Six Stages of Social Media Maturity

Over the last six months, I have led more than 40 social media strategy workshops with more than 1,500 marketers across six countries in Asia.

These workshops are often challenging because participants have different levels of experience with social media. Some participants wish to know how they can start small social media experiments. Others would like to start using social media more strategically. Still others want to benchmark themselves against the best in the world.

Over time, I have found it useful to start my workshops by outlining the six stages of social media maturity most companies go through. The framework is rooted in one important insight: when asked what their social media strategy is, less mature marketers tend to talk about tools and tactics, whereas more mature marketers talk about integrating platforms, programs, and processes.

Stage 1: Let’s create a campaign microsite

This fascination with tools can be traced back to the days when marketers created Flash-based campaign microsites to support ad campaigns. These microsites were heavy on experience but light on content and had the same shelf life as the TVC (typically eight to 12 weeks), after which they were either preserved for award entries or taken offline. I’m relieved to see that most marketers have moved beyond the campaign microsite.

Stage 2: Let’s create a Facebook/Twitter page

When Facebook and Twitter become mainstream, marketers rushed to create a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, without really thinking about what they will do with it. Even when marketers increased the fan count on their Facebook page by buying ads, the fans rarely engaged with the brand. Even as the first wave of marketers is seeking ways to increase engagement, the next wave of marketers is still setting up their social media presence.

Stage 3: Let’s do a Facebook contest/Twitter influencer program

As marketers seek to increase engagement on social media platforms, they often start with tactics that are specific to the platform, like a Facebook contest or a Twitter influencer program. While these tactical programs are successful in engaging fans and followers in the short term, they fail to exploit the full potential of social media. Most marketers are still in this stage, but some are ready to move beyond.

Stage 4: Let’s integrate social into our web platforms

Stage 5: Let’s integrate social into our marketing programs

Some sophisticated marketers are beginning to realise that their marketing programs are most effective when they don’t only use social platforms, but also become social at the core. As a result, marketers are moving from TVC-centric 360-degree campaigns to community-centric 360-degree campaigns. PepsiCo is leading the way, shifting the focus of its marketing “from moments to movements” and creating path-breaking, multi-year, community-centric marketing programs like Pepsi Refresh Project and Mountain Dew Dewmocracy.

Stage 6: Let’s integrate social into our business processes

The most sophisticated marketers know that social media is most effective when they leverage it for doing the right things, instead of merely saying the right things. Companies like Dell, Starbucks, and GE are using social media as a tool for business transformation by integrating it with their sales, support, and innovation processes. Early experiments to crowdsource innovation are particularly promising, with Dell Ideastorm, My Starbucks Ideas, and GE Ecomagination Challenge being the most prominent examples.

While most companies go through the six stages of social media maturity, they realise meaningful results only when they move beyond tactical experiments in stage 1, 2, and 3 and integrate social media into their platforms, programs and processes in stages 4, 5, and 6.

I have found that this simple framework helps marketers not only contextualise their own experience with social media, but also plan for strategies to extend their engagement. Begin by asking yourself which stage of social media maturity you are at, and plan for platforms, programs, and processes to move to stages 4, 5, and 6.

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