Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to Implement a Social Media Strategy

You need a plan to put it in place. Here are five areas to discuss when implementing a social media strategy.

1. Determine Your Objective

Luis Ramos, CEO of The Network, reminds us that creating a social media strategy is a complex exercise because “it includes not only looking inside the organization to establish appropriate practices, usage policies and content parameters, but it also includes looking outside the organization to determine the proper degree of engagement.”
Figure out why you’re getting on the social media bandwagon and what you want to accomplish with it. This step is absolutely necessary if you plan to measure ROI or develop your own internal metrics tracking.
When General Motors put together their social media strategy, they had some specific objectives they wanted to accomplish. Christopher Barger, director of global social media at General Motors, outlined the following:
A. Become more responsive to people/consumer audiences
B. Incorporate audience/consumer feedback into your organization more quickly and effectively than has happened traditionally
C. Make your brand a little more “human” to the outside world, and show people the smarts, personality and passion of the people behind your logo
D. Increase awareness of the strength of your current product lineup, and provide perspective/accurate information about your company
The other benefit of defining objectives is that they can guide the timetable for implementation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an organization’s list of objectives and knew there was no way they could implement everything at once or in the timeframe they intended. Having well-defined objectives can assist in prioritization and creating the best way to phase-in a social media strategy.
Developing objectives and a timetable could also prompt a conversation about content management. Ramos suggests including in the strategy the position responsible for updating content as well as the update frequency. “Many organizations have grand plans of updating content on a regular basis only to quickly run out of topics, leaving content to become stale. As a best practice, a specific employee is typically assigned to create and manage the company’s social media pages, so he/she can respond to messages and questions within 24 hours.”
2. Find an Internal Evangelist

This is a constant source of discussion right now on the Internet, but the bottom line is, some department needs to “own” social media. Lots of departments might be consulted when it comes to decision making, but ultimately someone has to be held accountable for the outcomes.
Which department ultimately gets the responsibility could be dependent upon the size of your organization and corporate culture. For example, Barger says social media at General Motors is “owned within the communications team, reporting up through the Vice President of Communications, who reports directly to the Chairman/CEO.  Social media leadership has a seat at the communications leadership table and acts as an integral part of the larger corporate communications function.”
Smaller organizations might not have that amount of structure, so responsibility might simply fall to sales or marketing.
Another option to consider is using external resources (i.e. consultants) for certain aspects of the strategy and internal resources for the rest. Barger explains, “We use internal resources whenever possible; given that two of GM’s main goals are to become more responsive to the public and to incorporate insight back into the organization, these are things we can only effectively do if it is our team who are engaged.  We use agency partners for monitoring/measurement, for identifying new opportunities and new influencers for us to reach out to, for video production, and for counsel on tactics/strategy.”
3. Consider Your Employees
This is a biggie. Organizations need to understand their employees’ level of knowledge and interest. Offer training.
And one noteworthy item for non-profits is to think about your volunteer base. Diane Gomez, public relations manager for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), mentions that not only is PRSA staff involved, but volunteers are as well. “This includes monitoring and interacting with members (and nonmembers) who reach out to us via these channels, and is in addition to pushing out information of interest to our members.”
In addition to posting GM’s social media policy, Barger explains several things the company did to convey the company’s approach. “We posted a 45-minute ‘Social Media 101’ interactive training course on the intranet that gives employees the basics on how/why/where to engage in social media. Additionally, we developed a ‘201’ level ‘train-the-trainer’ course that introduces more complete tools and tips. Those who’ve taken this course are authorized to train others within their departments on the basics of social media. Finally, we have an internal blog, ‘Making Conversation,’ that focuses on sharing lessons we’re learning through social media outreach.”
Though she’s the president of a smaller firm, Crystal Kendrick used a similar approach with The Voice of Your Customer. “Our employees are very social media savvy and understand how to technically use the sites. We discussed the spirit of the policy and reviewed examples of ineffective social media policies. Training for our employees focused on the strategic and professional applications of the social media sites. We use ‘key word rich’ content, approved messages and in some cases, scheduled time for posting.”
Gomez added they are encouraging staff to participate in social media on behalf of the organization. “We are looking to establish an overall strategy that departments will follow when deciding when and how to use social media.” I’ve found many companies developing job aids, such as flow charts or decision trees, to help employees determine when and how to respond to blogs and inquiries on other social networking sites.
4. Check Your Tech
While most social media doesn’t need a huge technology investment, you should still take a look at the technology capabilities of your company and make sure the system can support the strategy.
As Ramos reminds us, this includes making sure social media applications aren’t hidden behind firewalls. “Before any social media components are engaged, there needs to be an understanding across the organization of the following:
- Who will have access to the sites?
- Are there any firewalls that would prevent access?
- What are the rules about time spent and content posted on the sites?
He adds, “Due to some of the technology access restrictions, some organizations have opted to build their own internal technology to offer social media type forums without the complexities of changing firewalls or altering access rules. This also allows further features like locking down postings to help control inappropriate content.”
Kendrick took a different approach to the issue of employee time on social media applications by creating “social media breaks that are very similar to smoke breaks.”
5. Listen First
A lot can be learned by watching others. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on and offline so you can learn more.
Barger encourages companies to remember “that few ideas should be rejected out of hand; not everything is going to work, but in 95% of the cases, even if something doesn’t work there is value to be gained and lessons to be learned from the ‘failure.’ The only exceptions to this rule are efforts that would contradict the basic etiquette and/or rules of social media – transparency, openness, authenticity, and avoiding ‘pure traditional marketing’ plays, etc.”
According to Kendrick, “The first few weeks were a bit hectic.” Like GM, they began to share best practices among employees, identify expert users to follow and recommend connections. She notes, “We matched our target customers to the demographics of our connections and identified gaps in our networks. From there, we began to focus on making connections with persons in target companies, industries and geographic regions and joined groups and lists of industry groups to ensure that we maximized our exposure and business opportunities.”
During 2010, more companies are expected to explore and engage in social media activities. While some might categorize using a social networking application as easy, that doesn’t mean developing a strategy is simple. Proper planning and execution is the key to integrating social media into your organization.
Source: Sharlyn Lauby is the president of Internal Talent Management(ITM) which specializes in employee training and human resources consulting.