Three ways to speed your company's embrace of social media

I've noticed that many companies that know they should be active in social media are taking tentative steps forward, but would like to move faster.

I've noticed that many companies that know they should be active in social media are taking tentative steps forward, but would like to move faster.

These organizations have grasped the importance of social media in their communications strategy. But whether they're nervous about diving into the online conversation, or caught up in internal bickering over who “owns” it, or lack confidence in their strategy, their cautious pace is denying them the benefits of more robust online engagement. They know they should accelerate, but they're not sure how.

Last week, while I was participating in an excellent Arthur W. Page Society “Future Leaders Experience,” the group addressed this problem. Three success factors for accelerating successful online engagement were identified in the discussion:

Pique their competitive nature with a “best practices” assessment.
Companies are often risk averse and don't like to be too far out front in using new technologies. Reviews of “best practices” often provide a level of comfort that comes from knowing what their peers are doing, learning from others' mistakes, and benchmarking their own progress against leaders both inside and outside their own industries.

But “best practices” reviews have another motivating effect: they fire up people's competitive instincts. Nothing concentrates management's attention as much as learning that a competitor is stealing the lead on them, and the race to benefit from engagement in social media is no exception.

Identify the key digital influencers in your space, and the hidden successes in your company.
Sometimes, organizations don't move forward because they don't know where to start. In social media, management may be aware of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as factors in their personal lives, yet have no idea how those two platforms, and the much larger online ecosystem, influences their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Without knowing what to target, they end up doing nothing.

They may also be relatively unaware of the small, experimental efforts already underway within their organization.

The fix? Do a thorough audit of the “digital ecosystem” in which your company operates, and take a careful look inside the company to see where social media activity already is (or isn't) underway. Find opportunities to create small success stories, and make the people who have achieved them champions (and trainers) who can help bring other, less adventurous units up to speed.

Don't be surprised if some of your best success stories come from tired, mainstay brands that are willing to take some risks to rejuvenate their image. Think about how P&G stalwart “Old Spice” shook up its category with its viral “I'm on a horse” video.

Encourage broad involvement, and train for it.
Nobody can “own” social media any more than anyone ever “owned” print. Or TV. Its very power derives from its reach, literally, into everyone's pocket. At a minimum, your entire communications organization must be proficient, and ideally the business leaders need to be, too, because so much of your effectiveness in this medium depends on the ability to speak in an authentic, personal voice.

A targeted training effort can pay immediate dividends. Digital immersion sessions, simulation programs, and strong, ongoing training modules (on subjects such as listening, influencer mapping, metrics, crowd-sourcing, crisis management, search, etc.) are vital to building robust capabilities.

If your company is suffering from social media paralysis, give these approaches a try. I think you'll find they allow you not only to participate in the online conversation, but influence it.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm. He can be reached at His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

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