5 Ways To Reduce the Risk of Engaging in Social Media

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Last week I was invited to talk with my good friend Paul Chaney from Bizzuka on his very popular show User Friendly Thinking on Blog Talk Radio. Paul and I got to talk about the risk of engaging in social media on a corporate level and from that conversation bubbled up this post.

In the age of the social web, companies can no longer afford to delay their response to the conversation taking place. They need guidance, structure and security when embarking down the road of social media and how to use it. Companies need a “risk aversion process” for learning social media. So here are 5 ways that a company can reduce that risk.

1) First,  approach it like a product launch in other words, you need to assign one or more resources and make them accountable. It’s amazing what happens when more people or departments have ownership, or “skin in the game”, of a project or task.  So for instance typically IT initiates or has ownership of most web 2.0 projects, and thus a lot of the heat falls on them, right?

But what if marketing, PR and IT all had ownership of the success of a social media initiative? And what if the word came down from the top first?  Typically when employees know that their president or CEO is supporting it, they’re more apt to embrace it.  The point is, if you engage the right internal resources that will need to be involved (legal, marketing, corporate communications., executive leadership, IT, and product management)…and do it early on, AND let them have input and belief that they have influence, and ownership as well?… You have a much better chance to succeed in the long run.

2) Second, you can reduce the risk by reviewing the corporate goals / objectives in three month increments and APPLY or review the social media strategies that are complimenting the overall corporate strategies. Make sure the strategies mesh-the same way your marketing materials and their messaging is consistent.

Obviously you need to know the social media objectives first before you can apply the strategies, but the key is to weave them into the rest of the mix. This way they are as relevant, and as high priority and as funded(hopefully) as everything else on the table. And keep the social media goals reachable.

I like to use the analogy of the team that is getting ready to start their season: a) Lets have a winning season b) Lets win x amount of games c) Lets make the playoffs d) Lets win the division etc etc.. I think a lot of people or companies think that social media is this cure-all elixir that happens over night and it’s just not so.

By periodically reviewing the goals, this allows you to see progress and to tweak where appropriate.

3) Next you need to map the results back to either making  money, building equity or reducing costs. This is your mantra!

This ensures longevity and value to the company. CEO’s and business owners can wrap their arms around that. We all know that a lot of people and organizations are currently hung up on the ROI of social media and rightly so; because that really does track back nicely to the risk argument and the reasons NOT to do social media… but that’s why we like to look at the results from the 3 goals mentioned above. Those are tangible and measurable.  I’ll say it again…You need to make money, save money or build equity.

4) Let’s make sure there are guardrails.  Companies will not move forward if they feel there is no control.  As well, companies do not like to operate without nets.. (For example a bad product goes out, or gets released. There is a process there to Recall, Refund, and service those affected customers- there’s a process.  There has to be some semblance of a crisis management plan where it’s… If this happens, then we will do this….If this happens, so and so will handle this etc etc..

5) Lastly, let’s have a road map with intervals where you can Test, Measure and Adapt-TMA. In social media, one of the great things about the space, is that you have the ability to test and measure certain things and adapt fairly quickly because the results are so real time, and so immediate.  So yes, Analytics are key and I love them, but let’s make sure we’re measuring the right things in social media. Because it’s easy to think you are being social, if you’re measuring the wrong thing.

Lastly I was asked about instituting corporate social media policies and if I had any resources to suggest and at the time, I did not have my resources readily available, So here are 2 great links to some sources for (1) Corp. Social Media Policies. and (2) Social Media Policies

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Social Media and Community Mistakes I’ve made

As the VP of Marketing for a dot com start up geared towards IT professionals and major corporations, I assemble multiple focus groups consisting of average Joes to get their opinion on the UI. Not realizing until after the site is built, that perhaps it might have made better sense assembling the typical actual user of the site in garnering user feedback. Huge error.

After having started my first user based community wrapped around a very popular consumer product, I manage the community as if I am a dictator. I say no to everything and listen even less. Big mistake!

These are but 2 of the mistakes I’ve made in my journey through marketing, communities and social media. Encouraged by my friend Mack Collier who has a similar post right now over on his site The Viral Garden, I decided to recount some of the mistakes I’ve made in social media, marketing and managing communities.  I think this is a very viable topic right now for a number of reasons, as you will soon see.

