[UPDATED] Catch Social Media Leaders applies to organizations with very conservative cultures—banks, insurers, healthcare, governments, B2B firms, and professional services to name a few—that have sat on the sidelines and now feel nervous because they are so far behind. In 2013, digital marketing and firm executives are thinking about building their internal teams to provide more continuity and scale, so here I’ll show how firms can use strategy and best practices to outperform rivals across the social business life cycle.
Catch Social Media Leaders is the third of the five-part social business team building series The series describes team building in the context of various scenarios in which firms build social business capability, step by step, while investing wisely. Social Business Strategy Use Cases outlines and compares all five use cases while Social Business Team Building gives general guidance for how to create social business teams as well as recommendations for what characteristics leaders have, so I recommend reading them, too.
Prepare to Build a Social Business Team
Most professional services, financial services, healthcare and B2B firms have delayed getting involved because the perceived value of “social media” has been dwarfed by its perceived risks. Meanwhile, the world (clients) is passing them by, and they increasingly feel the need to catch up. Once they discover that “social” is about relating and collaborating, most will adopt enthusiastically because they are often closer to clients than B2C brands are to customers.
- Hiring people before you have real social business experience is not a good idea, so conducting a social business strategy and executing it with several pilots is your first weapon for outperforming your rivals, who are likely not performing near their potential. Social business strategy is not a marketing or social media strategy, which are promotionally focused; social business is focused on interacting with stakeholders to produce business outcomes.
- Social business strategy will also give you a clear vision for what “relating” means. Make sure to involve people in your firm who have [offline] rich interactions with stakeholders to help you develop a vision for what the most fruitful relationships are. Then you can develop some pilots to test it out and begin your learning process.
- The biggest perceived barrier to social business is the “regulated business” hurdle, which is manageable for firms that conduct proper due diligence and use sensible social business policies. The social business strategy should cite case studies that show regulated businesses relating to stakeholders in public social venues. Cite real (not imagined) risks, and show how to counter them.
- In most cases, avoid the “social media approach” most firms are using because it sidesteps relationship. They tweet about their seminars and white papers, which is the professional services version of using social as a channel for content. I’m not saying that content is not relevant or valuable, only that it makes it seem like you’re “doing it,” but you are not. At all.
- Start by appointing a person or small team to develop a strategy that specifies how you can relate to people who matter.
- Define and rank stakeholders, but don’t use the same approach you have likely used with “persona studies,” which usually emphasized stakeholder characteristics in terms of your products and services, not stakeholder outcomes.
- Ask yourselves how you are meaningful to them, what kinds of personal or professional outcomes can they achieve by using your products or services?
- Note that clients really don’t care about our services as we providers do (we love them); services are just a means to outcomes they want. Helping stakeholders reach their desired outcomes by interacting online is the fastest and most durable way to increase your relevance.
- For employees, how can they use their experience working with you as a platform for their careers? Think at the individual level, not the “politically correct firm level.” People are in business or professions for themselves first. Organization comes second in most cases (ideally they’re aligned, of course).
- Don’t restrict your thinking to clients and prospects; in these firms, referral sources and intermediaries are often very important to business, too. In addition, think holistically about “employees,” whom you can now also engage hyper-efficiently while they are prospects and alumni (pre- and post-employment). You have a business strategy, so ask yourself what stakeholders, should you be able to build better relationships with them, could help you execute and succeed?
- After your social business strategy, put your social business policy and attitude in order. Many conservative firms have shut down social business in three ways that you need to counter before investing in a team. They don’t realize that their policies broadcast a paternalistic and untrusting attitude toward employees, which is a significant barrier.
- If your firm engaged your legal department or law firm to write social media policy, it is likely to be overly punitive because few lawyers have enough experience with social business to understand the context. They know the case law, but the risks must be informed by in-the-trenches experience to strike the right balance. After your strategy is done, you will have a firm grasp on what the upside is and be in a position to improve your policy.
- If your firm shut down social business by prohiting professional staff from being online, you can actually be in a better position to conduct your social business strategy and get the social business policy right the first time.
- If your firm has had firm marketing interacting on social venues, this constitutes “social media approach” (see above). There is nothing wrong with this as long as you realize that it is not social business and won’t tap your potential.
- Before creating a team, you need to validate and iterate your strategy with real-world experience. It’s a good time to explore external partners who are focused on helping you structure meaningful pilots and mitigating risks, so you move ahead more quickly with fewer mistakes. See this report on how to select a social business advisory firm.
How to Build a Social Business Team
- One of Catch the Leaders key organizing principles is outperforming rivals across the life cycle. Strategy will help you focus on the right venues with the right interactions, pilots will help you iterate into your social business team, which will organize to maximize learning and reusing good practices.
- The best teams are developed iteratively, while doing social business pilots. Most firms, if they structure pilots’ roles right, can staff them with existing employees. Depending on your social business strategy, and the type of interactions it identifies, you could staff pilots with a handful of (often junior) professional staff.
