[Updated] The (social business) fire drill is sparked by an external or internal event that suddenly creates a sense of urgency and elevates management’s interest in social business/social media. They often respond in crisis mode and end up wasting considerable resources because they spend more than they need, they stay away from using social technologies to relate to stakeholders (they’ve been burned), and they hire a team that cannot produce maximum social business results because it is reactive and fearful rather than proactive and confident.
Fix Fire Drill is the second 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
Fix Fire Drill applies to an organization or brand that may or may not be active on the social web. Fire drills that arise from external sources of urgency are usually more disruptive because the organization has less control. Executives’ biggest fear is that a serious lapse in governance leads to significant embarrassment of the brand [see United, Domino’s, KFC or McDonald’s). Slightly less frightening is when a competitor wins accolades for their social media activities, the brand has been on the sidelines, and the board is asking questions.
Three common examples of internally-driven fire drills are: power struggle among various functions that want to “own social” and leads to a stalemate. A Conference gives senior executive(s) the social religion, so now they “want it.” Also common is the case when a new executive has managed a social media effort in his/her last role and wants to push the envelope in his/her new role.
- The lapse in governance situation usually compels management to bring in a crisis communications firm, or they may use the brand’s existing public relations firm, which will function as the first social business team. Their goal will be stabilizing the situation. However, also ask them to prepare a detailed post-mortem report whose specifics will help you to put processes and a team in place to help prevent recurrences.
- When the competitor wins accolades, leadership often loses confidence in the leader who was ostensibly “in charge,” so they often bring in a consultancy to help “figure it out.” The consultant is often a social media or social business firm that will help the brand understand what happened and recommend a strategy and execution plan. That will organize the organization’s first team.
- The internal examples may be less dramatic, but they are still fire drills that usually result in hiring an outside firm, which fixes the immediate problem or guides the team in addressing an opportunity.
- In most cases, all the fire drills except possibly the first one are less dire than people think, and they can save considerable fees and management time by reacting with calm. The perceived need to “do something” is usually higher when there is mistrust or discord within management.
As with “disaster recovery,” fire drills can be prevented by recognizing the risk ahead of time and preparing for it. By definition, that has not happened here. Once the situation is stable, the focus shifts to preventing a recurrence.
- Social business strategy is the first step determining post-crisis direction. The guiding principle to strategy is that you need to be focused on who you are trying to influence and why. Strategy will diligence and define stakeholders and key social venues where you can interact meaningfully and efficiently.
- Stakeholder (user) outcomes are the key to engagement; when you are relevant and add value, stakeholders want to relate to you. Most social media today lacks the outcome focus, so its relationships tend to be relatively circumstantial and shallow.
- The strategy will provide a clear vision for what “relating” means because you will study how your stakeholders are relating among themselves. 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.
- Once you have tested different ways of interacting with stakeholders in several pilots, you will be in the position to know what kind of team you need to build.
How to Build a Social Business Team
- Make mentoring/team building a key selection criterion for the external firm you hire (lapse in governance a possible exception). Most social media and public relations firms operate an outsourcing model in which they provide services on an ongoing basis. This is counterproductive in social business in most situations.
- The best teams coalesce while doing social business pilots. Most firms, if they structure pilots’ roles right, can staff them with existing employees; they need not hire right away. If you need to hire, contract while you do pilots. Don’t contract through your marketing agency in most cases because their core competency is creating and delivering content, not relating to individual users.
- There is a huge difference between relating and promoting, so don’t automatically staff social business pilots from marketing or PR either. When evaluating staff, look at their track records for interaction and their desire to help people with complex issues. Insist on seeing this online.
- 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 right away. The CMO/digital 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.
- I do not advise outsourcing your firm’s social business interactions long-term, but using external resources can be useful for short periods.
Good Practices & Pitfalls
- The key to preventing “fires” is to develop public, interactive relationships with key stakeholders, which will improve your reputation with the people who matter most. Then, when problems arise, they won’t affect you much.
- Social technologies are “21st century dial tone” because they help people socialize more, and socializing is one of the most important human activities. Therefore, organizations need to develop competency in using digital social venues to relate, and there’s a significant learning curve because interactions are public. Think of “social” as being as core as talking on the phone. Every employee that relates to stakeholders will have to do it, and well, because that’s the brand.
- Sorting out internal conflicts is quite doable once everyone realizes that they will all be involved (21st century dialtone). Social business strategy will determine what competencies and offerings the organization has that are most relevant to stakeholders. That will help to create a collaborative effort among “departments” or functions.
- 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 brand and firm, especially consumer-oriented brands which sell kagillions of mass produced products to demographics. The firms that get the shift first will change the game because they will be head and shoulders more relevant.
- Plan to encounter resistance from your team, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 brands 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.