SocialTech 2010: Building A Social Media Marketing Discipline At A Major Brand

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to attend and participate in the first social media conference geared to B2B marketers. MarketingProfs sponsored an excellent event. I believe the 200+ who attended in person, and the 400 or so who listened in virtually, would agree. For a round-up of conference activities, here is a list of the best posts and articles I found on the event:

1) Ann Handley’s coverage of the event:

2) Aaron Pearson from Weber Shandwick wrote a great post:

3) #mptech daily read:  (Search the #mptech tag on Twitter for more.)

For me, the price of admission was listening to Brian Ellefritz, Senior Director of Global Social Media Marketing, talk about his plans for creating a new social media marketing discipline at SAP. While “SAP” and “discipline” are synonymous to many, one might think that SAP’s top-down culture may struggle with the unruliness of social media a bit. To move SAP along, Brian adopted the “Social Engagement Journey” — a view of the stages large brands progress through when establishing social media marketing practices. Brian credits Sean O’Driscoll, and the team from Ant’s Eye View, with the concepts and framework he’s bringing to SAP.

According to Brian’s talk, the four stages along the Social Engagement Journey include:

Stage 1: Grass roots – characterized by lots of activity but little focus; lots of variation but little conformity. Individual teams pursue social media opportunities bottoms up. Charismatic personalities, who want to grab the spotlight as early adopters, tend to drive this stage where overarching strategy and leadership has yet to form.

To move along from Stage 1 to Stage 2, Brian offered the following observations and guidelines:

1) Find leadership – corporate entities like Legal and Marcom calm their social media concerns when adult supervision enters the room.

2) Don’t discourage the experimentation with too many rules or too much oversight.

3) Begin informal education – workshops – to form consensus around what needs to happen and how.

4) Increase and improve listening. In turn, better listening will improve content proficiency and efficiency.

5) Let standard tools and governance emerge. Grass roots teams find they need operational models, process, and a common tool platform to progress further.

Stage 2: Silos form – independent efforts start to coalesce around functional areas and some leadership, whether by design or accidental, starts to emerge. Co-opetition among silos can happen in this stage and can be disconcerting. Teams experiment with more tools, but a lack of focus on business objectives means processes have yet to align. Content generation continues to happen through enthusiasm and personal initiative more than strategy.

To mature Stage 2 activity, Brian suggested:

1) Don’t get caught up in inter-team competition. Those who stay true to good social principles – who walk the social talk – will rise to the top and others will adopt their ideas.

2) Progress tool strategies from ad hoc to formal vendor relationships and benefit from all the attendant training, support, etc.

3) Pay more attention to metrics. With tenures of 18 months or more, social media teams now need to answer tougher questions about investment returns and justification.

4) Focus on creating conversational content. Most marketers gear their writing around messages, lead generation, and holding prospects hostage to sales. Social marketing writers must get to know customers better and learn how to deliver content customers value.

5) Formalize roles. Social initiatives can no longer afford to run off of employee enthusiasm and activities executed during nights and weekends.

Stage 3: Operationalize – in this stage, the silos of activity merge, leaderships becomes clear, and the activity starts to feel more like marketing and less like chaos. Firms in this stage truly understand how their customers/prospects use social channels and engage with them in those channels. These firms also invest more in education and communication since practitioners now come from all areas of the business. Listening informs both tactics and strategy.

To evolve in this stage, companies should:

1) Focus training on roles and objectives, not just the tools. Instead of holding a “Twitter class”, sponsor “how to build a social conversation with <audience>” workshop.

2) Reset your listening strategy. Invest in tools like Visible or Radian 6 to learn more about where customer conversations happen, what your competitors are doing, and how strong your share of voice is. Use the data to determine where the market will take you next.

3) Advertise the heck out of successes, and invest in them further. Resist the temptation to focus on the laggards. Competition and public visibility will give them ample motivation to keep from being left behind.

4) Push silos of activity together. Create virtual teams of bloggers for example. Combine conventional email aliases and meetings with a community platform where practitioners can share successes, policies, and practices.

5) Don’t wait too long for governance to happen. Actively create discipline around strategy, ownership, priorities, and metrics.

Stage 4: Lifestyle – the ultimate stage is one where few firms reside today. Zappos may be the lone example of a company where social activity is part of it’s core structure and culture. Business units earn more autonomy to act socially based on business objectives, positive outcomes, and a common understanding of success examples. More rigor in metrics helps to keep employees engaged and competent in social discourse. In this stage, tools are optimized, systems are integrated, everyone buys in, and angels sing. (Well, the last won’t happen, but I wanted to see if you were still with me.)

A successful journey from social chaos to social engagement depends on many factors besides those outlined: your company culture, momentum, environment, funding, and the extent to which your audience is willing to engage with you socially. Yet, I think this model offers a good place for companies to assess their progress and to think about what they need to do strategically to move from one stage to the next.

Thanks for the enlightening talk, Brian, I really appreciated it!

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