How to Develop a Social Media Strategy
Getting started in social media can be an inexpensive proposition—at least at the outset. But companies that have been successful in using social media have learned quickly that it requires a substantial commitment in time, people, and money.
To avoid at best stumbling and at worst being completely consumed by social media, a company must develop at comprehensive strategy. A social media management framework can help organizations create or improve a social media strategy by delivering a prioritized road map for instituting the process, technological, organizational, and cultural changes required to achieve the strategy.
Many companies, lured by the novelty and inherent interest in social media, are tempted to jump right into the fray without fully thinking through what they're doing and why they're doing it. In other words, the “fire, ready, aim” approach to social media is not uncommon. At best, that approach can result in a company's failing to fully capitalize on the benefits of social media. At worst, it can be a public relations and customer relationship nightmare. That's why developing a comprehensive social media strategy early is critical.
Typically, social media initially is adopted by marketing and public relations (PR) teams because the early-use cases for social media focused on advertising and PR. For example, many organizations launch a blog or Twitter account as alternative channels for their press releases or to publish information on the company and its products. Then they may start announcing sales promotions or links to coupons. Soon thereafter, two things typically happen that significantly increase the complexity of managing social media in the organization.
Employees interacting with customers via social media realize they need more participation from other teams in the organization. For example, they need to decide who handles a customer complaint received through Twitter. They have to coordinate announcements about sales promotions with supply chain and customer service leaders. They have to determine who will respond if a group of consumers suddenly launches an attack on the company's Facebook fan page on a Sunday morning. Or they have to figure out how they will work with human resources (HR) to ensure that the company appears well organized when people ask about job opportunities through Twitter.
As more people throughout the organization understand the potential value of social media, more teams want to use social media in their department. Figure 2.1 provides an example listing of the internal stakeholders of social media in a global financial services firm.
FIGURE 2.1 Internal Social Media Stakeholders at a Fortune 100 Company.
As a result of these two factors, the complexity of using social media in an organization gradually increases over time, impacting multiple teams and functional areas. (See Figure 2.2.)
FIGURE 2.2 Increasing Operational Complexity of Social Media.
In most organizations, the operational complexity of social media increases in four important ways—coordination, scrutiny and accountability, data management, and scalability and consistency—each of which a strong social media strategy addresses.
Most companies can find one or more internal teams using social media today. Because many social media tools are low cost (or free) and hosted outside of the corporate firewall, it has been easy for one or a handful of people to engage in social media on a small scale. But those teams typically achieve very little impact beyond the scope of their team—for example, a few PR professionals using a listening tool, or a small team of customer support agents using Twitter to respond to customer complaints.
As more functions in an organization engage in social media, coordination grows more difficult. Different teams will have different goals, motivations, knowledge, skills, resources, and urgency. Some teams will leap forward to stay ahead of the competition while others wait and see how the market, regulations, and internal politics develop.
During that time, different teams will purchase different social media applications that may provide redundant functionality and costs to the company. As a result, they will hire and develop people with different skill sets and knowledge. For example, HR may decide to use social media listening tools to find better job candidates at lower costs. At the same time, marketing may invest in different listening technologies for brand management while customer support develops its own listening and response tools to interact with customers. At some point, someone has to coordinate these investments and capabilities for the good of the overall company. (We cover social media tools for listening in more detail in Chapter 5.)
Scrutiny and Accountability
Although many organizations began their social media experience by experimenting with free tools and the spare time of a few employees, using social media at scale requires real investment in knowledgeable and skilled employees and tools, in addition to thoughtful strategies. Those all cost money. When asked to spend money, most organizations require a business case, or at least a reasonable hypothesis about how the investment will benefit the business.
Internal champions of social media seeking to achieve real business results will have to hold themselves accountable for measurable outcomes and most likely will need to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) in a business case. (ROI and metrics are covered in more detail in Chapter 3.)
