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Three Key Determinants of Your Company's Readiness to Plunge Into Social Media

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Editor's note: See Lee in person at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Driving Sales: What's New + What Works. Catch her session on "Creating a B-to-B Social Media Strategy: A Guide to Defining It and How Your Company Should Take the Social Media Plunge." Sign up for the event and use promo code ESPK08 to save $200 on the registration fee.

"Three Factors to Consider Before You Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon," the first in this two-part series of articles, talks about your market, your competitor, and your buyer—the three factors to consider when creating a social media strategy.

In this article we'll dive into the fourth factor—assessing your company's readiness, which consists of three key areas: resources, content, and culture.

1. Do you have the resources you need?

Even if you're just monitoring the social-media conversation, you'll need to dedicate time to listen, evaluate what's being said, and share important information with others.


And when you're ready to join the conversation, you'll need a knowledgeable resource that has time to respond in a thoughtful and helpful way, and on a regular basis (at least weekly).

Questions to ask:

  • Who inside my organization is leveraging or participating in social media?
  • What resources or tools are available to monitor destination sites (weekly)?
  • Who is currently responsible for publishing new content for our Web site and customer communications?
  • Can our experts set aside time to share their knowledge on a regular basis? Realistically, how often would they be able to participate? Can they play a roll in defining key issues to be addressed?
  • What PR activities can be leveraged?

What to look for:

  • Identify persons who are already active. They'll be the best in terms of having the passion and understanding the commitment level it takes. They may even be willing to put in some extra hours to get things started.
  • Find out who already produces content for your organization (whitepapers, seminars, or training). Typically, these are your true experts and they're already in the mode of sharing information.
  • If you're communicating on a regular basis with customers and prospects, talk with those responsible about sharing resources and content.
  • If you have an outside PR group, find out if it can create relationships with A-listers and influencers and feed you key industry insights.

2. Can you generate useful content?

Social media is about educating—not selling—the buyer. It's important to evaluate your organization's ability to produce useful educational content on an ongoing basis.

Questions to ask:

  • Is there enough information that management is willing to share, to sustain a long-term conversation?
  • Is there a repository of content from which you can pull or expand content?
  • How does content currently get published? Is it a rigid or flexible process? What role does Legal play?
  • What assets do you have that educate or inform buyers about issues related to the products and services you provide? (We're not talking about traditional product literature or sales/marketing materials.)

What to look for:

  • Determine what content is available and what plans there are for generating new content.
  • Identify upcoming events or speaking engagements that can be used to capture content.
  • Evaluate how easy it is to create and distribute content outside your organization. If there are multiple levels of approvals, you'll need to think about how you can streamline the process.
  • Identify topics that are top-of-mind for your buyers. Then, determine whether you have available resources to address those issues.

3. Is your culture ready for social media?

Finally, it's important to gauge your company's openness toward social media. Management buy-in is key. Without some tolerance for feedback that may be critical of the company, management could shut down the entire initiative at the first sign of negativity.

Questions to ask:

  • How does management view the role of social media for your company? What is management's experience with social media?
  • How comfortable is management with providing details on products, services, strategies, and best-practices in an open forum? What percentage of your content would management consider proprietary?
  • How is your organization leveraging or participating in social media? Do you have internal blogs, wikis, or shared repositories of information? Does your company already collect and respond to employee, customer, or partner feedback?
  • Is the culture able to adapt and change quickly? Is it tolerant of the need to experiment, fail, and learn by trail and error?
  • Is management willing to dedicate a resource (full- or part-time) or some budget to this initiative?

What to look for:

  • If management isn't on board, start monitoring conversations and feeding them insightful information. If you can show them how you can tap into buyers' needs and provide examples of useful conversations going on out there (that you're not part of), you may begin to help them see the relevance of social media to the business.
  • If management is gung-ho, ready to dedicate resources, and sees social media as an opportunity to engage with buyers, then start by listening in and monitoring conversations on destination sites while you're planning out your strategy. Keep management informed about what you're finding, and provide regular updates on progress.

Know your roadblocks and opportunities

By looking at your company's readiness in conjunction with your market, your competitors, and your buyers you'll be able to determine what the potential is (or isn't) for social media, where you should be diving in, and what's a realistic starting place.

If after your assessment you feel one or more of these factors isn't what it should be (and you've determined that social media is appropriate), you can develop specific strategies to address gaps in readiness within your company. Meanwhile, you can be monitoring the conversation and learning from others.

We'd like to know what social media activities you participate in and whether what you do for work is different from what you do for personal use. If you've got two minutes, answer our survey. We'll reveal, at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in June, what we find.


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Lee Erickson is cofounder and president of Erickson Barnett (ericksonbarnett.com), a B2B technology marketing firm. She can be reached at lee@ericksonbarnett.com.

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  • by Judy Shapiro Tue May 27, 2008 via web

    I must respectfully disagree. As someone in charge of marketing at a software technology company -- the set of questions you are suggesting are all wrong for understanding how to jump on the social media bandwagon.

    The set of questions should be around:

    1) how do we become ready for engaging in social media? Not if - but when. NO company is ready for social media just like no company is "ready" for any other significant marketing initiative -- they have to become ready.

    2) how do we understand social media within the context of a direct marketing model? New marketing theory understands now that social media and to a large extent all digital media is one big direct marketing engine and appropriate disciplines should be applied to measure ROI and so forth.

