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Typically, the hardest thing about a "habit" is to try and stop it... it takes 21 days at the least, apparently. Habits are viewed as negative; the word is usually being associated with vices and things that are bad for you.

Well, have you ever thought about how to start a habit? One that is good for you and your business?

Having worked with a number of organisations to help them integrate the social web into their existing customer communications strategy I've learnt that the hardest thing isn't the ideas, the approach or the social medium to use; the hardest and biggest challenge is "change". There is a definite requirement for businesses to adopt and adapt; they need to own and be responsible for managing the social media engagement and not to treat it as separate channel. Some great ideas have crashed and burned because of this, so here are a few ideas to help organisations thinking about; or those who are struggling with their whole social media engagement approach.

We've now been banging on about social media for a good couple of years, and I would hope the novelty is beginning to wear off. How long did it take previous generations to stop talking about how great the telephone was and to start using it as part of everyday life? I can imagine the early telephone adopters calling each other up and saying things like "isn't this great" and "yes it is" followed by "ok....see you then" and then putting the phone down. The very act of talking about social media in itself is similar, it means we see it as a separate communications medium and tend to treat it in isolation. It's new and it's the latest elephant in the room which people know is there, but they're not sure what to do with it. The reality is, it is just another (yet very powerful) means to interact with one another. Barriers are broken down and direct interaction or engagement can now be achieved. All good.

So, isn't it about time we actually "get over it" and incorporate it into everyday business life? If the answer to this is "yes", which I hope it is, then businesses have to realise it is very much down to them to take responsibility and own it. The last thing organisations should do is outsource their social media strategy and have an agency carry out such communications on their behalf. Confusion will reign, customers will get confused as to who they are actually talking to and consumer brand trust will be tarnished; something which is very hard to repair. So here are some bullet points, which not everyone will like, to help organisations adopt and fully integrate the social web into their consumer engagement strategy:

  • Accept ownership and be prepared to add a whole new workload to your business.
    • Ideally a senior exec' sponsor who is prepared to lead this is needed. Without this level of support you're probably doomed to failure.
    • This person needs to be an evangelist and actively be a social media adopter themselves.
  • Does the marketing department own the telephone in your organisation? So why should they own your organisation's social media channels?
    • They probably do because social media is a sales channel and a great marketing tool... right?
    • Well, it can be but certainly not in an overt way. Discount and sales messages turn people off and social media offers so much more opportunity.
  • Look at your business and ascertain which departments/areas have a direct interaction with your customers.
    • Then look at the types and style of communication that takes place
    • Is it customer service related, advice, help, other?
    • It should then make sense to include these business functions as part of your social media engagement approach.
  • Before diving in, agree the objectives of each business unit and work out how social media can play a part in helping each unit achieve their goals. If it doesn't enhance your chances of achieving these goals, then there is a good argument not to use it. However, in most instances it will help.
  • Allocate resource... enthusiastic people in each area who want to help the business adopt and integrate this social media engagement approach.
    • Point to note, depending upon the size of your business, you may not have any.
    • If so, you need to find some.
  • Integrate social media into your everyday working life. If you decide to incorporate Twitter, treat it like another phone number that takes incoming calls as well as outgoing calls and therefore needs to be manned (or womanned!) in the same way.
    • A call centre that also communicates via Twitter would be novel and quite powerful.
  • Don't have an agency manage this for you. You have to do it yourself.
    • Engage some expertise to help you get to a self sufficient point, and then grab it with both hands.
    • This will ensure real customers are interacting with real representatives of your organisation. A true representation of your brand will then be portrayed, assuming you have outlined clear brand values...the things your business stands for.
There are a few more detailed points, but I hope the list above makes sense and places some context around the "habits" that are needed for an organisation to integrate the social web into their business successfully. Without the above, you're probably going to waste a lot of time, money and effort.
Karl Havard

Published 18 August, 2009 by Karl Havard

Karl Havard is a trainer and contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect via LinkedIn.

21 more posts from this author

Comments (17)

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Rick Speciale

I would follow on to what Walter Adamson is saying. Brand should be about delivering value, setting expectations and delivering on them. The hard work that companies do to contribute to the ecosystem is the best simulation of value chain delivery. This is not marcomms, advertising or "talking at" people. Walter makes a good point about mislabeling Social Media as a type of task that an agency is equiped to do via a "communications strategy". That may be one of the biggest hurdles for Social Media consultant to get over in educating businesses to execute Social Media properly. Even though marcomms is not the answer - people know and understand it. This plays a part in dealing with resistance to change.

Rick

mycmo.com.au

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Walter,

Please let me define what I mean by a Social Media Strategy. It's the creation and on-going development of a medium to long term plan that integrates the social web (and all it can offer) into an organisation's overall consumer engagement approach. Some agencies (the minority) are very well equipped to help a business create such a plan and be on hand to help them develop it on an on-going basis. Which I think is the point you disagree with, but I have seen it and been involved in a number of such real life and successful cases.

