There seems to be a predictable path for major enterprise as they advance towards reaping real benefits from social media. Over the past 6 years in our work globally, we certainly see some anomalies but we also see some patterns. Fewer and fewer brands question whether they should be active on Facebook or listening to customers via social listening tools or extending customer care via Twitter. It's all about 'how' and 'how fast.'
McKinsey observed in a 2009 study that 20% of the businesses active in social media were reaping 80% of the benefit. No mystery but there was a correlation between the level of activity in social media and the business value achieved. This chart summarizes the path that many brands take. It will last years.
Phase 0: Nervous Ambivalence
At some point, leadership becomes aware that other brands are using social media to engage with customers, enable employees or derive insights from what people are saying and doing online. They are not yet convinced its relevant for them. They may also be in a regulated industry like pharma or financial services where the risks of engaging seem to outweigh the ill-defined gains. But still, they are nervous believing that they perhaps ought to be doing more than they are (which again is nothing)
Phase 1: Listening
Cliche as it may be, listening-first is where most brands start. Maybe its more of a truism. In any case, many brands start by contracting some type of listening exercise to understand what folks may or may not be saying about the brand online. Most of these early listening projects fail miserably under the weight of meaningless Powerpoint graphs output from technology platforms like Radian6, Nielsen or others. This happens when brands think technology can magically deliver relevant insights vs. simply pull data. Providers don't do a whole lot to dispel this in their race to close "sales." Sooner or later the brand gets wise and hires he right folks to deliver actionable insights
Phase 2: Experimentation
Organic experiments pop up in business groups in various markets. Facebook pages appear, one product brand starts engaging bloggers while another deploys a video-based contest on YouTube. Groups start learning but often in isolation. the competitive nature of most big companies keep the learnings form being widely shared. The tippy-top leadership is getting wise to social media but is examining it from all angles before jumping in to mediate or lead.
Phase 3: Operationalizing
Leadership finally kicks in having gained knowledge and confidence from all of the experiments, social media experts who stop by and the conference circuit. Social media actually seems like it can deliver value. It is no longer a mystery nor is the chaos that the experiments are creating in the marketplace. Policy, governance and operationalizing their efforts globally and locally become the order of the day as the social media Center for Excellence or specialist group generates "playbooks" helping ambitious marketers from across the enterprise to use social media responsibly and productively
Phase 4: Integration
Applying Social Media to the marcom functions is one thing. Full integration across the enterprise means making it a part of HR. Legal Affairs, Product Development and more. Social media can deliver business value from insights that shorten innovation cycles ("fail fast") to making marketing more efficient to increasing employee retention through collaboration and an open enterprise. "Full integration" can take years.
I see two companies leading the way towards this phase and each from a different POV (both are clients). IBM has been championing social media from within by starting with employees and internal collaboration. That gives them a tremendous foundation. Unilever is in the Operationalizing phase and coming at it all from an external marcom emphasis. I believe both will arrive at a common point where they have rigorously examined all of the ways that social media can deliver positive business value.
Do these seem right? Are there qulaities to these phases or the ones you see that are worth outlining?