Social media - you don't need me to tell you that it's one of the most discussed areas of the web today with both positive and negative responses from individuals and businesses; some see it as only a social toy while others have embraced it as an integral tool to achieve business objectives, including internal and external communications, marketing initiatives and a customer service platform.
If you are skeptical about implementing a social media plan for your business, consider the range of strategies that are possible. A recent Harvard Business Review article looked at over 1,000 companies and spoke with 70 executives leading social media initiatives in their own companies. The result? HBR defined four different social media strategies "which depend on a company's tolerance for uncertain outcomes and the level of results sought."
- The "predictive practitioner" uses social media for one specific area, like customer service or collaboration between consumers and suppliers. For these businesses, social media is a tool to deliver measurable business results and is usually contained to a single department.
- The "creative experimenter" describes the companies who take small steps into social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to listen to customers or for internal communications between employees. These businesses are less concerned with predictable outcomes and instead interested in listening and learning from social media.
- A "social media champion" uses large initiatives to achieve foreseeable results; an example the HBR article offers is Ford's experimental initiative to give 100 "agents" the keys to a Ford Fiesta and have them report back on social media channels. As this WSJ article about the "Fiesta Movement" states, it was an online gamble for Ford, but one that paid off -campaign generated 50,000 requests for information about the car--with almost no requests from current Ford owners, 35,000 test drives and 10,000 units sold in the first six days of sales. To get these results from a traditional campaign would likely cost in the tens of millions of dollars - the Ford campaign cost $5 million.
- Finally, the "social media transformer" looks to large-scale interactions that cut across the business and into external stakeholders as well. These businesses embrace the changing nature of social media and look to emerging trends to help inform their own business strategy.
While you might not fit into any category perfectly, it's important to pause and consider how your business objectives can best be achieved using social media and to establish a strategy. Once you've worked out a plan, stick with your strategy rather than expanding your efforts too quickly and ending up with a hodgepodge of social media initiatives that won't deliver your business objectives.
Some questions you may want to ask yourself while planning a social media strategy:
- First and foremost: What are your business objectives?
- Do you have the time and resources to implement a consistent social media strategy?
- Will social media be implemented in all departments of your business?
- What do you expect to get out of social media - and how will you measure this?
- Will you have a usage policy for employees using social media?
- What tools can I use to make social media easier to implement?
These are only some of the questions that can arise when you pause and consider a social media strategy - but they are important questions to answer.