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Setting up a new social media Center of Excellence sounds deceptively straightforward: gather experts, create materials/applications, distribute, and enforce. As the Center needs "valued" content, why not start there,  then figure out the other part later?

Strategically, what to focus on and where to invest

Firms that focus on commissioning content they’ll spring on employees later will quickly discover no amount of training material, content, guidance, applications, and processes developed by you or your agency in isolation will drive significant adoption.

Your true mission: Earning the opportunity to add value.

Be wonderful if this privilege came bundled with the “I’m in the Center of Excellence” sash/tiara kit, but disappointingly, as anyone who has done this successfully can confirm, it does not.

As again, success is beyond your domain, what you choose to tackle first matters a lot. A key element in earning the opportunity to add value is involving your target audience in the creation of said value, before you start.

A true strategy focuses on how the Center becomes a valued partner

How will you ensure you can share all the valuable content/applications you paid the agency to create? We’ll tell everyone it’s here, we’ll require every employee go through the training is a list of activities, not a strategy.

If agencies propose starting with content creation, assuming the CMO-given right to institute change will be powerful enough to make it happen, don’t rely on them for more than that. Before engaging the agency to produce content, I suggest you:

  • Plan how you'll facilitate, coordinate and enable employees, and understand what you need from the various constituencies
  • Collaborate with representatives from the various divisions/departments and invite them to help define how to best move forward

You may be wondering how that will work. After all, they don’t know much about social media, or have as much experience as we do. Perhaps not, but they do understand what they need and what their priorities are - and they value being asked. I'll share an example as to how and why this works.

As an interactive marketing manager years back, I decided to create an animated sales enablement piece. Our sales teams needed to explain a large set of new technical features. Rather that start with an agency brief, marketing's knee-jerk response, I started by interviewing internal and external sales teams. I quickly learned sales teams don’t care for, nor use, interactive animations. Deflating, to say the least. Rather than go away, I asked why.

They explained having to sit through extraneous details bored prospects. As they customize most of their presentations, something they couldn’t modify was of limited use. We came up with a solution: creating interactive 'micro' animations that could be embedded in their presentations and used together or apart. We also set up brief ongoing meetings with some sales team members so they could review our progress. End result: the sales team loved them, and our investment made a real difference.

Did they know anything about animation or the topic at hand? No, but it was very first time anyone on the marketing side had asked them beforehand and let them have a say during the process. This is not to be confused with merely gathering pre-project input. As they 1) had a say as to whether we should make the investment and 2) were involved throughout, it was ‘their’ piece – they sold their fellow sales colleagues. The point: giving up control and giving outsiders a real vote from the start helps ensure adoption.

If you are working with an agency or consultant, beyond creating the Center of Excellence content you requested, make sure they’ve outlined how the Center will ensure adoption, or define that yourself before hiring them. If not, be afraid. Be very afraid. Second chances in this particular arena are very difficult to come by. You need to get it right the first time out.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this five-part series.

Next: How successful centers position themselves and operate.

Pauline Ores

Published 30 September, 2010 by Pauline Ores

Pauline Ores is an Enterprise Market Relationship consultant and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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