Tuesday, January 19, 2010

7 Questions Key To Social Networking Success

CM Comment: Especially note #7 entitled “What’s Next.”

January 16, 2010: summarized from Information Week -- Social networking true believers use words like engagement, responsibility, and transparency that smack of the Internet's hippie days in the late 1990s, yet social networking has proved to be much more than a passing fancy. The exploding numbers associated with the most popular sites like Facebook and Twitter inspire awe in even the most jaded statisticians. Time spent on social networks increased 277% in the United States last year, according to media research firm Nielsen, and Twitter itself grew more than 500%.

Now the social media category is primed to emerge as the most significant business enabler since the Internet itself. Organizations must ask themselves seven important questions about their plans for leveraging social networking over the next 12 months. Their answers may spell the difference between success and failure in the coming decade.

1. Are my competitors continuing to invest in social networking?
Measuring yourself against your competition isn't the best way to decide strategy, but it's a fair question given the flash-in-the-pan potential of social networking. And the answer is yes.

For its second annual "Tribalization Of Business" survey, Deloitte polled companies that maintain online communities of 100 members to more than 1 million, created on their own sites or on public social sites such as Facebook and MySpace. About 60% of those communities are less than a year old.

2. Where's the ROI?
This is the $64,000 question. And it's not easy to answer because it depends on what it is you're trying to accomplish with your social media strategy. "Right now it's owned by the marketing division and looked on as a low-cost or no-cost way of amplifying your marketing message," says Ed Moran, director of product innovation at Deloitte.

Except social networking isn't a marketing activity in the one-to-many, shotgun-blast approach that traditional marketing is built on. Or it shouldn't be.

3. Which way works best?
Social media is still an amorphous concept, represented by the microblogs, wikis, forums, chat rooms, and RSS feeds found on thousands of corporate and organizational Web sites, as well as by the familiar sites such as Friendster, Facebook, and Flickr.

Most observers agree that companies must develop a dual social media strategy that incorporates homegrown online communities and involvement with the public social networks.

4. How deep within my organization should social networking be allowed to penetrate?
This is a sticky question, for several reasons. First, corporate culture is historically closed and conservative. Second, some high-profile incidents relating to employee abuse of social networks have put the fear of God into some executives regarding reputation management and legal exposure.

And there's still a whiff of the old complaints of workplace distraction that accompanied the introduction of e-commerce sites. Morse PLC, an IT services company, touted research late last year that it claims demonstrates that the use of social networks at work costs U.K. businesses 1.38 billion pounds (U.S. $2.23 billion) a year in lost productivity.

Nonetheless, many companies are driving social media deep into their organizations. General Motors offers a video course on its intranet that introduces neophytes to the basics of social networking and the company's policies concerning it; about 3,000 GM employees have viewed that course. A more advanced course offered by Barger's group trains employees to become social media proselytizers and teachers; about 500 have completed that training.

The objective, for GM and every other company that embraces a wide-open social networking strategy, is twofold: Let subject matter experts interact directly with customers, potential customers, and partners; and promote authentic voices as company representatives in the community.

5. Is it necessary to have a corporate policy around social networking?
Yes, and it needs to be three things: short, simple, and clear. Many companies, including IBM and Intel, have made public their policies concerning the use of social networking tools. A Web search will uncover a list of them.

While social media are an excellent vehicle for generating ideas, those ideas must get to the people in the organization who can make the best use of them. That's because at most companies, the social media function is almost exclusively owned by a single department: marketing. Instead companies should create centers of excellence to disseminate the ideas culled from social networks and online communities--on products, markets, talent, trends--to the right people who can act on them.

6. What can social media teach me about internal collaboration?
Social networking woke up companies to the way people want to interact with each other, and the ways they don't. At least one veteran Web 2.0 developer thinks companies should let employees use Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, whichever they choose to get their jobs done, rather than force them "onto captive social networks, or monolithic enterprise platforms." Chris Richter is founder and CEO of startup Socialware, which sells software that controls employees' interactions with public social sites. The company's risk manager module, for instance, monitors and stores content sent by employees to outside social networks and can block anything proprietary or objectionable.

Still, if companies think social networking is about technology, they're missing the point, says John Faber, chief operating officer of af83 Inc., a social media services company. Transparency and knowledge flow are key, yet companies are using social networking techniques to re-create closed, segmented, hierarchical structures and still expecting social media-type benefits. "It won't work," Faber says.

7. What's next?
Two words that come up often as social media trends are measurement and analytics--as in, is there a way to measure interest and involvement, and to derive insights from raw social networking data? One underexploited area of social media analytics has to do with product development--mining online communities for ideas and trends related to product areas.

Mobility is another social media opportunity. GM's Barger says one of his priorities this year is to help company employees make use of Foursquare, which offers smartphone users location-based information-sharing in a Twitter-like format.

Look for more use of public social networks and a movement away from corporate online communities and destination sites. It's the opposite of the "build it and they will come" strategy.

An early harbinger of that trend is a tool developed by Resource Interactive called Off The Wall that lets potential customers on Facebook fan pages receive product inducements through the Facebook news feed and then buy that product directly from the Facebook wall. Resource Interactive's Shust says people have moved on from looking at the Web as a series of destination sites and are "now really starting to exist on the Internet." And while engagement is still the main purpose of social media, he explains, there can be a logical conclusion: "Engagement, and then eventually sales."

Read more at: http://bit.ly/88ClvN

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