10 steps to a practical social media business strategy

Leveraging social media is an increasingly important -- and rewarding -- project, but it takes careful planning. Columnist Allen Bonde explains.

How can you make social media and Web 2.0 work for your business? As we discussed last time, social media sites...

and models are really just “channels” from a marketing and CRM perspective -- requiring targeted approaches, expectations and even owners. But while experimenting with public social media and marketing campaigns is an essential first step for most businesses, simply having a presence on Facebook or Twitter does not mean you have a true social media business strategy.

So where should we start after we get our “Facebook fix” and turn to leveraging social models more broadly and completely in our business? An examination of early adopters shows that blogs, social networking and customer forums offer the “biggest bang for the buck” among Web 2.0 tools in terms of measurable benefits.

Customer-facing processes in sales and marketing (arguably the stepping-off point for “social CRM”), along with employee knowledge-sharing, training and development, are natural places to focus social efforts initially.

But a social business strategy is a lot more than just picking the right tools and processes to improve. A strategy should begin with an assessment of business goals, current use of channels and customer needs and should then outline user adoption, ownership and governance models, ultimately resulting in a phased, flexible roadmap, with use cases and metrics to provide one “language” for all stakeholders.

As a consultant, I know that following this advice is easier said than done! So the remainder of this article shares some more specific recommendations, in the form of “10 steps,” for creating a practical social business strategy based on projects I’ve worked on in the past. I hope this list is helpful, and I welcome your feedback, thoughts and additional ideas for making social media and the promise of social CRM work for your business.

1. Create a mission statement -- What are your top-level objectives for applying social media and Web 2.0? And how will you achieve them? Ideally, this can be boiled down to one statement, articulating both the vision and where you aim to focus in terms of specific strategies. Don’t skip – or skimp on – this one; it’s important.

2. Assign owners – Who will take the mission, build the team, secure the budget, identify the tools needed? And who will own each channel, like LinkedIn, Twitter, your blog, etc., as you scale up the program? In about half of the organizations we have looked at, marketing owns social media, but this is mostly because early social business tended to focus on marketing or online commerce first.

3. Outline employee policies -- Do you have a corporate social media handbook, with policies, style guides and guidance for employees looking to participate (on behalf of the company) in public forums and social sites? And as you roll out new social business tools, beyond creating awareness – see below – how will you encourage new behaviors and even innovative uses for these social tools?

4. Identify existing communities -- Where are discussions taking place now? For consumer products, they may take place on Amazon or Facebook, while business topics may originate on LinkedIn or internal forums. But it’s also likely that most discussions will span multiple social (and traditional) channels and involve both user-generated and enterprise content. Your social business strategy will need to address all of these!

5. Create a marketing plan -- How will you promote and roll out your new (or existing) social capabilities? Will word-of-mouth marketing be sufficient? Also, a training plan, incentives and recognition programs for frequent posters to communities and moderators will be needed.

6. Develop individual channel strategies -- Depending on which channels best fit the goals of your social business strategy, it’s important to look at the “role” and “tone” of each, think about cross-links (e.g., Facebook promotion back to your corporate blog) and leverage monitoring and benchmarking tools for tracking discussions, sentiment and your current “influence.” For example, Twitter Grader is a good way to see how you stack up in the world of Twitter.

7. Develop community strategies and programs – How will you support existing communities via new social business tools and encourage the widest number of users to share, publish and comment on information, whether it exists inside or outside the enterprise? In addition, what is needed to measure reputation and enable a trust model that scales across all communities?

8. Develop your platform strategy -- As companies look to integrate social channels with core business processes, a growing number are turning to social business software (SBS) platforms like those from Jive, OutStart or RightNow via its HiveLive acquisition. In evaluating these options, it is important to outline enterprise requirements (built-in expertise location, mobile access, etc.) and dependencies to help you scale from individual communities to enterprise collaboration and social networking.

9. Create a social business dashboard -- What metrics will you use to show the ROI for your programs? In the customer service arena, reduced costs from avoided calls or email and higher customer satisfaction are two proven measures to start with. For enterprise use of Web 2.0 in other areas, improved information sharing and lower communication costs are additional benefits that could be measured and tracked.

10. Publish an action plan -- What tactics are needed to fulfill your social business vision over the next 12 to 18 months? Typically, these plans start with management activities (steps 1, 2, 3 and 9), marketing-oriented tasks (steps 4, 5 and 6), content and community development (steps 4 and 7) and technology rollout (steps 7 and 8). Ideally, for each tactic, you want to articulate specific skills needed, timeframes and dependencies, and field trials to test assumptions and readiness for proceeding with subsequent phases.

About Allen Bonde

Allen Bonde was recently CMO of eVergance and is a well-known analyst, entrepreneur and management consultant. He has 20 years of experience at McKinsey, Extraprise, the Yankee Group, and GTE (now Verizon). He has written for CIO.com and SearchCRM.com, and he has appeared on CNBC and Fox News. Bonde is the founder and managing director of Evoke CRM Partners (www.EvokeCRM.com), a consultancy focused on multi-channel customer strategies and the convergence of social media, self-service and CRM. He encourages readers to connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/abonde.

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