at the last level are responding to customers in real time and the entire corporation is involved. In fact, at this level, these companies are trying to predict what customers will do.

Are there major differences in preparing for this depending on company size?

Owyang: The size of a company does matter, but the key thing we see is that smaller companies can harness the crowd whether it’s employees or customers or prospects to achieve a little more efficiency and value. Large companies are often shackled by what they are allowed to do inside the company and they tend to be siloed. But we’ve seen that larger companies can put more resources against these programs while in smaller companies this is someone’s second or third job. As they move up in the maturity model, their team size increases.

Who is typically in charge of these teams at companies with successful social strategies?

Owyang: The most common role is called a corporate social strategist and she, it’s most often a female, is responsible for the program charter, working with the different business units, and deploying these programs. She is ultimately responsible for measuring the success of these programs. But she has a team around her of community managers responsible for working with customers or actually business unit liaisons, managers or even analysts and even a development team.

How important is it for a company to put together a formal document around social strategy?

Owyang: It’s critical. Writing the charter is key, but make sure you write it in pencil, not pen, because it’s constantly going to change. We know that companies tend to focus on customer support or marketing with regard to social media, but they’ve got to think bigger -- about human resources, or supply chain, or partners, or product innovation. But it’s going to start off very small. So here’s a tip, the charter should not discuss anything about tools or technology. That’s irrelevant. But what are the business goals and how are you going to achieve them? And how are going to measure them? And lastly, how are your relationships going to change with your employees, customers, prospects and partners? So the charter document should be a vision. It should state [that the organization] will use social media technology to accomplish these business goals. As a result, we’ll improve our relationships with our constituents.

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