A big part of the appeal of social media is its simplicity. Any teenager can set up a Facebook page and start sharing status updates with their friends. Any mom or dad can set one up to share pictures of their kids (and keep tabs on their teenagers). Anyone can record an event with a Flip and upload it to YouTube. Anyone can get on Twitter and follow Ashton or Oprah.
That simplicity, however, can make social media dangerous for business. It can lead to well-intentioned but poorly executed rogue company Facebook pages. Inadvertent but damaging revelations. Oafish attempts to treat social networks like just another one-way promotional channel. “Build it and they will come” approach disappointments and subsequently abandoned efforts. Selecting tactics based on perceptions and opinions rather than data. Poor results, or worse—no clear idea of what to measure or what kinds of results to expect.
Executives who would never build a factory and then decide what to produce in it nevertheless set up a Twitter account or Facebook page with no clear plan for how to attract followers, or who exactly they want to attract, or what type of content they are going to promote, or who’s going to produce the content, or what the goal of the content is, or how many fans/followers/friends they should expect to attract, or how they are going to retain the interest of those people once they get it, or what results they hope to achieve, or what they will measure, or how they will measure it, or…you get the picture.
What’s needed is a strategic approach to social media, starting with listening. Who is talking about your industry? Where are they talking about it? What are they saying? Which voices seem the loudest, the most influential? These are all questions to ask, and answer, long before worrying about the background image you’ll use on your company’s Twitter account or what tabs you’ll need on your Facebook page…or even if your business really needs a Facebook page.
Then plan: what do you need to do? Who will be assigned to do it? Where do you need to be active? What types of content will you need? What are your objectives? How will you measure them?
The Four Essential Phases of Social Media Adoption is an attempt to provide a strategic framework for using social media for business. It’s a start-at-the-beginning-and-not-in-the-middle, walk-before-you-run approach. It’s not dip-your-toe-in-the-water—that doesn’t work with social media. Social media success requires a sustained commitment, over time. But this strategic approach is, to stay with that metaphor, an approach to determining the depth of the lake, the temperature of the water, and the kind of fish you’ll be swimming with before you jump in.
For all its simplicity, social media is an incredibly powerful tool. It can fundamentally change the way companies market their products and communicate with customers. And it will for many businesses. If your organization is still struggling with “if,” “when” or “how” questions with regard to using social media for business purposes, this strategic approach may provide the foundation needed.