Six Steps to Becoming a Socially Adaptive Business

We’re now a decade into the social media revolution. And for the past five years or so, many early adopters such as youth brands, artists and the FMCG sector have been using sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube successfully to engage with their audiences.

Yet stubbornly, most organisations have been very slow in waking up to the fact that these audiences have changed. We now have four separate generations of people – Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and the Millenials, all of who consume the media in entirely different ways. And even within these demographics their habits are constantly changing. For example, over half of over 65s are now on social media (Pew Research Center).

Most marketing and communications strategies are based around a business model dating back to the early days of the internet – or even earlier in some industries! It’s still very much about push marketing, assumptions about audience behaviours not changing and an over-reliance on traditional communications channels.

As a result, social media is often seen as something almost frivolous, which is the preserve of the marketing department, PR consultancy or advertising agency. At a recent Econsultancy round table session which I chaired, it became evident that even well paid community managers of leading UK brands got very little buy-in or support from managers within their organisation.

However, social media not only affects obvious areas such as sales, marketing and IT but it also has large implications for internal communications, human resources, PR, recruitment, corporate governance, supply chain management, customer relations, R&D and even product development. So it is vital that the C-suite and Boards understand the implications of social media.

There is a six-step programme to achieving the desired aim of creating a socially-adaptive business. It isn’t a straightforward process and it won’t necessarily happen overnight, but it could ensure that your business is still here in 5-10 years. Or at the very least, that you can remain ahead of the competition.

The diagram below shows the six steps, starting with an overriding strategy which encompasses any aspects of your business that could in some way be affected by social media. The creation of this strategy can often be painful as it requires a common vision for the business, agreement about where the organisation is heading and unity of approach in reaching out to customers, stakeholders or any other audiences. Now how often do you see that?

Getting the strategy right is vital but so too is having a corporate culture which can support social media. From the management team down to the people in the post room, everyone needs to understand how social media can benefit the business. Already CEOs are being chosen on the basis of how social they are while large organisations are hiring staff who are increasingly ‘customer facing’ not only in the real world but also online. Why? Because people are now permanently connected to the internet and the customer experience can be enhanced or ruined by bad service, whether it is face to face or on a social network. Plus of course, we’re now in an age where everyone is a publisher, including our customers, competitors and staff. So the more people prepared to embrace social, the better.

Social Business

Next on our corporate shopping list is content. This nebulous concept which is rapidly becoming the most important part of the marketing mix. Even in B2B, senior marketers are now saying they expect to spend a quarter of their budgets on content creation (Content Marketing Institute) while in B2C this percentage is much higher (Marketingland survey October 2014).

With so many channels to manage - in the case of B2C this can be 24/7 - and such a need for quality content, many companies are struggling to meet the demand. Outsourcing to advertising/advertising/creative agencies can be a solution, as can creating internal ‘newsrooms’ to provide a steady source of ideas.

Then there is the question about which channels to use. With so many social networks and social messaging sites now in existence and so many different ‘micro’ audiences, balancing scarce resources with being visible on multiple channels is a constant challenge. The key is to have a strategy which identifies which network is most likely to yield results then monitor the results on a regular basis. This process should then be able to accommodate any ‘new kids on the block’ – Instagram, Pinterest, Ello etc.

One thing is certain though, video content is becoming more and more important, not just for visibility on Google but on Facebook and Twitter too. Cisco estimates that by end of 2015, 86% of all content viewed online globally will be video based.

Creating the content is one thing but managing it is another. Most companies focus solely on pushing out material to audiences. It may sound common sense but social media is about being ‘social’. This means that brands need to listen, respond and engage on social networks and this is very difficult to outsource completely.

As a result, a large number of companies now employ full time community managers to oversee activity on the corporate social media sites. Because they are increasingly being used as networking, business development and customer services channels, you can now see why there needs to be a unified approach to social! PR agencies are great at creating content but they aren’t call centres. Also, creative agencies may come up with wonderfully engaging artwork but their job isn’t to listen out for what your competitors may be doing.

One of the key developments in 2014 has been the inexorable rise in social advertising – particularly on Facebook. Every one of the key social networks now offers some form of paid-for promotions for both large organisations and SMEs. Therefore any company that wants to achieve tangible results on social needs to allocate some form of budget, whether this is spent on creating more accessible content or funding ad campaigns.

Again, many larger organisations may need to outsource this to advertising, media buying or specialist agencies that have the expertise and experience to run multi-faceted campaigns.

The key to social advertising, as with any form of marketing, is to understand exactly who your audience are and what they want. To do so in 2014 requires using Big Data - the final part of the socially adaptive business equation.

With hundreds of millions of conversations taking place every day around the world on dozens of different social networks, it can be daunting for companies to make sense of what is going on around them. Factor in the issue that few businesses actually listen on social and you have yourself a potential problem.

Fortunately there is a wide array of software tools available. These range from free tools such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or the analytics embedded within the social networks, all the way up to incredibly sophisticated social monitoring tools such as Sysomos or Attensity.

The information that can be mined from analysing sentiment, conversations and trends on social can be critical in determining content, product development, ad budgets and ultimately, future strategy. Which brings us neatly back to where we started.

The question you need to ask yourself is: “How close are you to becoming a fully digitally-adaptive business?” Whatever your answer, we can help you reach your business goals.