Social media has permeated society, with individuals embracing all the popular tools for everything from hobbies to research to peer group communication. Corporations are also investing more in social organization resources to do things like promote products, fend off bad publicity, and collaborate with community stakeholders.
However, simply using social tools doesn't mean you're fully leveraging all there is to offer in the social world. Now that 2012 is well on its way, organizations should ask themselves whether they really have a meaningful plan to achieve their social organization goals.
Before you can determine whether you have a meaningful social plan, let's confirm what a social organization is. For example, Gartner defines it the following way: Social organizations "target social media to important business purposes, achieve otherwise impossible results by facilitating productive mass collaboration, and use collaboration to repeatedly tap into the collective genius of customers, employees, partners, etc."
Clearly, social media is no longer just an add-on for marketers. Social media budgets are increasing as marketers shift funds from other types of marketing. Companies are integrating social tools into company functions, and they're looking closely at the ROI these tools generate to justify the future spending increases they're committing to.
To understand how effective you are as a social organization, you should determine how well you've defined "your community." Your community is not just the people who read your blogs, check out your Facebook page, or subscribe to your Twitter. It's the whole process taken together -- the relationships you build, the ideas you share, and the purpose and passion you bring. It's about making connections and energizing people to facilitate the needs of not only the members of the community, but also the organization you're serving.
Every socially savvy organization aligns its social-engagement strategy with its business objectives. Some examples of objectives are: create brand consideration, grow customer advocacy, grow revenue, drive product innovation, and decrease the cost of product support. To do this, set up initiatives to promote advocacy, feedback, and support. For example, advocacy drives marketing awareness through increases in membership and the systematic release of user-generated content. The feedback loop can promote the discussion of ideas, participation by beta users, and reactions by the community to the look and feel of a new product. The support step can improve the customer experience and reduce the cost of service through question-and-answer sessions, strategic search results, and collaborative help.
The nexus of all social engagement is tuning in and content creation. Listening has been covered extensively, so I won't belabor this. Content, however, is both campaign-oriented and conversational, and it doesn't create itself. There has to be a plan and team in place to create it, deliver it, and leverage its value in different ways.
First, there is the sourcing of content, which involves identifying the first topics and stories that reflect the promoter's legacy, points of distinction, and vision. Second is the creation of content. A "content grid" approach develops content assets in multiple formats. Next is the management of content, which guides the workflow, archiving, and curation of information. Fourth, the logistics involves the actual delivery of content across multiple distribution channels. And last, but certainly not least, is measurement, which quantifies the return on content assets, tracks performance, and provides data points needed to improve performance.
We are all publishers of content. The multipart question is, is it really great content, is it meaningful to your audience, is it being segmented and personalized for your audience, and is it driving the kind of performance that you are after?
Content types: owned, paid, and earned media
Media content varies in style and scope, but it's all important to your ultimate aim of reaching people with your message.
On the first level, there is owned media. That is your own content that you create. If it's on your own channels -- whether it's your website, a blog, or part of your collateral architecture -- there is some level of control.
Certainly, there is an opportunity to create wonderful content. But as soon as someone else determines that the content is meaningful, the content converts to earned media. People nowadays can share content so easily from the PC, laptop, or mobile phone. It's getting easier to turn owned media into earned media.
There's a lot of value around earned media, because oftentimes it's the voice of the customer, it's the voice of your constituent that is driving your business, and it's also very credible. If you are in B2B sales, earned media is an especially important vehicle for driving sales.
But, at the same time, with earned media you have little control -- and it can be negative. The negativity can come, as always, in the form of an unflattering portrayal. But there are other potentially negative sources: Through tweets, blogs, or comments, people can do so many things to tear a brand down very quickly. And that's one more reason why you need to be thinking in terms of hiring staffing to monitor and tune in to the content being created. Then you can make decisions around either campaign content or conversation content.
Paid media also plays an important role in your social organization. This is where a brand or organization pays for a channel and leverages it. It's not always as credible because it's advertising, but it is an important way to get your message out.
How to develop a meaningful social plan
So, the big question is, are you really maximizing your social organization? Are your executives embracing social? Take another look at how your social organization can take it to the next level. It really is about people and relationships, and they do thrive when there is some level of clarity and some meaning behind the plan.
Here are seven ways your company can take your social organization to the next level:
- Target social media for important business purposes. In our case, we think in terms of strategic marketing, product enhancement and performance, and customer and partner success.
- Ask your cross-functional teams if your website is enabling your interactive-brand ecosystem. You have one, but again, just like your social organization, it may not be optimized.
- Shift funds from traditional marketing to social media or community types of initiatives. It's tempting to hang onto classic outbound marketing and classic communication or traditional media approaches, but there is so much opportunity if you explore the new channels.
- Implement a cross-functional community or social team with CEO and CMO sponsorship and senior executive leadership. Integrate traditional PR, social media, community hub, and thought leadership. Create a community hub both on your website and in person at events or where there are face-to-face conversations. Support from senior levels is very important to building a successful social organization.
- Staff up your social media roles with a distributed workforce that can collaborate and perform in real time. Plot where your organization is, which will help inform strategy and budget and hopefully help you secure what you need for the next phase.
- Redefine community in social metrics to align with business outcomes versus traditional-media performance. Think in terms of purpose, collaboration, and relationships with people across the diverse community that you are engaged with.
- Develop and deploy content, and then make sure it keeps getting better. Do it in a timely manner, blending campaigns and ongoing conversations. You may want to have a combination of people sharing that responsibility, or maybe you choose to have some people dedicated to campaigns and others dedicated to conversation, but they should be in sync and be collaborating amongst themselves.
Being a social organization involves more than just doing a bang-up job on Twitter. There are strategies and best practices that businesses are deploying that are generating value both for them and for their communities. If you develop a plan that makes sense for your business, follow it, reevaluate it, and keep the feedback loop cycling forward, to drive results in the social sphere.
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