Published On: Thu, Jul 18th, 2013

It’s time for social media to grow up

This is a guest post by author and social media consultant Brian Solis

It’s about time that social media and social business grew up. When Charlene Li, my colleague at Altimeter Group, and I ask strategists what their social business approach looks like, we usually get the following response: “Oh yeah, we’re on Facebook.”

The conversation continues apace:

  • Twitter account: check.
  • YouTube videos: yup.
  • Strategic plan: Sure, we’ve got a content calendar for the 
next six months.
  • Metrics: Engagement of course, likes, retweets, views. 
We’re all set.

But that isn’t a strategy — it’s a series of tactics masquerading as a master plan.

It’s time for social media to grow up

Having a Facebook page or Twitter account is like having a telephone or a printer — they are tools that need a purpose. What you do within these social channels counts for everything. Not only will they help you meet customer expectations and achieve business goals, but thinking about the bigger picture and the overall purpose helps establish a competitive product or service. It is, after all, customer relationships that lie at the center of a coherent business strategy. The same is true for a social business strategy; however, it is not so true with most social media initiatives out there today.

To prove it, we studied how businesses were developing social media strategies and whether or not strategists aligned strategies with business goals. The results were a mix of the expected and the surprising.

Based on interviews with leading organizations that are investing in social media at varying levels, we learned that there are notable differences that exist between companies implementing a social media strategy and those that are building a social business. A social media strategy lays out the channels, platforms, and tactics to support publishing, listening, and engagement.

We define a social business strategy as:

The deep integration of social media and social methodologies into the organization to drive business impact.

Therefore, a successful social business strategy requires alignment with the strategic business goals of an organization and organizational alignment and support that enables execution of that strategy.

However, in a survey of social strategists and executives conducted by Altimeter, we found that only 34 percent felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes. Only 28 percent felt that they had a holistic approach to social media wherein lines of business and business functions work together around common goals. A mere 12 percent were confident they had a strategic plan that looked beyond the next year.

And perhaps most astonishing was the fact that only one half of companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.”

So while the company grows in its social media efforts, strategic focus with a clear goal in mind often falls by the wayside.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though. We also discovered that the more sophisticated companies possess two important criteria for a successful social business strategy:

  1. Social media initiatives are clearly aligned with the strategic business goals of the organization.
  2. Investment in the organizational alignment and support that enables the execution of that strategy.

But that’s not all. We also learned that these companies also shared seven key traits that helped them advance along their social business journey.  It was our goal to analyze these traits to help strategists break social media strategy out of its silo and make the business case to scale throughout the organization.

Let’s take a look at these characteristics at a high level…

The 7 Success Factors of Social Business Strategy

  • Define the overall business goals.

Explore how social media strategies create direct or ancillary impact on business objectives. What are you trying to accomplish and how does it communicate value to those who don’t understand social media.

  • Establish the long-term vision.

Articulate a vision for becoming a social business and the value that will be realized internally among stakeholders and externally to customers (and shareholders).

  •  Ensure executive support.

Social media often exists in its own marketing silo. At some point, it must expand to empower the rest of the business. To scale takes the support of key executives and their interests lie in business value and priorities.

  • Define the strategy roadmap and identify initiatives.

Once you have your vision and you’re in alignment on business goals, you need a plan that helps you bring everything to life. A strategic social business roadmap looks out three years and aligns business goals with social media initiatives across the organization.

  •  Establish governance and guidelines.

Who will take responsibility for social strategy and lead the development of an infrastructure to support it? You’ll need help. Form a ‘hub” or CoE to prioritize initiatives, tackle guidelines and processes, and assign roles and responsibilities.

  •  Secure staff, resources, and funding.

Determine where resources are best applied now and over the next three years. Think scale among agencies but also internally to continually take your strategy and company to the next level. Train staff on vision, purpose, business value creation, and metrics/reporting to ensure a uniform approach as you grow.

  • Invest in technology platforms that support the greater vision and objectives.

Ignore shiny object syndrome. Resist significant investments until you better understand how social technology enables or optimizes your strategic roadmap.

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Bob is the author and creator of the Daily Technology Column in TechLone - Technology News, Views & Reviews, which has appeared since January, 2013.