The outsourcing point, referring to the "strategy" is linked to those organisations who fail to get involved at any stage and just ask an agency to do the whole thing. A big mistake. They should be an integral part from its inception and then take full ownership at the on-going implementation and communications stage - the "go-live". This includes all business departments that have a direct dialogue with their customers. The actual conversations direct from the brand cannot be substituted.

You also pick up on communication and associate this with push messaging. Implying it is one way. Communication is full duplex, it's a two-way (in fact many-way) form of interaction with an emphasis on the listening. So I think my phraseology in the post is accurate to the point I am making.

Please have another read with this comment in mind. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong in disagreeing. And thanks for your comment.

over 7 years ago

Walter Adamson

Walter Adamson, CEO at NewLeaseG2M

Hi Karl, then perhaps we are in violent agreement :)

I'm sure that some agencies, a minority as you said, could be quite proficient at this.

I don't want to say this just to get my way, but I see often the word "communication" used in relation to PR and marketing to mean communicate AT the chosen audience. Perhaps I am a bit sensitive to that, I understand your meaning which is the WITH of social media. Thanks.

Walter

over 7 years ago

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Andy Xhignesse

Great post Karl and I think the comments validate this.  Once again you've struck a nerve. 

As we continue to see the evolution of this creation, no doubt we will be able to more clearly articulate best practices in this area, but I believe that this article and the subsequent comments go some way in that direction.  I offer this as a possible addition and I know it may be a bit obvious but so often the obvious is overlooked or forgotten in such discussions.  Has anyone had the experience where a client misunderstands who their audience really is?  Consider carefully the marketing persona(s) who you will be engaged with, failure to do so comes with considerable peril.

I look forward to your next offering, we truly are at the edge of the future!

Andy   

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Andy,

Personas are key, and I agree that the obvious can be easily overlooked. Understanding customers' values, motivation and associated behaviour enables an organisation to really engage with them...and of course this is not just restricted to marketing.

Thanks

Karl

over 7 years ago

Walter Adamson

Walter Adamson, CEO at NewLeaseG2M

We offer a persona-driven web-centric customer lifecycle approach in our work converting software companies to successful Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. But in social media assessment and strategy we are driven by real people, not personas, and the real places and places they inhabit in the social web, not our personal preferences.

Walter

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Walter,

I think you've just carried out some "Social media marketing" in this thread. Outlining what you offer as a business and naming a client. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it could be classed as slightly "out of place".

Persona work for brand consumer and consumer to consumer engagement across the social web, I believe, does have a place...and of course allows you to get really specific. Real people can be grouped and morphed into one to represent specific persona types.

A little "Big Brother" but can help brand offer them exactly what they are looking for.

Thanks again

Karl

over 7 years ago

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Arthur Charles Van Wyk

In October last year Jacob Zuma, our South African president, was the guest of honour at the opening of the call centre for a company called The Broader Equity Group.

The CEO of the company was a former telecoms call centre colleague of mine. We stayed in contact and one day he messaged me via Facebook asking if I'd be interested in getting back in the contact centre industry. I answered in the negative, however I had some tips for him regarding their new call centre.

One of those tips were to open themselves up to answering customer queries via Facebook. My motivation was that it would shorten their call queues and because most clients are online anyway.. they would opt to make use of a channel that allows them to multitask instead of sitting in a cal queue waiting to be assisted.

I think he must have thought I was nuts. The discussion ended right there and then.

By December the call centre has laid off all their staff and the building is now a white elephant. I don't for a minute think him not taking my advice was the cause of this, however I believe that companies headed up by people calling themselves managers but think between two slices of bread (read narrowminded) will never really go anywhere. As the head of an organisation you need to have an open mind, and even wider open eyes (to see what's happening "out there")

And right now social media is being integrated into everyday busines spractises at a rate never seen before. Not even email was adopted as a business tool this quickly.

So in a nutshell. Engage or Die.

over 7 years ago

Walter Adamson

Walter Adamson, CEO at NewLeaseG2M

Hi Karl, don't want to be doing "corrections" and such as is a waste of time. I'm not aware that I have named a client? I mentioned our digital engagement business, as opposed to the Academy, to illustrate that I understood Andy's point about "persona" but that I did not agree with it in the context of social media strategy.

Undoubtedly there is more to "persona" in social media in your mind than I am able to grasp. But at this point I do not see any place for it except in the context of marketing into the social web, which is a fail in itself. You understand that, so I guess I am missing the point which Andy raised and you support.

I'd be interested to see more, if you have some links?

