At this point, it’s critical that you equip your team with the tools that will allow them to integrate social media into their work.
Let’s start right off the bat with some super clear disclosure: I work for Radian6 as their Director of Community, and I use our listening platform exclusively for my work. That means that I am unequivocally biased in favor of our tool and its capabilities for listening and engagement in social media.
If you can pay for a monitoring solution, it’s the one I’m going to recommend because I think it’s the best on the market and one of many reasons I work for them.
Building a Listening Platform
You need some assembly of listening tools in order to monitor the conversation. This to me is probably THE most important tool in your arsenal, no matter what. If a paid solution is within your reach (ours starts at about $600/ month), please consider investing in one. From an efficiency and streamlining perspective alone, it’s worthwhile, and can make this part of your process so much more comprehensive.
But if a paid solution is still out of your budget right now, consider building yourself a dashboard of your own that aggregates RSS feeds from several search tools.
I’ve noodled with several methods, and so far, I like NetVibes as an aggregator, pulling in search feeds from:
• Google Alerts (News and Blog Search)
• Twitter Search - separate feeds for different search strings/keywords
• Technorati Blog Search
• TweetBeep - a good backup to capture mentions of your brand on Twitter
• Backtype - search among blog comments
• BoardTracker – search forums and bulletin boards
This method won’t have the ultimate value of paid tools - things like workflow tracking, sentiment analysis, and deep data analytics and reporting - but you’ll at least be able to aggregate the information to give yourself a starting point for analysis by hand.
At a basic level, you’ll want to listen for:
•Your brand/company name (don’t forget to look for common misspellings or derivatives of that brand)
•Stakeholder mentions: If you have people or representatives on your team that are active online, you might be listening for their specific names
•Industry/Opportunity phrases: if you’re selling insurance, you might look for phrases like “need insurance coverage” or “shopping for car insurance”
Ideally, each person on your team is set up on any listening system you put together. But if that’s not financially or logistically possible, make your assignments for listening based on the complexity of your team.
For a smaller company without large, independent departments, you can probably have one or two people act as your information gatherers through your listening tools, and report back to the rest of the team on a regular basis about what’s happening.
For more complex organizations where you’re building a team across departments, it’s ideal to have at least one person from each department - front line OR backstage - manning the listening posts relative to their area of the business. If that’s not possible, try to at least have one communications, one or two sales, and one or two customer service people that can share the responsibility and distribute learnings.
If you’re listening and not yet participating actively on social networks as a company, you can probably have your team members checking in on sites two or three times a day, just to keep abreast of any emerging issues or time-sensitive intelligence to report to the team.
If you’re actively participating and engaging with your customers, those plugged into the listening systems need to be integrating that as continually as possible into their daily work. That means peeking at your dashboard every 30 minutes or so (yes, really), and ideally if you’re using a great tool like Tweetdeck for Twitter participation, you can have it set up with some redundant searches right in the window so you can catch brand mentions in real time on your desktop.
Again, paid tools offer capabilities to help with this part of the process, including the ability to build and implement a workflow for your engagement efforts right in the platform, track your responses, and get alerted to new posts in near-real time through email or IM (so you don’t have to remember to refresh a dashboard).
I know it sounds like a plug, but I can’t tell you how much these capabilities make a difference when the volume of mentions about your brand gets to more than a few a day.
When considering how you scale social media, scaling the listening and workflow aspects needs to be one of the first things you address. Serious participation, tracking, and analysis of your social media efforts is eventually going to require a tool that goes far beyond what you can build for free.
Team Toolkit: Participation
You’ve built a team. You’ve sorted out some roles and responsibilities. You’ve got a listening tool system in place, and you’ve got a sense of what you’re going to say. Now it’s time to start participating - in other words, talking to your customers online, in the places where they congregate.
For some organizations, getting ready for that may mean a discussion (or a series of them) with IT and management about dissolving certain firewall restrictions and/or being able to install applications on individual desktops. This means laying out your case for social media participation in compelling and clear terms: “We know our customers are asking for us to be present on these sites because of X learnings we’ve captured through monitoring. We have selected Y sites as our outposts and Z tools for internal and external communication because. Here’s what the time and capital requirements will be for our team and the expected benefits to our participation….”
