Making social networking work

* Two basic issues any organization that has ambitions to use social networking needs to consider

The headlong race towards social networking continues at its insane pace and what's interesting about much of this - dare I say, lemming-like rush - is that many of the participants have little or no idea what they are rushing towards or why.

Just look at all the companies that have established Facebook and MySpace presences or set up Twitter accounts, but then fail to “work” the services. When I write “work” what I mean is to update regularly, respond to messages, and become engaged with the people using the services.

A telling attribute of whether social networking will have benefit for you and your organization is how your organization handles telephones and e-mail. Consider e-mail -- when your customers call, the quality of how you engage with them, for example, whether or not you rely on automatic voice response systems and whether (as many companies do) you do your best to keep callers away from real people, speaks volumes about your willingness and ability to be engaged in a dialog with them.

Transfer that lack of engagement to social media and, at best, your efforts will be wasted because you won’t be visible. At worst, you’ll be noticed as being unresponsive and indifferent to your “public.”

So, here are two basic issues any organization that has ambitions to use social networking needs to consider:

First, what are your goals? Are you distributing news about your organization, pitching products and or services, looking for feedback on what you do, all of the above, or something else? Whatever it is you plan to do you need to make sure you can articulate.

A word of advice here: If you look at social networking as a purely advertising channel it is most likely not going to work well – advertising is primarily outbound and you’re trying to engage those people who are interested in your organization, simply selling to them won’t cut it.

Second, who will be in charge? Some organizations hand over the responsibility for engaging with social networking services to their PR firms – bad idea. It is very hard for non-insiders to be timely, natural, and effective in their interactions.

How about junior employees? Usually that’s also a bad idea. They probably haven’t absorbed the organization’s zeitgeist so they will probably lack the context in which an effective dialog occurs.

The social networking face of the organization has to be engaged and stay on-message (that’s what you defined in your goals) so the pointy end of your social networking efforts should be driven by one or more people who are engaged with the bigger picture of what you do. They can be product managers or marketing people, but they have to be tasked and committed to making your social networking work.

Social networking is still very new territory and to not experiment and look for opportunity is a big mistake, but an even bigger one is to experiment naively and without commitment.

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