Six steps to your organization’s social media and networking success.
The Internet, more specifically social media and networking has changed the way people and organizations connect, create, stay in touch or seek help from others.
Citizen journalists are using social media tools like blogs, microblogs, and video sharing to inform the world of the events surrounding the 2009 Iranian election protests when traditional journalists were banned from the country. It helped to topple the Egyptian government and many other Middle Eastern governments in 2011.
Musicians utilize services like Myspace and YouTube to launch careers and connect with fans. Companies employ wikis to collaborate on product development, manage projects and customer relations, and provide technical support. E-tailers and restaurants apply reviews and opinions to increase traffic and drive sales because while 14% of people trust ads, 76% trust consumer recommendations* for purchase decisions. Furthermore, companies use Facebook to encourage fans to refer their products or services since a Facebook friend referral makes two-thirds of US Facebook users more likely to purchase a product or visit a retailer¹.
However, many organizations are jumping head long into social networking before they know what it is, how to use it, what platforms their stakeholders may or may not use, what social technographics define their stakeholders and what costs — direct and hidden — are involved for fear they are going to be left out.
Others leap in because it is going to be a ‘cheap’ way of marketing themselves without having goals, strategies and tactics established, knowing the human resource and time allocations needed to get results, defining a method for measuring results, and determining what message(s) they’re going broadcast.
The following 6-step process will help any business successfully take advantage of the numerous opportunities social media and networking offers to engage — and connect — with stakeholders: physically, rationally or emotionally.
Before you, or your employees, think about using social media and networking for engineering, marketing communications, customer service, or anything else you must have an understanding of each of the different services and platforms available, and how their ecosystems operate.
Acquiring this knowledge can done by first visiting Wikipedia’s list of social networking services or conducting a Google search. Then visit the service’s homepage and browse their ‘About Us’ section, which is full of useful information. And, search Google find infographics on each of the systems. Today, there is an infographic for each major social networking channel. Here are few infographic links to get you started.
- Focus: The Real Cost of Social Media (July 2011)
- SocialCast: A Hierarchy of Communication (July 2011)
- DigitalSurgeons: Facebook vs. Twitter (2010)
- Amover: Facebook Demographics (Jan. 2011)
- Amover: LinkedIn Demographics (Jan. 2011)
- BuySellAds: The Who, Why & How of Twitter (May 2011)
Also, investigate the proprietary platforms to understand their ecosystems, and how they might be implemented.
Once you are comfortable, sign up, browse and watch for a bit before jumping into the conversation. Note: But, before you do it, find out if your company has any social media and networking policies in place, see comments in the definition phase.
You must gain insight on your stakeholders as well. This is crucial to the success of any social media and networking venture because each personality or technographic type plays a different role in the system. All your departments — engineering, marketing communications, sales, customer service, human resources, information systems, etc. — need to collaborate to determine who’s who.
Some questions to ask include.
- What reason(s) do they use social media and networking: to connect, to create, to stay in touch or seek help from others?
- Why social media and networking over other communications channels?
- How tech savvy are their stakeholders?
- Where are they going to find information and how do they find it?
- Are they asking friends and connections for product/service referrals?
- How active are they? Daily, weekly, monthly, or just a few times per year?
- Have they every created content or do just read or watch?
- Do they engage at work or at home?
- What’s their age, sex and title?
Answers to these questions and others will go a long way in determining what type of personality or technographic they are: creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives. These categories are Forrester Research’s methodology for surveying consumers. See their latest technographics ladder. Also, compare the answers against the demographics of the service, if available.
The research isn’t just for external stakeholders, but internal as well.
Conduct an internal company review. Ask your entire staff.
- How familiar they are with the various platforms?
- Does your company have the creative and human resources available to create, manage and promote a social networking campaign with relevant and useful content and communication on a regular basis, or will you need outside assistance like copywriters, or marketing communications specialists?
- Are your employees adaptable and prepared to accept the change that social networking will bring to the company or do you need change consultants to guide them through the process?
- What is the employee morale level?
- Are they capable or willing to stay on message?
Don’t forget to learn about your competition’s use of social media and networking tools. Check out your competitors’ websites to see if they have any blog posts, wikis, specialized forums, etc.
- Do they use or supply tools like ratings or specialized widgets (applications)?
- Are they on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc.?
- If they are what types of information do they have?
- What subject matter are they discussing?
- Who’s following them?
- How active are they in their blog posts?
While individual employees maybe championing the social media and networking need, it’s truly a corporate function, which needs goals, strategies, tactics and rules. Executive management along with every department head will need to be involved during this phase as well.
