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No More Silos: 7 Steps to Greater Social Media Success in 2012

By Maria Ogneva.

I have no doubt that everyone reading this is a pro at using social media to connect with customers, partners and other members of their company’s social ecosystem. But in 2012, I’m going to challenge us all to dig a little deeper and integrate social into our existing business processes.

To prevent social media from creating its own silo, we must take steps to make social part of everything we do. Here is an overview of how we see that happening:

I. Evolution towards a social business

Let’s consider this scenario: You use social media and customer communities to listen to customer feedback about a new product, understand early indicators and share your findings internally with the right stakeholders. While distilling data into insights is the important first step, the real art is the process of making these insights actionable. This way, the support team can staff up and have a response ready, product team can make necessary changes, and the community team can communicate back to the customers that they received the feedback and are taking action. In the end, everyone wins, as the customer receives a better experience, tells his/her friends about it, giving you a viral lift, and you have a better product. None of this is possible without teams working in unison, with the community manager/social media manager facilitating the information flow.

To fully capture the opportunity, you must focus on customer experience, generating positive word of mouth organically and preventing social media crises from happening proactively (here is a related post by Jeremiah Owyang). To do so, you must move towards becoming a learning and sharing organization, that’s able to take action with the accelerated pace of business. Be wary of relying on technology to create these process flows for you automatically—use technology to facilitate solid processes, backed by a collaborative culture.

II. Evolution of the social media strategist

The role of the social media strategist is thus going to evolve to become an internal facilitator who works with other departments and individuals within the organization. This facilitation will result in better information flow, internal buy-in and better processes. In complex businesses with regional offices and separate business units, the social strategist will provide guidelines to maintain a consistent brand voice, while giving these units the autonomy to move forward as necessary. To help your organization really operationalize social, your social media leader has a seat at the executive table as a decision-maker. This will ensure that social gets baked into each process, and is not an afterthought or a bolt-on.

III. Social is the new enterprise interface

You can’t design effective information flows with antiquated “anti-social” software and legacy business systems. Fragmentation of business data across disparate systems has created informational silos, which need to be dissolved to support cross-functional collaboration. Integrations are going to become central to businesses’ information management strategy, and as communications professionals, we need to educate ourselves on how it all fits together, and how we can use it effectively.

Social in the enterprise is evolving beyond a conversation platform, to a social layer that aids information flows. Forrester predicts that social is going to become the interface for Unified Communications, stating that “a new generation of social enterprise apps will finally deliver the productivity businesses desire by systematically grouping and rating people, information, and processes required to answer business needs. By creating a social layer between information workers and the applications and communications infrastructure, social enterprise apps will overcome the adoption malaise that has affected UC&C.” Forrester estimates that enterprise apps will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 61% to become a $6.4 billion market in 2016.

IV. Rise of employee as a brand evangelist

The concept of the Social Customer has come front and center, as we vie for his/her advocacy and wallet. But how many of us are focused on turning our employees into advocates? If you are not, you are leaving money on the table. Engaged employees who are empowered to positively impact their businesses, will reach dramatic business results—just check out this Gallup study for benefits of engagement.

Currently there exists a chasm between customer experience in social vs. traditional channels, which I believe is driven by the disparity in access to resources. Access to resources (information, training, as well as people) to help solve customer problems will empower employees to act faster and in the interests of the customer, ultimately making them feel more in control of their jobs, more engaged—and we all know that engaged employees are less likely to leave. Let’s not forget that passion is infectious, and in any customer-facing position, passionate employees will have a greater success rate with everything from customer service to sales.

V. Internal communicators are now community managers

It’s clear that we must have a conversation with our customers, but are we doing this with our employees? Internal communications professionals used to talk to their employees from a one-way safety of intranet portals and newsletters. This new breed of the empowered employee wants to have a conversation, ask questions and challenge the status quo. Internal communications groups must work in lockstep with senior leadership to create these environments, and your corporate culture will impact how open you are ultimately able to be. It takes a particular brand of leadership to be able to commit to this degree of transparency, but once you do, results will astound you—just check out this story of Giam Swiegers, the CEO of Deloitte Australia. As internal communication platforms evolve to become two-way and conversational, so will the role of internal communications professionals. They will essentially become community managers, helping connect people and ideas, starting and facilitating discussions.

VI. Content bar continues to rise

Content will continue to be the price of admission to starting a conversation with the market. As has been true for some time, direct advertising is nowhere as effective as useful content that helps solve customer problem. Each organization must think of itself as a mini-publisher with a strong editorial voice that inspires and excites, while being aligned with overall brand voice and vision statement. But because everyone is creating content these days, raising the bar to even be heard. The key to creating content that stands out is to help your customers, prospects and partners get their jobs done, creating a consultative partnership. Focus on the larger issues that they face and don’t focus so narrowly that you end up with step-by-step instructions on how to use your product (and yes, you should absolutely be creating those too). Focus on storytelling and whenever possible, add customer stories – success sells success.

VII. Creation spaces bring customer stories to life

Extend your consultative content efforts by allowing your customers to meet each other and share their stories themselves. Your job won’t be to communicate your message, but rather to facilitate bring customers together in physical and virtual spaces. Fight the temptation to carefully manicure these communities—of course you will want to start conversations that benefit everyone, but don’t over-curate and force the conversation. Create a space where customers talk to each other and solve problems together.

Back to you, reader! What are the key trends you are seeing in your work? How are you innovating around social? The comments are yours!

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