The vast majority of businesses are on social media channels, but many do not have a mature presence and are therefore not seeing much return on that investment. Here I’ll break down 5 stages of social media maturity that businesses can use as a roadmap to grow their return in the space. Although many of these principles will apply to all businesses, this article will focus on application for larger organizations.
Stage 1: Launch
The first step is to be present on social media channels in the most basic way. As I said, this adoption is quite high with simple Facebook and Twitter pages for example. Companies in this stage have sent out a few posts and tweets, but haven’t seen the bottom line value from investing time and effort there.
Companies then hit a crossroad where they either decide to cut the investment and get out because it isn’t working or ramp up their efforts. On my digital marketing video blog, I discuss how many businesses only invest 20% of the resources into social media that are needed to succeed and then fail. That would be like deciding that you were only going to study in school once you got into Stanford. You have to invest a lot at the beginning to see any kind of return at all.
The real benefit is that as your business matures through these stages, they build what I call “digital equity.” A highly trafficked blog, visible search engine rankings, a high quality email list or an active social community can be built upon day after day. In other words, what you do today and tomorrow will build upon what you did yesterday and it gets easier to push your product the longer you work at it.
If companies choose to invest more into social media, they progress to stage 2.
Stage 2: Formation
Now the department decision makers often get involved, add resources, inject risk reduction tactics, and business process. Businesses at this stage often times see social media and social networks as a risk that needs to be controlled. Decision makers in businesses moving from very closed environments where information was controlled and limited often times inject rules for being on social media. As with all things, this should be balanced.
Developing a crisis-management plan is critical in case something goes wrong. If there is a PR nightmare, establishing who does what, when, how, to what degree, and for what purpose is very important so that the organization can respond quickly, cohesively, and appropriately.
Additionally, simply establishing all of those things when business is running as usual is important during this stage as well. This allows efficiencies to be realized, internal reorganization to prepare for scaling up, and formal training to be set up.
Once the risk is contained, more funding is often available to see if bottom line results can be improved.
Stage 3: Formalize
In this stage, a center of excellence emerges as the internal champions and advocates for new media. This is a group that not only specializes in the social media governance, but also utilizing it as a valuable business tool.
This is the group that first learns the latest technologies, trends and opportunities. They’ll develop the organizations’ strategies in this area and train anyone in the organization that needs it. They also apply general or even industry best practices to the specific business they are in.
At this point in the maturation process, the social advocacy is still limited to only one department, which usually falls under Marketing. For larger organizations, the challenge is that this one group takes on the task of managing many social channels for many different business units spread out over many geographies and aren’t able to be as effective as they could be. They can easily become overwhelmed, or even more likely, not meet customer expectations by not responding and being as present in the online conversation as they should be.
Stage 4: Enablement
This stage is reached when a Hub and Spoke organization structure is set up. The hub is the Center of Excellence at the headquarters and the spokes are each of the regions.
As I said, the challenge with the hub running everything is that it is slow. It is also often times removed from the front lines where the interaction with the customer is. However, if the spokes ran everything, nothing would be coordinated between the regions, the organization couldn’t capitalize on their scale as well, and the overall brand integrity could erode because it would be exceedingly difficult to enforce the same corporate governance across the whole organization.
There is often times a hesitation to allow the intern to manage the Facebook page because they represent the company the way a PR press release does except the Facebook post isn’t approved before hand and not as carefully crafted. I wouldn’t recommend letting the intern manage things, but there is a need to decentralize decision making so that every tweet doesn’t need to get approved beforehand.
Historically, an event would happen, the information would go up the chain of command, a decision would be made and then the corporate PR department would put out an official statement. Today, customers, reporters, and stakeholders expect to get a response to their tweet within minutes or hours, not days or weeks. I explain this shift more in 3 Social Network Trends Inside Your Enterprise.
As a result, a balance is needed. The hub should develop the corporate governance, best practices, and shoulder the regional coordination. The spokes should be in the trenches, managing each of their individual communities and shoulder the brunt of the execution according to the strategies and guidelines dictated by the hub.
To give a very brief example, a company like Whole Foods, a national grocery store, each region could promote events, specials and build the community around one particular store all while integrating seamlessly with the stores across the country.
Stage 5: Enlightenment
After successfully tackling the set-up of an organizational system that is as complex as the Hub and Spoke model could be, it would be easy to stop progressing thinking that you’ve arrived. The core piece that is missing though is that there is still only one department involved. The marketing team at the hub works with the marketing team at the spokes. Manufacturing, supply chain, product development, and possibly even customer service still isn’t involved in the social media landscape leaving a huge missed opportunity.
Companies that are able to connect their internal departments directly with their customers will be able to build products that are closer to what customers actually want, fix manufacturing problems sooner and more effectively, and build trust by establishing a more transparent supply chain. Eventually, this closer interaction will allow business units that used to be far from the customers to actually predict what their customers want.
This interconnectedness will also allow the whole organization to respond to customer needs in real time. For example, if a customer complains about their laptop on Twitter, a company representative will not only respond, but also be able to tell manufacturing what is breaking down to fix it for future production, inform customer service so they can repair or replace the product, and tell product development that customers want a more durable structure in future designs.
In an enlightened organization, that can all happen in real time. To make that happen, the processes, technology, infrastructure, policies, executive sponsorship, authorizations, workflow, and financial analysis all have to be set up before that customer sends out their tweet.
From Vision to Reality
Most large organization will find themselves somewhere on this path and can use this as a roadmap. Setting the vision and direction about where to go is the first step to getting there.
As always, it’s your turn. What stage is your company in? What challenges are you facing in moving up the maturity ladder? Are there any other components to think about that I missed here?
Listen to me speak on 7 Social Media Trends on November 27th in San Diego.