Just like your organization has corporate, product development, marketing communications, workforce development and other departmental goals, you must also have goals for social networking. For example:
- Gain customer insight
- Reduce product development time
- Provide better customer support
- Acquire competitive insight
- Enhance brand awareness & image
- Generate leads
- Or a combination of the above.
Each goal for each stakeholder group will require a different set of strategies, tactics, resource needs and metrics. Additionally, the use of social networking, and its goals, must relate back to the your company’s objectives.
Hence, the need for a comprehensive social media and networking plan — one that integrates with your full marketing communications plan.
You must recognize that, while social media and networking can provide cost savings over other marketing communications channels, it can be time consuming as well. Therefore, as part of the definition process, you must determine what form your messages will take, how you will monitor and measure buzz and engagement, what technology and human resources will be required to engage your stakeholders and achieve your goals along with the frequency and duration your employees can participate. The following are some questions to ask.
- Will your messages be informational, educational, entertaining, promotional or a combination?
- Will you develop your own content, incorporate syndicated content or utilize stakeholder created content or a combination of them all?
- Who in the company, if any, are going to develop the content or do you hire someone to do it for you?
- Will you need a discussion group or company profile on LinkedIn, a Facebook fan page, a community or forum of your own, wikis, etc., or a combination of all them maybe required?
- Do you need several social networking channels to cover each of the major stakeholder groups?
- Is it going to be a private platform requiring user name and password to get at information, or open to the general public to read like a wiki or knowledge base or maybe a combination of both?
- If you develop your own platform, where will it be hosted: on company or off-sight servers?
- What tools and personnel are going to be needed to monitor and answer social networking conversations?
- Who’s going to be responsible for ensuring the messages, conversations, profiles are on point and relevant?
- What key performance indicators will you use to measure success (engagements, leads, number of fans/followers, website visits, brand awareness, etc.)?
- What free or paid tools, if any, will you use to listen to the conversations about you and your brand?
- How will you promote your social networking opportunities?
What tactic(s) that you will use is (are) going to be dependent on the skill levels of those involved and your company’s objectives.
And, just like any ecosystem if there is no activity it will die. So if your organization decides to develop your own social networking platform or even if you’re going to use LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, you must also determine who are going to be the internal and external supporters to stir the pot and keep the conversation going.
Social networking giveth, and it taketh away. It can be a great resource, but if misapplied or misused, or your staff goes off message or misidentifies themselves, and your organization’s reputation maybe harmed or intellectual property divulged, lost or stolen. (Check out our blog post Industrial Marketing: Can Social Media Play a Role? Can Social Media Work? for more information about security issues related to social networking.) Therefore, you need to establish a set of rules for how your business intends to use social networking and how your employees should use it to make their job more efficient and practical. If your company doesn’t have a social networking policy in place, you need one quickly before you take the leap.
You’ve figured out what you need and how you are going to do it. Now you have to purchase and implement the required technology and information systems. Build, write and develop the blogs, wikis, knowledge bases, discussion groups, forums, and employee accounts for the various tactics that will be employed.
Generate the educational information (videos, documents, etc.) needed, if they aren’t already. More than likely, you will also need to develop a company-wide training program for your employees. So don’t forget that when generating your educational information.
Produce the marketing communications messages needed to notify your customers, employees, channel partners and vendors of the company’s social networking efforts.
You must keep your core brand values in mind in creating your social network because if the experiences and messages at each touchpoint aren’t consistent and cohesive — and in harmony with the values — that will create a disconnect, the conversation will end and the desired action will be terminated.
Like any good product development process includes beta testing, developing a social network to meet the needs of your stakeholders also requires testing before it is launched. You’ll need to let key stakeholders test the systems, information and messages that are being employed to see if they are going to meet the needs of that particular stakeholder group.
Once all the content has been created, and the platforms have tested and tweaked, then they can be disseminated to the entire stakeholder population, and participation can begin.
Just like any good business or product development plan has metrics which are monitored, it’s necessary to establish metrics in the definition phase and track those metrics to determine if results are meeting expectations, and to establish the ROI and ROE (return on engagement) of your efforts.
Monitoring your company’s dedicated networks just isn’t enough. You must watch all forms of social networking to follow what stakeholders are saying. Tracking stakeholder communications will require technology, and there are numerous packages that enable organizations to do this easily and efficiently. But, you’re going to have to devote time to analyze the data collected and respond to conversations.
The insight gained from monitoring and analyzing metric data along with conversations should flow back to the beginning and be part of a continuous improvement process. Making the network better, the stakeholder connections stronger, and the company more successful.
If your company is seeking to gain more insight into social media and networking and effective strategies I recommend you read the book Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies. If your company needs help in processing these 6 steps, contact one of our social media and networking experts at +1 847 453 8895.
Last Updated: July 29, 2011