The journey to social proficiency - Part Two

The days of active engagement in social media without the benefits of a listening capability are largely over. Data and insights rule now.

My previous column began the process of digging deep into the challenge many corporate executives still encounter about the best way to start the “journey to social proficiency.” I began by focusing on governance and strategy.

In this column, we'll get into the five major pillars of social activity: listening, engagement, content creation/syndication, community management, and measurement.

•Listening. With foundational actions such as governance underway, the most common next step is to build a monitoring/listening capability. Whether this is an internal function in the form of a command center (which is the trend), an outsourced solution, or a combination of the two, the days of active engagement in social media without the benefits of a listening capability are largely over. Data and insights rule now.

Engagement. At the risk of oversimplification, engagement comes in two forms: proactive (e.g. campaigns) and reactive (e.g. issues management). For proactive initiatives, engagement and ultimately advocacy is the new Holy Grail. However, engagement is labor intensive, so be prepared. You can access relevant resources that might reside in other functions (e.g. customer service, marketing).

Issues management is a whole other consideration. Ponder the following scenario: A highly negative blog post starts to gain traction. An issue is brewing and you must decide whether or not to respond. The rules of reaction are different in the social space and companies often find themselves in need of rapid-response protocols to guide decision-making. During a crisis, this often means actively leveraging social data to put a bit of science into the art of crisis management through the development of crisis-escalation indices.

•Content creation/syndication. Content drives social interactions. Many companies start by sharing existing content in social channels. The only new content they have to create are Facebook posts or tweets that link to existing pages on the corporate website, for example. However, the most socially engaged companies quickly realize that content is a tremendous opportunity to deepen relationships with key stakeholders and begin sending prospects into the marketing funnel.

These companies are moving toward a “content factory” orientation where they create world-class content, usually written by former journalists. The content doesn't have a “PR” or “marketing” slant. Rather, it tells a story and educates, entertains, and informs the reader. The value-add is in providing new information and sharing the company's story, not necessarily in selling a particular product or service. These pieces of content include world-class videos, infographics, photographs, and articles.

Social engagement almost always deepens when content designed for social consumption is the core of the strategy, rather than repackaging existing website content.

•Community management. Social communities require direct, two-way engagement. Community management involves moderating and responding to individuals who engage with your content or directly with your brand through social media.

This is a non-trivial activity that requires highly skilled and trained community managers. I'd always recommend corporate employees serve as community managers rather than an outside agency because they are more authentic members of the community. They have to understand how to communicate in the brand's voice without sounding “too corporate.” They must be able to prioritize response opportunities (with the help of software). They also must be able to serve as counselors to the content creation team. They are meant to be embedded members of social communities and serve as liaisons between the brand and the community.

Measurement. This is critical to the success of any social activity. One of the tremendous benefits of social media is that you can course-correct in near real-time. When content is published or new community-management strategies are introduced, you can quickly measure the impact and make changes as needed.

Measurement should be grounded in the business objectives of the program and, when possible, unique variables should be identified so that you can measure not just how successful the initiative is, but what is driving that success. This allows for frequent optimization of social programs. You can do more of what works and less of what doesn't.

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

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