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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