Why a social networking strategy is needed

When I'm not being a journalist and leaping wide clauses in a single bound or moving faster than a speeding cursor, I adopt my alternate persona: Mark Gibbs, mild-mannered consultant. Well, perhaps not so mild-mannered.

Anyway, I bring this up because some consulting work I was doing today struck me as a good subject for this thrilling episode of the Network World Web Applications Alert newsletter.

What I was working on was a proposal to sort out the social networking strategy of a midsized company. I write "sort out" but what I really mean is "establish" because it appears that the company doesn't have anything that could be described as a strategy. That's not to say they don't have any social networking in place, in fact, that's part of the problem.

Let me explain: This company was lucky (or smart) enough to "get" the Internet early on in its evolution. They embraced e-mail and then the Web, eventually building an e-commerce site that is not at all bad. Add to that their outbound and internal e-mail communications which appear to be quite effective and they were doing well in the online world.

Then social networking exploded. Like many companies they appear to have grasped the initial growth although not through their communications and marketing strategy but rather chaotically through the initiatives of scores of staff members. In other words, organically.

Today they have scores of divisional, group, and individual employee Facebook accounts and something approaching 100 Twitter accounts, again, a mixture of divisional, group and individual employee accounts.

What became clear after some minimal research was that there appeared to be no standards and no coordination across all of these social networking accounts.

For example, on Twitter some corporate accounts were strictly outbound, despite having huge numbers of followers (the account bio made it clear that incoming tweets would not be responded to) while in other obviously corporate line-of-business accounts, that had many fewer followers, the account holder posted as if it were a private account (postings along the lines of "I might have tuna for lunch").

Now, is this situation, as such, a bad thing? From one perspective, no, it isn't; they are out in the market and visible. On the other hand, they have no insight into the impact they do (or don't) make. They also aren't truly engaging their followers, they aren't keeping on message (particularly hard to do when no one knows what the message actually is), and they have no idea where they are going. What they are doing is simply organic, unstructured, and, ultimately, purposeless.

Now they could muddle along as they are and see what happens. The result of that course wouldn't (probably) be a catastrophe but neither will it ever be of quantifiable value.

What this outfit needs is a strategy; a plan to coordinate resources, set standards and goals for communication, capture metrics, field audience response, track sentiment, and integrate not only the existing social networking efforts with current sales and marketing programs but also set the direction for future expansion and enhancement.

None of this is hard, it just takes planning and the recognition that what isn't planned can't be measured, and what isn't measured can't be valued.

So, where does your organization sit with regard to social networking? Are you doing nothing? Doing something but you don't know what? Doing something you know about but without any real plan? Doing something and in the process of getting a strategy organized? Or do you have the whole social networking thing nailed? Take our survey; be sure to enter your e-mail address so I can send you the results.

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