My firm recently had the distinct pleasure of conducting a three-day social media conference for members of the Arthur W. Page Society's Future Leaders program. The program is a two-year professional development exercise in which approximately 20 “next generation chief communications officers” study various dimensions of our business.
The purpose of this column is to focus on some key social media learnings that came out of the group's days together:
Focus. Think small. The mistake some companies have made with social media is general experimentation and then taking on too much too soon. Best practices suggest you find a niche in your company where you think social media can have a positive, measurable impact and start there. Opportunities might include public policy efforts, a business-to-business marketing campaign, or a strategic philanthropy initiative.
Engage others early. In many companies, lawyers make arguments as to why the liability risks of social media campaigns are not worth the rewards. This is particularly acute in regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare. In other companies, IT identifies technology or infrastructure obstacles. And yet in others, the CFO or the head of HR express their own concerns. Engaging them early will increase the odds that you will be able to find a pathway forward.
Learn the tools. You may be the chief communications officer or someone who typically delegates responsibility for a wide range of activities. Don't underestimate the value of you personally learning the tools available to you. Learning the tools helps you learn the potential. Roll up your sleeves.
Find a mentor. Sorry to generalize, but the older you are, the less likely the language of social media is your first language. Look inside your company and find a social media mentor. I don't care if the person is your age or half your age; you'd be surprised what a 27-year-old can teach a 54-year-old.
Build relationships. Because of the need to early engage other functions (e.g., general counsel, marketing, HR, etc.), it is more certain than ever that cross-functional personal relationships inside corporations will very much be linked to professional success. Take time to build your network of relationships inside your company, well beyond your traditional borders.
Be relevant. Many companies want to understand the online conversations taking place that have to do with their company or industry, and then jump in. Be sure you do a lot of listening first and know how you want to engage. Once you do, things you've probably already heard are very true: be honest, transparent, not commercial, relevant, and speak in an appropriate voice for the forum.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a communications management consulting firm. He can be reached at email@example.com. Bob's monthly column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.