Unleashing the Power of the Social Media Revolution in Your Organization

August 1, 2012

We Live in a New World – the World of Social Media.
Social media changes how
we interact and engage with one another. It is now the number one activity on
the Internet. Facebook reports that it has over 900 million active monthly
users—a number that would constitute the third-largest country in the world behind
China and India. In the United Kingdom alone, 50% of mobile Internet traffic is
for Facebook. More than 95% of companies using social media for recruitment use
LinkedIn, growing at a rate of two new members per second. YouTube is the
second-largest search engine in the world, with more than 25 hours of video
uploaded every minute. Twitter is growing faster than Facebook and adds more
than 320 new accounts and almost 100,000 tweets every minute. More than 34% of
bloggers post opinions about companies and products, which is important to
businesses because only 14% of the public trust advertisements, while 90% rely
on the recommendations of others.

As electronic communication increasingly drives how we do
business, companies not leveraging these tools risk being left behind. Think of
where your business will be in 5 years if you use social media wisely, and
consider what could happen if you don’t. The true return on investment (ROI)
lies in the difference between those two scenarios.

With this mass adoption of social media, it is critical to
understand how you can use it to unleash its power for your business. This
article will describe what I have seen over the past 5 years that works for
companies who use social media successfully to grow their businesses and lower
their risks. These critical factors help organizations to get powerful results
from social media.

Anyone in leadership, regardless of the type of organization
(for profit, not-for-profit, public, or private) should view these Five
Critical Factors as a roadmap for leading their organization through what can
seem a confusing maze. In addition to identifying how powerful and beneficial
this new form of media can be for your organization, this article aims to help
you avoid critical mistakes that could harm your brand or drive away your

Critical Factor #1:
If You Don’t Know Why, Don’t Do It

It is critical to answer
the “why” question before you do anything with social media. I frequently get
asked to help companies take what they started and turn it around to generate
results. In our first meeting, I always ask “Why do you want to use social
media?” The answer, which often comes after several productive hours of
discussion, helps focus the leadership team on the right issues to help their

A few weeks ago, I met with a company whose leadership
decided they needed a “social media strategy.” They said, “Whatever we are
doing isn’t working and is confusing our customers. We talked about it as a
management team and came to the conclusion that we jumped into using the ‘free
and easy’ tools and really didn’t have a strategy for what we expected to
accomplish. We now realize we need one before we do any more damage to our
brand and our company. Can you help?”
While you might think my immediate
answer was, “But of course, let’s get started!” Actually, I said, “I don’t
know. I have to first understand why you even want to use it.”

When asked what they had done to get to this point, the CEO

We wanted to do
something in social media so we put together a team of younger people from our
marketing group because they understood Facebook and some other tools. We
thought they could set things up and get us in the game. As it turns out, they
knew how to work Facebook and Twitter, but really had limited knowledge on what
our business or brand was about, so our communications were random and usually
off point. It was no fault of theirs; it was a leadership issue and I take full
responsibility for seeking the easy way out. Now I see how much it could cost
us—losing customers or having our brand tarnished. I want to turn this into a
competitive advantage for us but what we are doing isn’t connected to our
business strategy.

They wanted help to get back on track. Unfortunately, their
story isn’t unique. Starting with an understanding of why you want to
use social media (more difficult than most people realize) will give you
clarity, purpose, and direction.

Critical Factor #2:
Get Engaged – Create a Business Engagement Strategy

answering why is the best way to understand your purpose, creating a
Business Engagement Strategy is the best way to start planning for the what
and how of using social media. This step truly drives your success or
failure in implementing social media in your organization. If you don’t have a
strategy, or you have the wrong strategy, the implementation will not deliver
the results you want. Defining strategy helps you avoid creating brand
confusion or brand erosion—like what the company in my earlier example
experienced—because your communications will match your organization’s actions
and direction.

A confused customer defects quickly since there are so many
choices available. I can’t emphasize enough how important having a solid
engagement strategy is to your success at incorporating social media into your
company and achieving results. It is so critical that I have never engaged with
a client where we didn’t start with some level of strategy.

An “engagement strategy” is linked to
but different from a business strategy or a marketing strategy. Every business
should have a business strategy—i.e., what you are planning to do in the next 2
to 5 years. Ideally, you should have a marketing strategy as well—knowing what
you are going to say about yourself in advertisements, brochures, mailings,
etc. (your promotion strategy).

An engagement strategy identifies how you are going to
interact and engage with your current and future audiences. Its purpose is
twofold: on one hand, it means having your audience engage/interact with you;
on the other, it means having your company interact and share with people who
are connected to your community. An engagement strategy incorporates three
components: 1) your business strategy; 2) your chosen methods for interacting
with your audience; and 3) your methods for encouraging others to share
information about your company with people in their communities. Knowing these
components separates you from your competition and gives you an edge on getting
your audience to communicate these differences to others.

Creating a successful engagement
strategy involves developing an in-depth understanding of your audience,
including knowledge of who your audience base is, what channels your
audience listens to, what themes help your audience, educating them on what
makes you different from your competitors, and how you can help your audience
to improve their businesses

Critical Factor #3:
Word of Mouth Always Has Been, and Still Is, Your Biggest Asset

When my grandfather needed
to buy a cow, he went down to the end of his fence and asked his next-door
neighbor Bob for the name of a trusted cow seller. Bob told him it was Jack.
After that, my grandfather bought his cows from Jack. This marketing is called
word of mouth (WOM), and it is how business has been done for as long as we
have had the means to communicate. Today, it is still the best way to do

WOM marketing has several key
ingredients. It starts with keeping the promises you make. If you don’t do
this, not even social media will save you. When you keep your promises, you
create trust with your customers, employees, and others. Continue doing this
and over a period of time you will build a relationship with these people. As
your relationship grows and trust continues to build, these people will become
your advocates in the market—people who proactively tells others about you.
This is WOM marketing.

