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Why Most Companies Fail at Social Media

Here is 10 steps for business leaders to help create the conditions that will make the entire social media process a success.

Every business knows about social media, many businesses have some sort of social media presence, but very few have implemented a comprehensive and successful social media strategy that maximizes benefits and mitigates risks. Why is this? The answer is simple…

Most businesses take an approach to social media that is often too narrow. They are far too worried about Content and not focused enough on Context. They view it mostly as a marketing function when it really needs to be implemented at the senior level and trickle down into the DNA of the entire organization as a core competence. Context is the environment in which social media operates; the industry, the competition and the internal environment of the organization.

Facebook and Twitter will be an integral part of any good strategy and there are many great communications experts who can help update your page and write your tweets. However, as a former business executive with years of experience integrating technology into organizations, I understand the challenges an organization faces when implementing new technology and I see a need for a more holistic approach to social media in the business community.

A holistic approach will detect possible risks and potential opportunities for the organization, and the main obstacles are usually people issues, rather than technological ones. These issues are largely hidden from view, which is why taking a contextual approach is crucial.

The development of a project is thus fueled by its business environment, which has both visible and invisible components that need to be equally identified in order for the project to move forward. People issues, such as trends in attitude or unwritten rules, often belong to this set of invisible constraints and can be the most difficult part of the project to deal with. The context is thus this business environment in which a project finds itself, and the framework that will determine how a project will take shape.

Business leaders hence need to create a set of conditions that will make the entire social media process a success. In order to do so, there needs to be a step-by-step formula that can allow this to happen, made out from the following questions that need to be answered:

How does this help achieving my business goals? What are the benefits and how to manage the risks? How do I write a social company-wide media policy, enforce it and update it as the context changes? How do I get everybody on the same page? What are the attitudes to Social Media? Are we ready?

Below are ten overarching tips that will help business leaders understand how to implement social media into the context of their organization.

1. Get with the Program: Social media is here to stay. Think of how far it has come in the last five years and then imagine where it will be in the next five. Embrace it or be left behind.

2. Be the architect, be the Leader: As the CEO or leader you need to create a vision of what social media looks like for your entire organization – just like an architect has a model of the building that he is going to construct. Really support social media at the senior level not just the people that look after your web site.

3. Understand the Culture and Mindset: Defense contractors, for instance, will have more of a closed culture because of the nature of their business as compared to a company with a Silicon Valley feel to it. Opening a company’s culture is perhaps the greatest challenge a CEO faces. Banning social media is not a solution any longer, even autocratic political regimes have failed to do so, but using it within a conducive yet regulated cultural framework is the ideal response to the Internet revolution.

4. Create a Common Language: This is crucial so that everyone company-wide knows their part and what they are trying to achieve. Create a common language so that everyone can participate in the discussion, not a just a few experts who know the jargon.

5. Achieve your business goals: Create social media goals in the context of business goals. The organizational goal could be to increase the repeat customer percentage in order to increase revenue by X %. Another goal could be to have a more effective customer relationship management strategy. You need to develop the social media strategy to support your goals.

6. Understand ALL the Benefits: Most view social media as a way to interact directly with customers. In addition to that function, there are other business opportunities that can benefit your company both internally and externally through communication, collaboration, collective intelligence and community opportunities.

7. Avoid the Dangers of the Dark Side: Social media can open a company up to possible risks including security issues, PR issues and HR issues. While these risks are very real, it is essential not to let them inhibit progress. The key is to develop a sound social media policy that identifies the risks and mitigates them.

8. Craft a Strong Social Media Policy: Work with legal and social media experts to develop a safe and effective social media policy that clarifies what is and is not acceptable. This will protect the organization and the employees while maximizing benefits and mitigating risks. The company also needs to be vigilant and continuously reshape policy to match what is happening “on the ground”.

9. Have a step-by-step formula: A winning social media strategy will be one that is adaptable, implemented step-by-step and is an ongoing model within the context of the organization that sets the right conditions for successful implementation.

10. Time: Time is the most significant cost. Implementing a social media project hastily may bring more problems than benefits, which is why CEOs need to weight the time factor properly and make sure the project is carefully studied before and during its application.

To conclude, three examples are worth presenting here as they provide excellent illustration as to how social media can be used successfully, to meet the specific organizational needs. Cisco, in the first instance, has used social media to create a competition and come up with billion-dollar ideas to their business. From the process, 800 different ideas were submitted by 3,000 participants from 156 different countries. Only one participant won the competition’s reward, a sum of 250,000 dollars, and Cisco ended up with at least one billion-dollar business idea. Salesforce.com, on the other hand, has used social media to create YouTube videos in order to train customers on their complex product offering. This endeavor is believed to be worth about 750 sales representatives to Salesforce.com. Finally, Accenture created its own Accenture Knowledge Encyclopedia, a white-labeled version of Wikipedia, to allow employees to share knowledge and information and thus channel more efficient collaboration.

These are just a very few examples of the very different ways social media can be leveraged for business, according to organizational context and specific business needs.

Read related article: CEOs and Social Media by Dale Buss, September/October 2011

About Steve Nicholls