How to develop a social technology plan that serves customers and your business.
Ever have that "I know there's an easier way to do this" feeling that strikes in the middle of the day (or night!)? That feeling typically takes hold when you're thinking through your Facebook business analytics, being asked about the cause of a stream of troublesome Tweets, and simultaneously wondering why the folks in Ops haven't returned your calls. Relax: Yes, there is a straightforward way to pull all of this together into a well-defined, manageable process. Simply put, you need a roadmap that encompasses the full spectrum of social technology as it (now) applies to business, and a plan that includes your entire organization.
Even if your business or organization has yet to deploy a basic social media marketing program, take the time upfront to plan out a comprehensive social technology program. By creating a business-backed strategy that reaches across your entire organization and then looks a few years down the road, you not only make your immediate work easier but you also put yourself and your marketing team on a predictable, measurable path.
To be effective, a social technology road map must cover three fundamental areas: marketing, customer service, and business operations. These areas are dependent on each other in ways that were not as obvious as they were in the past. The issue isn't the technology per se - it never is - but rather the way in which technology has changed the way information flows between customers and business in a marketplace and how corresponding information flows - or fails to flow - inside a business and down the supply chain. Without a well-planned information flow that includes customers, your ability to effectively respond and leverage the social web is significantly reduced.
To create your roadmap, start with your own business objectives, and then build from there.
Social Media Marketing
Social media typically - though not exclusively - begins in marketing. It's easy to see why: Conversations on the social web between current customers disrupt the "purchase funnel" process as potential customers search the web for information. As a result, marketing is often the first place where listening tools - Radian 6, Alterian, NetBase, and others - are deployed. (Disclosure: I'm a customer of Radian 6 and Alterian; I serve on NetBase's marketing advisory board.)
Marketing comes to the table with questions such as: Who is talking about us? How influential is she/he? Is the conversation positive or negative? Who else is picking up on it?" These current listening tools are suited to answer these questions that naturally fall under the purview of marketers.
Beyond listening, marketing (and/or PR) is typically also responsible for the core outreach channels: Facebook, Twitter, a company blog, a YouTube product demo channel, etc. These are components of a basic social media marketing program, and many are likely an appropriate part of your program. Combined with a well-designed program and the integration of basic analytics - Facebook provides a great starting toolset here - a social media outreach program can be a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox.
The first real complication that arises beyond the pure marketing application of social media is when, as a marketer, you move from "Who is talking" and "What are they saying?" to "How can I build a relationship?" and "How can I change or amplify that conversation?" Listening is passive; outreach is active. Still, even when listening is combined with a proper response strategy, the process is still essentially reactive. Adding to this, having a Facebook business page, for example, creates a place for conversation in close association with your brand but doesn't necessarily give you a way to proactively align those conversations with your business other than through the regular introduction of new content.
Social customer relationship management (CRM) is the next technological discipline that is needed: Keeping track of who said what, integrating this with existing company and business records, and building a predictive (outreach) model for your customer care teams.
Social CRM requires taking the challenge of managing your social media and social technology program beyond marketing. That means creating a cross-functional team and then implementing technology that takes the conversational flow from the social web, filters it, and passes it to resources inside your organization that can react and respond, as a team. Lithium, Jive, and Socialtext provide tools that facilitate this kind of internal information sharing and collaboration. For current insights, tips, and practical example, check out Paul Greenberg, Esteban Kolsky, and the rest of the team at The Social Customer.
Finally, consider the overall design of your business: Is it set up to leverage social technology, to participate collaboratively in the markets and ecosystem - the community - around it? Or, is it set to defend itself against influence and intrusion? Take a look at the work from Dachis Group's Peter Kim or Gautam Ghosh: Building a social business is harder than it looks, yet represents at least one viable path forward in the realization of a successful, ongoing concern that thrives on - rather than runs from - the steady advance of social technology.
Businesses that are, by design, connected to their customers and become of the social ecosystem around them will have the easiest time participating in the increasingly social markets. On the one hand, "being social means social is easier" is sort of self-fulfilling; on the other hand, digging into what really means - confronting your organizational purpose or the ways in which information flows outside the organization, into it, and then returns to the customers who started it all can be insightful. Is your firm set up, at its core, to serve customers or to serve itself? Both are valid, but only one is social.
Putting It All Together
Customers and businesses are now socially connected: at the least, consumers readily create, share, and use social media (information) to inform their purchases. At the most, customers actually drive company policy and product development roadmaps. Three key business disciplines - marketing, customer service, and business operations - can be combined, moving your social media marketing program to a "whole business" program.
Building your social technology roadmap becomes much easier when you start with the concepts of social business: What would your organization look like - or have to look like - for that information to flow easily across teams, supporting customer requests for product fixes and future enhancements? Does your current internal network have real-time collaboration capability, or is it a static "drop box?" If it's the latter, you must work with IT and develop an internal work team charged with implementing organizational collaboration.
Next up: Develop tools for a complete view of your customers. Knowing that they are on Twitter is one thing, but knowing that they are on Twitter, have a high-dollar purchasing history, and author an industry thought-leadership blog is more valuable.
Finally, create a bi-directional social presence that invites customers to collaborate with you, connecting you to them through the channels that they use.
These measures will put you on a path to building brand advocates now and in the future.
As you size up your social media marketing program, take the larger view of your organization as a social business. And consider the opportunities for collaboration with your customers based on data-driven development of a complete customer profile. Use that to craft your long-term social technology plan and your days (and nights) will be easier.
Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.
Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.
Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.
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