Most of us are regularly bombarded by technological innovations that fight for our attention. More often than not, these “latest and greatest” fads fail to make much of an impression on our lives (remember Second Life?). What is true for our personal lives is also true for our professional lives, only the stakes are higher.
By now, most people know about social media. Yet, marketers are still trying to figure out how to use it in their organizations. Most firms are dabbling around the margins or simply waiting on the sidelines to see whether it has staying power. Indeed, fewer than half of the 50 largest firms in Europe have links to any social media applications from their home pages. According to the 2010 MIS Quarterly Executive study “How Large U.S. Companies Can Use Twitter and Other Social Media to Gain Business Value,” the situation is not much better in the U.S., with 36 percent of Fortune 500 companies having no social media presence whatsoever.
How involved should your organization be in social media, if at all? In my opinion, organizational success with social media comes down to how SICK your strategy is.
SICK is short for:
3. Critical Mass
4. Knowledge Integration
Social media has many variations, and you should decide what you want to do and where you want to play. Indeed, segmentation needs to occur along three dimensions: by objective, by stakeholder and by application.
Let’s look first at objectives. Organizations must identify what they want to achieve with social media. Common options include branding, informing, innovating, selling and recruiting. If the answer is not obvious, or cannot be clearly articulated, then the best approach is, “Don’t do it!” It is important to clearly define objectives in advance, because the form of your social media strategy will vary depending on the choices you make. For example, recruiting tends to work well on YouTube, but not necessarily on Twitter. Branding works well on Facebook, while informing is best done with RSS feeds. If you are not clear on your objectives, you run the risk of wasting resources on approaches that are not productive.
The second segmentation category is stakeholder. Different segments respond to different approaches. The fastest growing Facebook segment, for instance, is women over age 55. Very few of them, however, are on Twitter. The approach taken to entice an impulse snack food purchaser will be very different from the one used to communicate the benefits of baby nutrition to a new mother. You need to be clear on what segments you are targeting and adjust your social media strategy accordingly.
The third segmentation category is application. If you have properly segmented your approach by objective and customer, then it will often be quite clear which social media application to use. B-to-B firms may have less need for Facebook than, say, Coca Cola, but they might get a lot of value from an innovation tournament or an RSS feed. You have to understand the pros and cons of each application and play to its strengths.
Many firms have a scattershot social media strategy. They may have a couple brand-focused Facebook sites run by different divisions, and PR may have a Twitter account, but there is little consistency or coordination behind the scenes. Dangers lurk if a structured approach is not taken. Many firms have paid a steep price for undisciplined social media practices—some recent examples include United Airlines (United Breaks Guitars!), Kenneth Cole (Egyptian insensitivity), and Nestle (Kit Kats and Orangutans).
Your social media strategy should be well-coordinated. This means implementing rules and codes of conduct, training employees on social media norms, articulating a consistent corporate message, measuring performance, implementing strong governance, and avoiding unnecessary proliferation (including shutting down sites where necessary). This part of the strategy is a necessary evil.