What have the big companies learned about succeeding in social media? At Beeline Labs, we recently interviewed marketing and public relations executives at major companies like Cisco, Best Buy, GE, and Intuit to find out how large corporations are creating social media monitoring and engagement strategies. We also wanted to learn about common mistakes, surprises, emerging best practices, and any advice they might have for other companies. Here are the top 10 pieces of advice.
1. Start with an objective that's tied to a priority. For example, initiate monitoring to gain insights for planning a new product launch, or focus engagement on solving a customer service issue. The scope will be manageable, you'll be able to measure the impact in ways valued by others in the company, and it will be easier to gain cross-functional collaboration for expanded initiatives.
2. Involve your agencies, but don't outsource to them. This was one of the hottest topics across all interviews. Several of the interviewees said, "Don't leave this to an external agency. Get your own social media experts. You need to own it; it's your lifeblood." The role of the agency is more to answer specific questions -- use it to find the conversation (on an issue or product category), the conversations that are taking place, and the most influential bloggers on a particular topic. The people engaging in social media conversations should be people in the company, according to those interviewed for the study.
3. Employee social media guidelines/policies should reflect corporate values. Every company interviewed emphasized that the starting points for developing social media guidelines are the company's existing values, culture, and codes of conduct. Social media guidelines should be an extension of these, they advised. We also found that the greater the corporate culture of trust and collaboration, the more companies encourage employees to freely engage in social media conversations on behalf of the company.
4. Don't just jump in. Begin by spending time listening. This will provide context and help you understand how to engage.
5. Education beats "legislation." At many companies, the team responsible for social media monitoring and engagement spends significant time educating and coaching others in the organization. This is done both formally, through quarterly events, published guidelines and "how to" materials, and informally, as issues and opportunities arise. These teams also use social media tools like internal wikis and forums to share case studies, emerging best practices, tips, and techniques.
6. The human element is essential. Technology providers and companies both agree that tools alone won't work. You need human analysis by the people closest to the company to extract business meaning from the social media conversations. Technology cannot analyze emotional relationships between a brand and a consumer. While everyone seems to agree that there's a vital role for human analysis, exactly who does it -- and how -- is an evolving question.
7. Share the data. The goal (and challenge) of using social media is to coordinate incoming information and insights and get it into the right hands quickly. Most companies are now looking at technology platforms with workflow capabilities that ensure the right people across different functions see relevant posts as they happen. These companies also see the need for new types of reports that provide meaningful insights to different corporate functions, as opposed to simply providing overall data. Social networking analytics will become invaluable in understanding behavior, interests, influence, and customer and employee engagement.
8. Invest as if it matters. "People need to get over the idea that '[social media] is free!' -- that it's dirt-cheap and you don't need any resources," said one marketing executive. Effective monitoring and engagement that deliver business value require tools and talent, especially as companies look to scale their early experiments into ongoing business processes.
9. Don't worry about "bad experiences." Almost all companies interviewed said they were surprised at how few, if any, negative experiences had occurred from engaging in social media. While legal and management often resist social media strategies because of concerns that someone may say something negative about the company, this has rarely been an issue.
10. Involve legal from the beginning. Show the legal team the business value of participating in the online conversation and the risk of being silent, said those interviewed. Use specific examples and enlist them in creating ways to protect the business while gaining the advantages of social media engagement by doing things such as establishing social media guidelines for all employees. For thorny issues, consult with legal as you would consult with them on other potentially controversial or material issues.
To download Beeline Labs' full report on emerging best practices, click here.
Lois Kelly is a partner in Beeline Labs.
On Twitter? Follow Kelly at @loiskelly. Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.