The primary benefit of an advocate is that he/she takes
action on your behalf and spreads the word about you to others. Social media
uses the same process for WOM. The main difference with social media is that it
allows your advocates to amplify or share what they are saying to many other
potential customers, instead of just one person or a small group. This is WOM
on steroids! As you read earlier, only 14% of our society believe an
advertisement, whereas 90% believe the recommendations of others. In which
world would you prefer to do business?

Companies spend fortunes on search engine optimization (SEO)
for the purpose of getting on the first page of a search engine, such as Google
or Yahoo. Here’s another perspective. If you are primarily found because your
advocates and others are telling their friends, followers, or connections to go
directly to your site, do you care about your page rank? No. Your customers
aren’t searching for you; they are going directly to your front door and
engaging with you without using a search engine. While SEO is important for
other reasons, it becomes a lot less critical when people show up at your
doorstep because an advocate or someone else told them to go there. Think of
what this means in terms of improving your conversion and closing rates, and
lowering your cost of sale.

Here is a hint for you: Stop collecting friends/followers and
spend more time building advocates. Arm your advocates with great content and
help them in any way that you can. This process alone will generate more buzz
for your company and deliver more results than broadcasting how great your
products/services are.

As you focus on building advocates, it is important to
understand the difference between selling and helping. Selling is the world
most companies live in, telling everyone how great they are and that people
should buy, buy, buy from them. This is how most traditional “push” media is
used today.

Helping, on the other hand, is where the true power of social
media lies: Finding ways to be relevant, interesting, thoughtful, compelling,
and insightful to your audience so their business will grow. That’s what
today’s audience wants. Ask yourself if you are selling or helping. You can
only live on one side or the other—and social media lives on the helping side.
Provide this type of content and your audience will engage more with you, build
a trusted relationship, and tell others about you!

A great example of how this works is
right in NIA’s backyard. NIA President Rick Smith, CEO and President of E.J.
Bartells, and Brian Farnsworth, Vice President of E.J. Bartells, started a blog
last year called “Simplivative.” Their engagement strategy was to create a blog
to share stories and insights to help their customers, employees, vendors,
manufacturers, and others in their industry embrace innovation. In creating
this blog, they started a community for those interested in learning more about
innovation, allowing people from all areas to interact and share their stories.
Normally this approach would be one-to-one, but with the power of social media,
their message can reach a global audience.

Critical Factor #4:
The Tools of Social Media Are Cool, But They Will Change on You

While social media tools
are critical for delivering your messages, the tools (and all of their
intricacies) should be your lowest priority. They are important channels for
communicating your messages, but they aren’t the driver of success, contrary to
many opinions.

The primary purpose of the tools is to deliver your content
and engage people through the channel(s) your audience is listening to or
engaging with. For example, some executives are not big Facebook users (unless
they need to stay in touch with kids who are away at college or their
grandkids), but they are big LinkedIn users. Sharing content through Facebook
won’t reach those executive target audience because they aren’t engaging with
that particular channel or tool. Putting the same message and content on
LinkedIn will have a significantly higher chance of reaching that executive
target audience and allow them to engage with it.

Executives are also rapidly embracing Twitter as a channel
they use for real-time, fresh content. To adapt, we stay on strategy and
deliver our message through the Twitter channel, in addition to the others.
Tomorrow it could be YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, or any of a host of other
tools and channels. The beauty of social media tools is that they are easy to
use, so you can always be where your audience is interacting and engaging. Get
wedded to one channel and you risk the chance of losing your audience.

The tools are free and relatively easy to set up, and this is
where the majority of social media experts consult. This, however, is not the
area of greatest value to you or your company. Unfortunately, like the company
in the earlier example, executives often “throw social media over the wall” to
their younger employees and put them in charge because they know the tools.
This generally misses the mark because they aren’t the employees who understand
the depth of the company’s strategy or brand—they just know how to execute the
tools and communicate over the channels. Bottom line: The tools are clearly
important, but they are only the means of distributing the messages created
based on your company’s strategy.

Critical Factor #5:
Think and Act Small if You Want To Get Big

The future of being
successful using social media resides in being able to identify and talk to a
small, specific, niche-based audience called a community. One size doesn’t fit
all in social media, which is one of the key reasons why traditional media is
failing so rapidly—broad-based promotion and broadcasting falls on deaf ears.
Casting the big net to catch a few fish no longer works because your audience
is listening to specific channels on narrow topics.

For example, I work with a national group of attorneys who
provide legal services to gun owners. Their strategy, theme, content, blog
posts, tweets, and messages on all channels are narrow and only relate
to the legal aspects of owning firearms. Any gun owner interested in learning
about the legal aspects of owning a firearm tunes into their channels and
engages. The attorneys provide helpful, relevant, compelling, insightful, and
thoughtful content to their audience, and then the audience shares this content
with their fellow gun owners—i.e., other members of their community. Every
audience is part of some community when it comes to content.

Blogs are the key to being able to talk to your community and
give them the content they want. When you help them get what they need, they
share your information with other members of their community. This is how
websites and information go viral.

Wrapping up

are the Five Critical Factors that every organization needs to understand
before stepping into social media. Using social media the right way gives you a
recipe for success and the opportunity to achieve results. Follow these steps
and you will be able to leverage the true power of the revolution today!