    3) what is the appropriate mix of social media within the context of all other marketing programs? Social media is about engaging with customers and that is time honored to work. Social media just gives us new tools and is part of the marketing toolkit.

    Only after these fundamental questions have been answered can you proceed to some of the questions you raised as they are mostly tactical in nature.

    Social media is not an “if” but a when…

    Judy Shapiro

  • by Mary Brown Tue May 27, 2008 via web

    I completely agree with Judy... Increasingly, the capacity for brands to have a two way conversation is less a point of differentiation, but a point of entry. Those who don’t embrace the inevitability of mainstream Web 2.0 will risk loosing cultural relevancy.

  • by Lee Erickson Tue May 27, 2008 via web

    Judy and Mary, appreciate your comments. Some clarification, the questions above are not intended to answer the question "how to jump on the social media bandwagon."

    The first article in this series is intended to help marketers evaluate where they should jump in. This article is intended to help evaluate the company's readiness to do so.

    Too many companies just throw up a blog and say, "Ok, now we're doing social media". And many of these companies aren't able to sustain their efforts because they haven't prepared their companies for how to deal with negative feedback or because they don't have buy-in from management.

    If your legal team isn't going to let a blog post go out without pre-approval, it's important to know that early on, so you can address the issue. The reality is that without proper support internally, without the resources to sustain a conversation, and without knowing what potential roadblocks you'll encounter you won't be successful no matter how right social media is for your company.

    As a social media fan (and big advocate) I agree that engaging in two-way conversations is critical to business success. However, it's just as critical for marketers to understand where they need to prepare their companies, where the mindset needs to change, and what roadblocks need to be managed so they can leverage the power of social media for their organizations.

  • by Chris Baggott Tue May 27, 2008 via web

    What concerned me with this post was the implication that this is something that takes a lot of time. The idea of social media is to empower everyone in the organization. I really like this quote from Richard Edleman:

    "It's clear that when it comes to traditional authority figures – whether they're chief executives or heads of state – people trust them less," says Mr. Edelman. "Employees are the new credible source of information. We have data that shows an employee blog is five times more credible than a CEO blog – and I say this as a CEO blogger."

    The key to success is employee involvement....and if legal needs to monitor content..that's fine too.

    Chris Baggott
    CEO
    Compendium Blogware
    www.compendiumblogware.com

  • by Lee Erickson Wed May 28, 2008 via web

    Chris, thanks for your response. If I sent the message that this takes a long time, that was not my intent. Getting a baseline on the social media landscape for your market, competition, buyers, and company can be done in a couple of weeks.

    I agree that legal can "monitor" the conversation. I was referring to a situation where legal had to pre-approve every post - certainly not empowering employees as you noted.

    Credibility of bloggers, for me, is less about who and more about what.

    Bob Lutz, Vice Chair for GM, has had a great response to his FastLane blog, and Edelman learned the hard way with the Wal-Mart travel blog that when it comes to employees, transparency is critical to credibility.

    The bloggers, whether CEO, employee, or 3rd party influencer, who focus on helping educate and inform the buyer, will win out over those who don’t.
    But, I expect I’m preaching to the crowd here.

  • by Lee Erickson Wed May 28, 2008 via web

    Opps. That should be "choir". Maybe "Preaching to the crowd" would be a good name for a blog.

  • by Chris Baggott Wed May 28, 2008 via web

    Agree, but don't worry too much about Corporations having an approval process we have hundreds of clients on the Compendium Blogware platform and every one of them has an approval process before content goes live. It's not been a problem at all. Corporations have a legitimate risk here and need to be able to manage it.

    The test is in the balance. Too loose and you run risks, Squeeze too tight and you kill the Human-ness & engagement.

    The balance is to monitor on issues as they relate to policy not passion :-)

    Best,

    Chris Baggott
    CEO
    Compendium Blogware
    www.compendiumblogware.com

  • by Judy Shapiro Wed May 28, 2008 via web

    Hi again --

    The conversation about social media (pun intended) tends to be dominated by vendors/ agencies/ technology service providers advocating programs. My point is that the big hullabaloo about social media needs perspective that is grounded in business realities. None of my peers at company are naive enough to think a blog is how they "do" social media. And they also do not believe that social media is an independent program outside a marketing plan.

    Social media is really a new name for an old marketing concept called affinity marketing -- the only difference is the tool set you have to create the program.

    I wish vendors would stop "black boxing" social media to lead clients (like me) to believe that they need agencies to manage it for them. My company used social media to build a base of 4 million users with out an agency in sight. I do value what agencies bring to the party - I wish their counsel did not often sound so self serving.

    Judy Shapiro

    PS - I must admit this post was inspired by a 90 minutes presentation I just sat through from a survey company that again "black boxed" the social media concept. So forgive this tirade :)

  • by Lee Erickson Wed May 28, 2008 via web

    Kudos to you and your group on 4 million users. That's exceptional. I'd love to talk with you about how you did it.

    Agree that social media is just one of the many tools marketers can use to connect with their customers. It won't replace the sales meetings, personal relationships, traditional word of mouth, or more traditional direct marketing efforts (especially for high cost B2B technology purchases).

    I hope by sharing our thoughts on how to go about assessing the social media landscape we provide useful information to those B2B marketers who are looking for a way to figure out what makes sense for their companies.

    When smart marketers such as yourself, and experienced bloggers like Chris, share their experiences we all get smarter. And for me, that's the essence of what social media is all about.

  • by Judy Shapiro Wed May 28, 2008 via web

    well said :)

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