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The Four Essential Phases of Social Media Adoption

by Tom Pick  |  
January 13, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • The four phases of embracing social media at your organization
  • How social media can affect the bigger picture at your company

When discussing social media with business executives, I'm frequently reminded of the fable of the elephant and the blind men. In the story, six blind men, hearing that an elephant has been brought to their village (and having no idea what an elephant is), go to the village square to investigate. One feels the elephant's side and proclaims that an elephant is like a wall. A second, feeling one of the elephant's legs, says it is like a pillar. A third, touching the tusk, describes the animal as being like a solid pipe.

Although each man's description was accurate, each perceived only part of the elephant; none had a perspective of the entire beast.

It's the same with many business executives and their views of social media:

  • "Social media? Twitter isn't appropriate for our market."
  • "Our company already has a Facebook page!"
  • "We don't have time to maintain a blog."
  • "Several of our people use LinkedIn."

Such statements reflect perceptions of "parts of the beast"—components (tools) of social media. But using one or more of those tools, with no clear objectives for benefiting the company, doesn't constitute a strategy.

Here is a four-phase adoption model designed to reveal the entire elephant that is social media.

Phase I: Observation

As Yogi Berra famously noted, "You can observe a lot just by watching." A bit of research and observation up front will make your participation later much more productive and prevent false starts and missteps.

Some of the questions to answer in this phase:

  • Where are people talking about our company, industry, and competitors? Which social media platforms do they congregate on?
  • What are they saying? What are the hot topics?
  • Who's doing the talking? Which voices seem to have the most influence?
  • What opportunities do we have to respond and participate? What kind of content seems to be most popular?
  • What questions are people asking that we can answer?

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  • by Roy Young Thu Jan 13, 2011 via web

    Great article, Tom. Your framework is very helpful for building a roadmap and tracking results.

    However, I first thought of the Integration stage in marketing communications terms, i.e., using social media along with other traditional and digital channels. This is a stage marketers are struggling with now.

    But, as you suggest, social media can actual be used throughout an organization, even outside of marketing. This might be outside the domain and influence of Marketing in an organization. Problem is it requires a cultural change in most organizations. And, CULTURE trumps STRATEGY even in the best of intentions.

    Broadly speaking, the cultural issue is one of CONTROL. The Executive Suite in all organizations is struggling with the new open, social world and the changing paradigm of control.

    Charlene Li's book, Open Leadership, is very helpful for addressing this fundamental struggle.

  • by Tim Redpath Thu Jan 13, 2011 via web

    Thanks for sharing this Tom. It's a very interesting perspective.

    I might consider adding Measurement as a fifth phase although it's mentioned in phase two. Companies that don't consider how they can best use social media are going to get left behind. But they also have to figure out how to use social media effectively and one of the ways to help with that is setting up relevant metrics.

    Take care

    Here's a related post on conducting a marketing audit,

  • by Cheryl Burgess Thu Jan 13, 2011 via web

    Hi Tom!

    Excellent post on a great (timely) topic for many, many companies.

    I particularly like your final phase “Integration” which is vital to an organization's ultimate success or failure. Many of your points are classic branding “to-do’s” regarding the importance of creating and communicating consistent messages internally and externally.


  • by Tom Pick Fri Jan 14, 2011 via web

    Thank you all for the positive feedback! Much appreciated.

    Tim and Roy, to your points, I viewed both integration with other marketing activities and measurement as part of the Participation phase, but didn't make that explicit, for space reasons. My bad.

    Those are excellent points to add to this model, however, as it gets fleshed out and expanded. I appreciated the input - thanks for helping to make this model better.

  • by Ed Troxell Wed Jan 26, 2011 via web

    Excellent article! It really helps lay out the plan of action when it comes to implementing social media into your business.


  • by Tom Pick Wed Jan 26, 2011 via web

    Ed - thanks! Glad you found the post helpful. I'm seeing more companies who initially just dove into social media with no real strategy now stepping back and reassessing their efforts, taking another run it with a more thoughtful, planned approach.

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