Starting a strategic social media plan can be overwhelming to a mid-to-large size company. There are a few big questions that often cause organizational paralysis…the most daunting of which is “where do we begin?” followed by “what’s happening that we don’t know about?” But knowledge is a catalyst to action. And, as with the formation of most effective business strategies, you need to understand it in order to set a course of change.
So in order to begin to formulate social strategy within enterprise,the first place to start is to conduct a discovery audit: running reconnaissance to find out what is happening in the social sphere. Only then can programs be developed that optimize best practice. Taking the pulse of the market and identifying current practices is a necessary first step that really should precede any strategic programs. Now, culturally, the company may be resistant to do discovery – afraid that there are “social media things” going on and are worried about what to do with the findings. Most certainly, there are skunk-works social projects happening within the organization, and social media practitioners among the staff. Is not bad that things are happening without being sanctioned, but at some point, you do need to know about the social activity in order to move from the experimental phase into a more strategic position. This is why social media discovery is important to lay the foundation for your future efforts.
Social media discovery is really less complicated than it may initially sound. What is required here is to take a snapshot in time. The goal is not to be MECE(Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) but to create a gauge of what is happening now. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to identify all social media activity by or about your company. So, the discovery period should be limited to a point in time and should not exceed two months.
Within that two months, under an executive-sponsored effort, a team of 2-3 people should do two things: search & find what is happening in the social sphere and determine the overall business impact of the current and future state of affairs. This will help the business begin assess the social situation in order to respond to the current state and prepare to shape the future direction of your social strategy. Now the past events should not dictate the future plans, but it will create a good baseline of understanding what has been done, what has worked and social efforts may have limitations.
To begin the search and find effort, it is best practice to conduct social media searches on a variety of different channels: on your company name, thought leadership topics, key company personnel. This should include both internal and external references from a variety of media channels: including blogs, online publications, video, social networks, gated communities and whatever other media channels you may find customers or clients on. This will help you create a taxonomy of your company’s social media presence and be able to codify it into types of efforts and the outcomes. This will allow good examples to bubble up and potentially be repeated where appropriate across the organization, and can help prevent the organization from repeating categorical missteps.
If the company’s focus is consumer goods – for example – the social channels are likely to be vastly different than if the company is in the business-to-business space. Look to the places where your customers or clients are likely to be online as a starting point. For example, if your key customer is a CIO, changes are LinkedIN or an industry specific thought leadership community is a more likely channel than, say Twitter. The goal of this effort should be focused on taking stock of social media penetration in a non-judgmental way and not a punitive hunt for employee tweeters!
The discovery effort is likely to combine the use of social listening tools and manual labor. As we are in the pioneering stage of social strategy, there are a plethora of tools designed to capture the interplay of person-to-person collaboration on the web. Yet, these tools are able to capture about 50-60 percent of all of the “unstructured” data – otherwise known as social commentary – that is present on the Internet. It is not necessary to surface every social utterance because there are too many channels to track and social “listening” tools are imperfect at best.
Despite the inherent incompleteness of the results, beginning the act of discovering what employees and customers are saying and doing online in relation to your company is essential as it provides a baseline for understanding the general information exchange, tone and tenor of engagement. This baseline will provide you and your organization with a starting point for understanding needs and opportunities (as well as risks and liabilities) so that your organization can respond and react, and, eventually take a lead. By setting a limited period for discovery, you can leverage what you learn and be able to move forward to the next stage. The findings from this social media discovery are extremely useful when forming the basis of a social strategy and creating social media policy for the company as well.