The Overlooked Side of Social MediaThe Staff of the Corporate Executive Board
More than 70% of companies are already using social media; many are planning to increase their spending on social media across the coming years. Whether for learning from customers, building their brands or a range of other hoped-for outcomes, companies are clearly diving in.
Unfortunately, few have thought very hard about managing these initiatives. In a classic case of "ready, fire, aim," companies are committing resources to social media efforts with very little process behind them. The result? A hodgepodge of unrelated initiatives, wheels re-invented and resources wasted.
The Corporate Executive Board has found that the best companies recognize that social media are just another set of promising tools and as such are to be understood, mastered, and used efficiently. Importantly, they also recognize that how they manage their social media efforts depends on where they are in the journey from initial discovery to mainstream use. That journey has three stages:
Discovery: At this stage, the organization is just finding out about the potential uses (and risks) of social media for its purposes and making initial forays. The goal: understanding ("could this work for us?"). Since few resources are necessary at this point, companies don't need heavy managerial oversight. But they do need downside protection. Clear, well-communicated policies on everything from information sharing to appropriate language is in order.
Experimentation: As an organization does more with social media, the importance of learning efficiently becomes urgent. At this point, companies need tighter oversight and coordination of efforts. There are a number of ways to create that kind of transparency and sharing, ranging from steering committees to tiger teams" to social media czars. These bodies should develop and steward a learning agenda for the firm's efforts, using each initiative to deliberately increase the institutional knowledge of social media use.
Measurement standards also become more important at this stage. The best companies settle on a consistent set of measures for similar initiatives, using that data to test and learn over time. Metrics like track-backs, for example, can clarify better or worse social media vehicles for a given objective.
Adoption: While few companies currently find themselves in this stage, those that do loosen their managerial posture, moving away from oversight toward support. Here, the role of any central or dedicated management body should be one of education, coaching and provision of expertise. Some firms are building centers of excellence, repositories of people and knowledge about using social media. Metrics should shift here too, tailored for assessing efficiency and effectiveness of specific initiatives.
The short story: Social media isn't a fad about to fade away; it's a good idea for your organization to learn how to use it to your advantage. The best companies will learn faster and get more out of social media by aggressively managing their efforts.