Mack mentions that people who are entering the space for the first time-be it social media, marketing, managing communities, blogging, or whatever-may fear that doing anything, any misstep, will be met with criticism, or perhaps a stiff rebuke. Which is not the case at all, in fact Mack’s point is this:

When it comes to social media; no one knows everything, and everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made more than my fair share

Don’t buy into this ‘I don’t have anything to say/tweet/post about’ nonsense. Get out there and make your mistakes, because that’s the best way to learn. And besides, one of those ‘social media experts’ has probably already made all the same mistakes you will

So along with the other 2 mistakes I made above, let me highlight some of the bigger ones I’ve made.

2002 I set up a knowledge base, a BBS, and an instant chat function all to allegedly help our customer service dept. Results?  Customer service didn’t know how to use the complicated KB and neither did the customer. The BBS was too complicated as well and the chat function crashed constantly. 0 for 3.

2002, I created an online community that instantly becomes popular and balloons to 3,000 users. At which point, I endear myself to no one as I kick out some of the brand champions for what were in hindsight, petty transgressions. It’s at this point that I am called out for the first of many times, and issued my first death threat as well. Major screw up on my part!

2003 I’m still not listening to the customer.  Thinking that perhaps silence is golden as a community manager, I participate very little when the complete opposite was needed at the time. FAIL.

2004 A new product and business unit is created. I create new sites that get tremendous traffic but do very little analysis of the trends, the topics, the hot buttons and customer suggestions flowing in from email and I funnel them to Customer Service, because “I’m too busy!”   Apparently, they never read them either. Product tanks. My fault for not listening, at all.

2005– I start blogging to create better brand recognition. But I know nothing and blog/spam with zero regularity. The only gain I see, is a minor SEO bump, but realize that it came from me commenting. So rather than genuinely read blogs, I decide to just lamely comment for hyperlink purposes. It works for SEO but I get nothing out of the exercise.  At which point I’m just an SEO loser/hack gaming the system. FAIL

2006 I start blogging again but this time it’s out of a need to communicate with customers better. Obviously I’ve seen some light somewhere.  But I read very few other blogs and comment even less. Not realizing that blogging is a 2 way street. It takes a full 6 months for that fact to sink in.

2006-2007 I engage in a full blown reputation management endeavor utilizing  social bookmarking, blogging, and participating in multiple social networks. Only problem-I’m not engaging earnestly. Another problem, I create persona’s in the name of the company but not in my name. I’m not transparent, not even close. Apparently I realize the SEO implications but still don’t get that its all about you being you and the conversation. I’m everywhere and I’m not. The reputation management campaign has worked and yet I have zero traction. I still have not understood the basic principles of social media. FAIL

2007– The light is starting to go on a bit more, but it still has not dawned on me to come out from behind the curtain and be myself. It takes the last 6 months of 2007 to realize that transparency actually works in creating better conversations. In the meantime I start joining social networks on behalf of products instead of myself, and continue to push the message as a brand marketer instead of engaging and listening as a person. Mistake

2008– I was very active but not always in a good way. In 2008 I created “more” social networking accounts instead of concentrating on the few where I have become part of the communiy. I blog about too many different things not realizing that my traffic came from being consistent and on point. I also sometimes still forget that traffic comes from participating and reading other blogs. I also forget that the best way to create value and more long lasting relationships and perhaps derive business, is to go beyond thinking like a marketer and to think more like a friend, a peer, and a colleague. I realize now that from all of my mistakes that, as I told my friend Paul Chaney on his Blog Talk Radio show:

Active listening leads to active relationships that translate to real opportunity..

So you see, I’ve made a ton of mistakes, and those were just the one’s that come to mind immediately. The key though, is that I learned from them, and kept trying. But if you never step outside, you will never truly know what’s out there.  Bottom line is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I have to think that regardless of your backgrounds , you have all made mistakes. Don’t let the mob mentality, or some random blog comment or snarky tweet,  sway you from trying and experimenting  in social media. Let it be a motivator.