Before developing a first social media campaign there's some preparatory work that, in our experience, every organisation should undertake and this is important because lots of organisations are using social media channels without any clear strategy. The level of detail required in each of these preparatory steps differs for each organisation - for example, some operate within strict regulatory frameworks that require them to take a more considered approach to embracing social media platforms and therefore need to spend more time and effort exploring the legal implications of any activity. Others might see an immediate commercial opportunity and very little reputational or legal risk so might want to spend more time exploring potential revenue models. Either way we believe that it's important to consider the following steps, because social media often requires radically different approaches to communication and management, approaches that bring with them elements of risk, or sometimes as importantly perceptions of risk. If the value and role of social media are not well understood and articulated across all relevant stakeholders in an organisation, then this can lead to problems delivering any first campaign. In our experience it is better to explore these issues before launching a campaign rather than trying to deal with them on an ad-hoc basis as part of a campaign rollout.
Listen, learn, engage is a well-established approach for a brand adopting social media. However, while it's a useful starting point, in our experience most organisations need a more detailed plan to help them understand the strategic value of social media.
We recommend that any organisation consider the following five areas before starting any social media activity:
The opportunity study is a scoping exercise with relevant stakeholders to identify potential opportunities, risks and best practice in the context of the organisation's main business plan and objectives.
It's at this point that the organisation needs to listen and learn. To develop at least a top level understanding of what people are saying about it as well as any potential needs that might be well served by social media, identifying key customer segments and platforms using sentiment monitoring tools and/or more qualitative digital ethnographic techniques.
The opportunity study should be a broad-ranging discussion and should involve as many stakeholders as possible. In the space available it's not possible to go into great detail about how best to do this, but in the past we've used standard brainstorming, service design and mind-mapping techniques to explore how the organisation might be impacted by social media and what the opportunities might be. Having explored the opportunities offered by social media activity, it's important to cross-correlate these with the organisation's more general business goals. This exercise should produce a clear definition of the potential aim of any social media initiative or campaign and a set of KPIs by which any campaign can be tracked.
Generally speaking, it often makes most sense to phase engagement with social platforms, starting with small initiatives that help staff understand the simple mechanics of social channels, but quickly moving onto more creative and ambitious campaigns.
Social and digital media platforms and models are disruptive technologies, and like many disruptive technologies they propagate rapid change which in turn defines new value networks. So while it's important to develop a clear sense of the organisation's aims and strategy, it's also vital that the strategy is developed quickly. In our experience it's not possible to define the ways in which social media will impact the organisation in the next three to five years. A lot of this will be defined by engaging with these tools and platforms. (For more on how to develop organisational approaches to disruptive technologies see The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen).
Potential legal and regulatory risks are often cited as one of the main reasons inhibiting an organisation's uptake of social media, therefore, it's important to ensure that any legal or regulatory issues concerning organisational and reputational risk are understood and accounted for. This helps less ‘digitally aware’ staff better understand and mitigate any of the real or perceived risks associated with adopting social media. Developing an early understanding about the limits and bounds of social media with the board and/or the legal and regulatory team is therefore essential.
Of all the preparatory steps, we believe that senior board-level buy-in is one of the most important for the success of any early social media activity.
In our experience, it is often the case that younger staff (digital natives), who make extensive use of social networking tools in their personal lives, are the most enthusiastic advocates of social media within any organisation. However, the enthusiasm of youth is often tempered by a more cautious approach from the senior management of the company who are often, but not always, less familiar with the range of technologies involved and more inclined to let the perceived risks obscure the potential opportunities. Particularly as these opportunities are still at best ill defined.
Senior board level sponsorship of a social media strategy and associated campaign helps mitigate the problem of risk averse behaviour throughout the rest of the organisation, something that can inhibit successful use of social media.
While it's often the marketing communications team that leads any first social media activity, as we've noted social media can impact almost all parts of an organisation, so it's important to have cross-organisational buy-in for any social media activity. And it's important that the social media team is empowered to develop their own approach, separate from existing media management structures and approaches.