Originally Published PR Week, June 30, 2011 (subscription access only)
I’ve noticed that many companies that instinctively know they should be active in social media are moving forward tentatively and would like to move faster.
These organizations have grasped the importance of social media to their communications strategy. But whether it’s because they’re nervous about diving into the online conversation, or caught up in internal bickering over who “owns” it, or lack confidence in their strategy, their tentative pace is denying them the benefits of a more robust online engagement. They know they should be moving faster, but they’re not sure how to do it.
Last week, while I was participating in an excellent Arthur W. Page Society “Future Leaders Experience,” the group addressed this problem. Three success factors for accelerating successful online engagement emerged from the discussion:
1. Pique their competitive nature with a “best practices” assessment
Companies are often risk averse and don’t like to be too far out front in using new technologies. Reviews of “best practices” often provide a level of comfort that comes from knowing what their peers are doing, learning from the mistakes of others, and benchmarking their own progress against leaders both outside and from within their own industries.
But “best practices” reviews have another motivating effect: they fire up people’s competitive instincts. Nothing concentrates management’s attention so much, or motivates them to action, as learning that a competitor is stealing the lead on them, and the race to benefit from engagement in social media is no exception.
2. Identify the key digital influencers in your space, and the hidden successes in your company
Sometimes, organizations don’t move forward because they don’t know where to start. In social media, management may be aware of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as factors in their personal lives, yet have no idea how those two platforms – and the much larger online ecosystem – influences their customers, employees and other stakeholders. Without knowing where to target their attention or their resources, they end up doing nothing.
They may also be relatively unaware of the small, experimental efforts already underway within their organization.
The fix? Do a thorough audit of the “digital ecosystem” in which your company operates, together with a careful look inside the company to see where social media activity already is (or isn’t) underway. Find opportunities to create small success stories, and make the people who have achieved them champions (and trainers) who can help bring other, less adventurous, units up to speed.
Don’t be surprised if some of your best success stories come from tired, mainstay brands that are willing to take some risks to rejuvenate their image. Think about how P&G stalwart “Old Spice” shook up its category with the “I’m on a horse” video that went viral.
3. Encourage broad involvement, and train for it
Nobody can “own” social media any more than anyone ever “owned” print. Or TV. Its very power derives from its reach, literally, into everyone’s pocket. At a minimum, your entire communications organization must be proficient, and ideally the business leaders need to be, too, because so much of your effectiveness in this medium depends on the ability to speak in an authentic, personal voice.
A targeted training effort can pay immediate dividends. Digital immersion sessions, simulation programs, and strong, ongoing training modules (on such subjects as listening, influencer mapping, metrics, crowd-sourcing, crisis management, search, etc.) are vital to building a robust capability.
If your company is suffering from social media paralysis, give these approaches a try. I think you’ll find they will enable you not only to engage the online conversation, but even more important, to influence it.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.