In addition to business cases and demonstrable outcomes, internal champions of social media also must solve a broad array of questions to ensure that investments in social media align to business goals and are properly controlled and managed and that the people involved are appropriately measured and rewarded. Figure 2.3 lists many questions internal champions encounter as they work to achieve material business outcomes through social media. In Chapter 4, we provide more detailed guidance for internal champions seeking organizational support for social media investments.
FIGURE 2.3 Key Issues for Social Media Champions.
Online social media creates significant volumes and a more widespread set of customer behavioral data, but many organizations are limited in their ability to capture and measure the interactions. After spending years and millions of dollars to integrate their existing customer data, many organizations now find themselves frustrated by the massive volumes of valuable customer data living outside of their four walls and data centers in social media. Tools are emerging to help solve the problem. But until recently, it has been impossible with social media–generated data to achieve the level of customer insight that most organizations achieve in their traditional customer interaction channels. A social media strategy must address this need, lest the exercise result in collecting too much or too little data.
Consider a company whose call centers record phone calls and whose web sites capture every visitor click. Because it controls the phone lines and the Web servers, the company can store and analyze all relevant information—such as who the customer was, how long the interaction lasted, whether the interaction led to a new sale, and so on. In social media, however, many interactions between an organization and its audiences occur on Web servers that are outside of their data centers. For example, if a company responds via Twitter to a customer who mentions its brand, that interaction lives in Twitter's servers, not the company's; thus, until recently, the company had no way of storing and tracking that interaction. In addition, the organization probably had no idea who the real person was behind the Twitter account, so it couldn't store the interaction in that person's customer record (if he or she even was a customer).
Solutions are emerging to help integrate social media data with CRM systems, and Chapter 12 explains how to make that happen at the system level. For example, Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM enable a company to turn a Twitter user name into a Dynamics CRM customer record or sales lead. However, every company needs a single strategy for managing social media data across the organization to ensure maximum value from social media and to be in compliance with regulations such as privacy and disclosure.
Scalability and Consistency
Because most organizations have engaged in social media through bottom-up efforts that were not centrally funded or governed, using free tools and people's spare time, they find it very challenging to scale their initial social media efforts to achieve major paybacks. For example, in June 2009, the New York Times reported that Dell had generated $3 million in revenues through its Twitter account since 2007.1 That's $3 million in two years. In its regular business, Dell generates that much revenue every 30 minutes on average.2 The challenge for most organizations lies in determining how to scale such initial success into material outcomes for the business.
How Did We Get Here?
These challenges exist because bottom-up, fragmented approaches to social media simply do not permit large organizations to operate social media at scale, with appropriate controls and consistency across the enterprise. As a result, these approaches to social media likely won't realize their full potential. In addition, fragmented approaches to social media create significant risks, including:
Inconsistent customer experiences across products or business units.
Inability to ensure regulatory compliance across business units and regulatory jurisdictions.
Redundant investments in technologies and HR.
Fragmented or missing customer data.
Inability to consolidate the voice of the customer across channels, products, and segments.
Although most leaders can find someone in their organization using social media with customers or employees today, the challenge lies in evolving such efforts from experimental silos into enterprise-scale capabilities.
Some organizations leap into social media with committed leadership from the top of the organization, as was the case at Zappos, where chief executive officer Tony Hsieh led the charge with his active participation and leadership by example. In other organizations, social media begins through small efforts in different parts of the company and gradually grows into something bigger.
In any case, many organizations then appoint a chief social media officer, social media “czar,” or some equivalent role, who then is asked to create an inventory of all existing social media efforts and formulate a social media strategy for the organization as a whole. The problem with this approach is that development of a social media strategy is not one person's job. It requires a broad set of leaders to effectively shape and operationalize an impactful social media strategy.
In fact, we've learned that simply creating a new organizational role that owns social media accomplishes the same impact as when companies addressed quality in the 1970s and 1980s by anointing a chief quality officer. It may be very helpful to the journey, but it is a very small step. And regardless of how important this new role is in the early going, it eventually must disappear as each functional leader takes accountability for the impacts of social media in his or her domain.