Many companies want to get involved in social media. Some see the promise of building closer relationships with stakeholders (customers, employees, partners, etc...). While others are excited about new marketing methods they must try. The novelty of social media is wearing off. That's a good thing. Now we can get down to what it is really good for:
offering an alternative to message-laden and insincere communications meant to position a brand or issue in a certain light like a glossy paint job. Social media is typified by blogs, wikis, shareable audio and video casts, Web 2.0 applications that harness the wisdon of crowds. In almost all cases there is a back and forth exchange, a particpiation, that is a lot more like conversation then simple send and/or recieve messages. Conversation between individuals has been known to build trust providing that dialogue is entered into with some openness and honesty.
So, not all companies should jump into this space. If you're organization does not see the value or cannot imagine the value in engaging in these types of conversations and inviting your stakeholders in behind the PR/marketing veil, then perhaps they should wait. Jumping in and "pretending" for the sake of a press release is just not worth doing. And it could lead to criticism from those who do take social media seriously. It took a lot for Dell to bounce back from it's Dell Hell debacle which was not just about customer service but also about listening to social media.
Here is an informal score sheet you can use to determine your company's current appetite for engaging in social media. They are simple YES/NO questions. Let me know if you find it valuable and what you might add:
- Does anyone within the company already blog?
- Do any of these existing bloggers post on business related issues (vs. personal blogs)?
- Has senior management stopped making jokes whenever a junior staffer mentions the word "wiki" in a meeting?
- Have you ever invited customers or stakeholders to a company meeting just to hear their perspective?
- Have you ever published public information - done an interview, released some news, said something publicly - without prior written approval from the legal department?
- Is Web publishing decentralized in your organization?
- Is the IT department a faciliatator vs.one giant sphincter that everything must squeeze through?
- Does your communications team value more than big media clips?
- Does your company reward entrepeneurial behavior from within the organization?
- Does your C-level leadership (CEO, CMO, COO, etc...) understand the difference between Robert Scoble and Bob Lutz?
- Has your marcom team read 30 blog posts from at least 10 blogs?
- Has your marcom team downloaded and watched/listened to audio or video podcasts?
If you answered "yes" to the following numbers of questions you will see my recommendations. They are somewhat cumulative meaning that if you haven't already done some of the items in the lower scoring recommendations, you may want to take those on first no matter what your score.
- Yes to 0-4 questions: Your organization is not ready. It may be that you just shouldn't get involved with social media at all. Start by reading lots of relevant blogs and recommending them to peers within the company. Take the quiz again in a couple of months and see if you do better.
- Yes to 5-8 questions: Your organization is ready to listen. Start by introducing your organization to what it's all about. Here are a few things to get you started:
- email relevant blog posts to leaders within the company
- offer to set up an aggregation for the CEO of select, relevant blogs
- do a brown bag session for all takers on anyone of a number of key phenomena: blogs, YouTube, My Space, wikis, mombloggers. Choose one per session.
- Start a personal blog and post on issues that intersect with your business (but no mention of your clients or confidential matters)
- recommend implementing a blogging policy within your company (now that you have one)
- share your organization's Wikipedia article internally
- Yes to 8-12 questions: you are probably more ready than most. If you have already done your "listening" program, then start brainstorming about how you can create a bridge to stekholders in the social media space:
- create a blog at some level of the company.
- set up an internal CEO blog for employees (this gets everyone more comfortable with the idea of non-legal-department- mediated communication)
- share the WOMMA Ethical Blog Outreach Guidelines to get everyone on the same page come up with ideas to involve customers in the creation of products and services
- ask relevant bloggers what they think of an initiative (if it's secret, you can ask them not to blog on it)
- set up a wiki internally as a collaborative worksite (extranet)
Send me your ideas for other evaluation criteria. A frank assessment as to whether an organization is ready or not can save everyone a lot of energy (and money).