- If you are in a B2B or regulated business, you will see best results only when professional staff—bankers, physicians, nurses, engineers, attorneys, designers, consulting partners—are interacting because they carry the highest authority. Potential clients are always high-priority stakeholders, and they don’t take support staff seriously for their most precious attention.
- There is a huge difference between relating and promoting, so don’t staff social business pilots from marketing or PR, although they can play important roles. If you decide to work with an advisory firm, they will probably have temporary roles in your pilot teams, so they can mentor your staff. Optimal teams are often mixed support/professional.
- When evaluating staff of all kinds, look at their track records for interaction and their desire to help people with complex issues. Insist on seeing this online.
- Do not mistake promoting for relating. Promoting does not address domain-specific concerns. Sharing white papers via Twitter and referring responses to partners is not relating. Relating means listening and responding by using professional knowledge to discuss people’s individual challenges and opportunities.
- I do not advise outsourcing your firm’s social business interactions long-term, but using external resources can be useful for short periods.
- By the time you are ready to create a social business team, you will have completed several pilots, developed good (and bad) practices based on real results and evolved your strategy. You will have identified and tested optimal interactions. Thus, you will know what kind of team you need to build.
- First, choose a social business leader who has as many of these characteristics as possible.
- Depending on your social business strategy, you may not need an executive-level hire right away. The CMO/marketing/business development executive could hire a more junior person to run pilots and develop people. If you choose this path, a director or manager should have most of the above characteristics, minus the executive skills.
- Select one of the pilots recommended by the social business strategy. Start with one unless you have significant resources, a validated reason for moving exceptionally quickly or some social business experience.
- Resource the first pilot with existing staff and/or hire people from the outside. If you hire from the outside, make sure to include professionally qualified people in the mix.
- Prepare to master the pilot life cycle: design, launch, manage, close/renew. A key part of manage and close/renew is identifying good practices that you reuse in other pilots, in fast cycles. This means capturing and organizing good practices. Since most pilots are on 6-10 week cycles, you can do several in a few months. If you have the staff capacity and want to maximize speed, overlap the second and third, but remember the biggest takeaway is building competency and learning, so don’t stretch your teams too thin.
- Iterate your social business strategy based on pilots’ results. You have conducted significant analysis of the ecosystem and your organization and drawn conclusions about stakeholders and the impact your interactions will have on them. Iterate these based on real results.
- A key tool for learning is using metrics to analyze your results in terms of stakeholders’ changing trust, confidence and commitment, based on pilot teams’ interactions with them. Most social media monitoring platforms are tuned to measure promotional social media mentions, not trust-based interactions.
- Plan on morphing your fledgling team into a firm Social Business Competency Team (SBCT). For more on this, see Herd the Cats.
Good Practices & Pitfalls
- I recommend doing strategy in two stages: the first, the Ecosystem Audit, is externally focused. Be careful here; social media monitoring platforms are very immature and not focused on user outcomes (even though they have pretty charts), so this goes far beyond a few Radian6 reports. For best results, identify the optimal social venues in which to interact; I define this as your doing less talking in favor of facilitating others’ conversations. Interacting in these venues increase your efficiency, performance and ROI.
- The second stage is something few firms or consultancies do. The Organization Audit is internally focused. Now that you have a clear picture of what your social ecosystem looks like, what key stakeholders value and what outcomes they pursue, you then evaluate your firm’s knowledge and capabilities in terms of stakeholder outcomes. The social business strategy suggests pilots that perform at a different level.
- Put people in charge of your effort who like relating to others and who are used to changing the rules. The beautiful thing about digital social is, you need not depend on “taking their word for it”; you can see them in action, online.
- Stakeholder (user) outcomes are the key to being relevant; when you are relevant stakeholders want to relate to you. Most social media today lacks the outcome focus, so its relationships tend to be relatively circumstantial and shallow. You can take them to the next level by focusing on user results, not your products or services. This will align you with users and make you more money.
- I cannot overestimate the importance of relating over marketing in all firms. The focus of relating is users while marketing’s focus is the brand. This is a profound mindshift for virtually every firm because many B2B and professional services use “brand-focused” marketing concepts. The firms that get the shift away from marketing first will change the game because they will be head and shoulders more relevant.
When you interact with the few, you influence everyone. Most executives don’t understand how the network effect makes relating ultra-efficient. More on this in Network v. Mass Communication.
- Plan to encounter resistance from your people, contractors and agencies. Pilots are important because they are relatively small, quick investments that aim to test the strategy and generate real data to show results. This will help with the mindshift.
- Humans are hooked on relating. That not only means stakeholders, but your team. Once they learn to focus on users, they will be happier after the mindshift takes place. Relating gives people meaning.
- The process of creating a robust strategy and running several pilots need not take more than several weeks. Depending on the skill of your consultant or in-house talent, a robust strategy should take 4-6 weeks, and pilots are typically 6-10 weeks each. Of course, pilots may be run concurrently.
Review these B2B, healthcare and professional services social business case studies to see it in action.