Walter

over 7 years ago

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Stephen Sacks

Karl, you are of course preaching to the converted when you blog on websites like this. Econsultancy is evidently populated by many econsultants like yourself who can all probably see direct effects from broadcasting via social networks because the medium is also your product. The problem of motivation that you talk about is due to the disconnect that exists between social networking and other types of business like selling milk for example.

Honestly if the CEO of Express Dairies was a prolific social networker and your local milkie found the time to wax on about the semi skimmed as he made his rounds. (Of course the danger of crashing the float would be magnified as he would have to fit in social networking with his normal job). Would that make you more likely to buy your milk from him or else drink more milk?

Why dont you try blogging on the website of the Milk Marketing Board and see how readily your ideas are adopted by the industry.

I thought I'd be clever at that point and hyperlink to the website of the Milk Marketing Board but I am afraid to announce that like many loved institutions it is no longer with us.

over 7 years ago

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Rebecca Wissler

Nice post. What strikes me the most--rather, the area where I've had most experience--is the necessity of being prepared to "add a new workload to your business." Especially in this economy, that's an area some companies are hesitant to accept, but it's absolutely crucial to use these networks effectively.

How do you think we can convince our clients (or our own companies) that the time investment is worth it? Especially when many of the decision makers are unfamiliar with social media?

~Rebecca Wissler, @rebeccawissler

over 7 years ago

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Ed Cabellon

Great post!  I will share this with my colleagues and friends in Higher Education who so desperately need this type of training on Social Media integration!  Thanks so much again.

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Walter,

I do have some real life examples which I will happily share with you to outline the details of what I mean. I'd prefer to do this on a one to one if that is ok to you?

Stephen,

Nice analogy! Is this the same milkman that crashes his float whilst texting?! I actually think Express Dairies (which redirects to Dairy Crest) could really benefit from including social media within their customer engagement approach. But we won't go there.

As I understand it, there is a significant proportion of econsultancy members and visitors that are employed directly by B2C brands and of course there are many industry agencies who read the site as well. I write my posts aimed at the former to try and help and create some awareness and offer some opinion. Hence this forum, as it is dedicated to doing so. "persona" work in action so to speak.

Again, thanks for the comments.

Karl

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Rebecca,

Comments are coming fast and furious which is nice.

Convincing people to invest time, money and effort isn't easy. Typically you head down an ROI route...a "show me the money" discussion which is not always the best way to justify such engagement. I have a number of other ways to approach this, which I'll be sharing at the econsultancy breakfast seminar on 24th Sept; after that I will post the presentation to Slideshare with the hope that it will help you. 

Ed,

Thanks for your comment too. A lot of the things I write here are coming out of some PhD research I'm doing as well as some practical experiences. So please feel free to circulate.

Thanks

Karl

over 7 years ago

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steve dodd

Karl, this is a great post and insights everyone should be focused on.  I think the most important comment is:

Before diving in, agree the objectives of each business unit and work out how social media can play a part in helping each unit achieve their goals. If it doesn't enhance your chances of achieving these goals, then there is a good argument not to use it. However, in most instances it will help.

This is the reason I hate the term "Social Media" because it takes away from the value proposition across all other business functions and naturally deflects it to a Marketing/PR discussion.

Once a company breaks down the use of the Social Web to specific business applications, then real value that is distinct to each disipline can be easily identified, strategy / tactics defined and specific ROI validated for each purpose.

I know you hate going down the ROI path, but that is what pays the bills. At the end of the day, all corporate goals have a monetary value attached.  The other benefits although important, are added value intangibles that definately contribute to this but cannot necessarily be quantified, yet.  

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks Steve. "Social Media' is an all encompassing term which tends to have a marketing bias, I agree. However, it is a label which I think most people understand.

I've found myself referring more to the "Social Web" (I see you have as well), which implies the web as we know it, but focussed on the areas where we can all be social, regardless of conversation content, type or objective. 

ROI is also a term which has certain associations...mainly monetary and sales related. The ROI can always be associated to improved efficiencies, which means costs can reduce and resource can be more effective. Difficult to measure, but certainly possible, by breaking it down by business units (as you suggest). In fact, analysing how the various business units can adopt the social web to help their business function operate more effectively is definitely an essential ingredient into making this whole approach work.

Then of course there is always the increased brand and product awareness and interest; coupled with consumer advocacy. That ROI is more of a challenge to measure. It's definitely there, but harder to see.

over 7 years ago

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Bob Kaufman

Karl - Your post shows a real understanding of the mindset and concerns of companies that have not yet jumped into social media. They don't want to be left out, but they're intimidated by something they don't quite understand. You are telling them this is no different from other communication channels they've mastered, and they should just jump in and learn it.

That advice is so much more helpful and less self-serving than social media consultants who seize upon the executive's insecurity to sell social media consulting services. I think consultants can help minimize the setup time and learning curve to get started, but after that, the company should be speak for itself.

over 7 years ago

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