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.