You may need to do some negotiating and addressing of concerns and potential risks and rewards of social media participation. To help do that, consider the tools you’ll need to make that participation as effective as possible.
While not a technical application, this could be something that really allays the fears of some folks in your organization about this participation. Even if you don’t need a formal policy, it can be helpful to outline the philosophy and approach of your company’s social media participation to share with others that are still learning about this type of communication.
Depending on the external sites on which you choose to participate, your social media team members will need profiles and a presence on those sites.
As for the whole “corporate vs. personal” profile argument, I’m in the camp that says having a personal presence either instead of or in addition to a “logo” presence is really critical to making the most of social media. I think the approach differs a little based on the site:
Twitter: I think each person on the front lines needs an individual profile with a photo. You can have handles that reflect the corporate presence - BobAtCompany, for example - but do let individual people have individual accounts.
If you’re going to use a general logo/corporate presence as a Twitter profile, consider that Twitter is a very person-to-person medium. You’ll need to think about how you’re planning to use this more generalized presence; at Radian6, we’re planning to use ours to help further our best practices and educational content, including facilitating backchannel conversation for webinars and gathering feedback about content our customers would like to see. But the bulk of our outreach happens through our individual accounts.
Facebook: Facebook Pages are a popular corporate solution, and while I’m not yet totally convinced of their ultimate value, they’re designed to be built as a logo presence versus a personal one. That’s the nature of these sites, but think about how you can provide a personalized, human touch to this by really thinking through how you’ll engage your customers on that page, and how you can help them connect with a real, breathing individual straight from that page if they’d like to.
Since most people tend to use Facebook as more of a personal communication channel, I’d advise that your team members interact through the page itself (via the wall or messages). Rather than offering up their personal Facebook profiles as a link, publish appropriate email addresses or other social network profiles (like Twitter) so customers can reach out that way.
LinkedIn: Here, my recommendation is that each team member maintain their own individual profile and use that to participate in areas of the site like Answers, or join groups. Then from a company perspective, you can form a Group if you like to engage in more company-to-customer and customer-to-customer activities.
Forums: The forum culture is such that people really expect to be talking to people. If forums are a viable channel for your company to be talking to customers, then I think you really need to allow each individual to have their own presence on the site and communicate with forum members that way.
Blogs: When leaving a comment on a blog, always identify yourself as the individual representing the company. That’s simple to do: close your comment with your name and your company name. People want to know who they’re hanging out with.
Deciding who should be participating on which social networks is a matter of several factors, and your mileage is going to vary. But here’s some things to think about when you’re determining that.
Interest: The members of your team doing the participating need to be interested in doing so in the first place. Some people have a natural affinity for Twitter or Facebook, and that might be the perfect place for them to engage on behalf of your brand. Check out whether your team members are using social networks or blogging in their personal lives, and see where their interests lie.
Expertise: It’s important that the people interacting on the social web for your company have two-fold expertise: they need to understand the tools they’re using, and they need to be equipped with the right information and skills in their corporate role to respond and engage in their area of expertise. In other words, if you’re using Twitter for customer service, you want someone with the right blend of social media savvy, web and tech expertise, and deep knowledge of your company’s customer service practices.
Resources: When I say resources, I mean that your social media team members need to have the ability to integrate this into their other work (time), as well as access to people and information they may need to fulfill that part of their role. You’ve got to treat team member social media responsibilities as an integral piece of their job, not a bolt-on accessory.
Even if you have full-time social media or community team members, scaling your social media strategy is going to require that more people get involved and immersed. The full-time person can then be a bit of the hub for social media activity and strategy, and work closely with all of the other members of the team to keep efforts cohesive and on track.
Don’t neglect the importance of making sure that your customers have plenty of clear, applicable reasons to visit your website. Use your outpost social presence to bring people home to roost and hang out.
It’s not enough for a website to be a static brochure anymore. Your customers want to do things, find things, share things, participate in things. If you haven’t done so, audit your site for opportunities to enhance that content presence. Be open minded and creative about the ways you use your site. Invest in making your website a resource and destination for people, and a conduit to information and interaction with you.