Pick a Strategy Before It Picks You

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Social media has reached a scale that ensures it is not a fad or merely a vehicle for personal networking. Along the way, some of the most famous brands have been driven into social media by reacting to one of the following:

• a viral customer or employee incident (the “uh-oh” strategy);
• a competitor’s activity (the “catch-up” strategy); and
• a rush to build a Facebook page and social media presence (the “too big not to be there” strategy).

At best, those approaches prevent a company from capitalizing on the benefits of social media. At worst, a public relations and customer relationship nightmare could ensue. The lesson is to be proactive and to pick a strategy before it picks you.

Social media constantly changes the behavior and expectations of a minority, but it is an influential and growing minority, hidden among customers and employees. Moreover, it suggests that the one-size-fits-all customer service model should be retired.

Avoid False Starts

The challenge is to understand what is different about social media customers, and why now is the time to consider how and where to engage them. Entry points vary:

• Sales: Revenue-producing options are an attractive entry point, but the case for action is dwarfed by more detailed business cases from traditional channels.
• Service: Growing in popularity, it engages customers at critical moments but is different from traditional service operations, such as call centers.
• Product Innovation/R&D: The promise for outside-in innovation engages customers and employees, but many programs fail as electronic suggestion boxes.

Regardless of the entry point, the complexity of using social media rises over time. As more functions engage, coordination grows tougher. Some teams leap forward to stay ahead of the competition, while others wait to see how the market, regulations, and internal politics develop.

Therefore, someone must coordinate these investments and capabilities. Bottom-up, fragmented approaches do not let large organizations operate social media at scale and with the right controls and consistency. As a result, businesses using such approaches are unlikely to realize their potential. Though most can find someone in their company using social media with customers or employees, the challenge lies in developing such efforts from experimental silos into enterprise-scale capabilities.

Like quality, social media must become embedded in the fabric of the organization. Doing so requires a comprehensive approach to ensure consistent customer experiences, reliable content creation, insights through analytics, appropriate data governance, and regulatory compliance.

Delivering on the Promise

Fundamental to a successful strategy is defining the outcomes in traditional business goals. Social media can benefit many areas, but any company that tries to define a strategy for evaluating and achieving all those potential outcomes quickly will become overwhelmed.

Instead, begin with one problem and develop a strategy to solve it. As one business area figures out how to use social media within the organization’s context, the strategy can expand into other areas of the enterprise. After an organization has articulated its goals, it should identify the business processes involved in achieving those goals. Thereafter, companies should identify the internal stakeholders they will need to engage.

Next, select the specific business metrics that will demonstrate the impact, their current values, and how they will need to change to deliver on a successful strategy.

Organizations that wade into the social media waters unprepared will become overwhelmed by the complexity and speed of the medium. That’s why it’s critical to establish a well-articulated strategy early in the process. Knowing why and how to use social media helps organizations avoid pitfalls while maximizing social media’s contribution to business goals.

Robert Wollan is managing director of the Accenture Customer Relationship Management practice and coauthor of The Social Media Management Handbook, published by Wiley in January 2011. For more information, visit www.socialmediamanagementhandbook.accenture.com.

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