Achieving genuine fitness, whether physical or in social media, is not something you can do in a few minutes a day or without exertion. It takes tremendous discipline and the commitment to achieving results over time, not overnight.
In preparation for this article and as part of a larger study, I recently surveyed 100 businesses and interviewed over a dozen social media pros to determine the overall state of social media fitness. As it turns out, only a small percentage of brands are truly fit when it comes to social media, and most view their activities as a work in progress. Not surprisingly, none used the word "easy," and all had opinions on how to whip their own programs into shape, thus informing these "10 not-so-simple steps to social media fitness."
1. Social media is best as a team sport.
Currently, about 50% of companies park social media in their marketing departments, an approach that is akin to trying to get your whole body in shape by working on just one muscle group. Fortunately, "fitter" companies are recruiting their other departments to join and strengthen their social team. "Because social touches so many areas of our business, it is important to have a coordinated effort that engages all key players in our decisions around this evolving platform," explains Stacy Braun, SVP of Marketing at AXA Equitable. Cautions Gayle Weiswasser, VP of Social Media at Discovery Communications, "Failure to recognize this leads to an unnecessarily restricted team that cannot operate at its full potential. "
2. Develop your bench strength.
Beyond which department handles social, there is also broad debate about how many employees should be involved, and more often than not, companies have some form of restriction in place for how employees can use social. Continuing with the sports analogy, the best teams generally have the deepest bench, having prepared all to perform if needed. IBM, for example, encourages all of its employees to be socially active and provides clear guidelines for its now massive army of sharers. "It is risky to look at ‘social’ as somehow separate from business processes and create distinct ‘social’ teams," says Ethan McCarty, IBM’s Digital and Social Strategist.
3. Take a step back.
After several years of a "ready, fire, aim" approach to social in which every brand, division and or campaign seemed to warrant its own Facebook and Twitter presence, enlightened companies are stepping back and conducting social media audits to figure out their best practices and consolidate their redundancies. These audits aren’t all that different from how a good fitness trainer evaluates each client prior to offering recommendations. Thanks to a recent audit, which revealed hundreds of Facebook pages, Intel reduced its pages around the world to 45. "By streamlining we are able to maximize reach and engagement," says Jennifer Lashua, Social Media Director at Intel.
4. Map out a disciplined regimen.
Since social media audits aren’t yet common practice, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a sizable majority of companies also do not have a clear road map for their social activities. Just as no self-respecting fitness trainer would let his/her clients take a step without a clearly defined and highly disciplined regimen, companies that neglect to plan their social media strategy will inevitably flounder. Suddenlink, a St. Louis-based cable operator, "started mapping out the art of the possible" late last year, says Pete Abel, Suddenlink’s SVP of Corporate Communications, "The discipline of that process helped us get some great ideas up and running; otherwise, I fear none of them would have been implemented."
5. Prepare for the worst.
Remarkably, only 1 in 3 of the companies I surveyed had a social media disaster plan in place. Not surprisingly, it often took a crisis to inspire the creation of such a plan, begging the question many trainers might ask their unfit clients: "What the heck are you waiting for?" The benefit of having a disaster plan in place is not just the peace of mind that comes with it. Fusion-IO, a rapidly growing tech company, started developing its plan after receiving its first negative comment, and the experience, says Trip Hunter, VP of Brand Marketing, turned him into "an evangelist" for social disaster readiness. Furthermore, the more prominent your brand, the more you have to lose. "Being a public company, we have to be prepared," says Hunter.
6. Be in the moment.
Fully 1 in 3 companies admit they are better at talking than listening, and less than 1 in 4 are listening and responding in real time. This is the fitness equivalent of sharing your resolutions, joining a health club and then never showing up. True social media fitness requires listening and responding, often in real time. Intel has a team in place around the world "to monitor and moderate 24/7 and in multiple languages." The benefits of being in the moment are especially clear to those who offer such a service. "We’ve learned that the quicker we are able to respond, the more favorably things go," says Fusion-IO’s Hunter.
7. Aim for quality over quantity.
Though it would be hard to get into an argument about the importance of good content, less than half of the companies I surveyed actually believe they are consistently creating quality content that engages their target. Perhaps these are same folks that go to the gym every day only to spend most of the time sitting on a weight bench checking their text messages. "It’s important to set a very high bar for the quality of what gets posted on social platforms—fans will reward good content with engagement and will ignore the rest," says Discovery’s Weiswasser. This is just as true in B2B, as McCarty adds, "At IBM we are focused on quality standards for things from video to infographics to social network landing pages and tweets."
8. Deliver a consistent experience.
With social media training still the exception rather than the rule, it shouldn’t be surprising that only 12% of companies claim to deliver the same customer experience regardless of the channel. The risk of inconsistency is that, inevitably, the customer relationship breaks down at the weakest link, leaving the entire enterprise exposed. Mass Mutual’s Kris Gates has developed a "three channel test" in order to "provide the same value, support, and education for consumers, no matter which channel they prefer to engage us in." Explains Gates, "If a piece of content is not compelling enough to be utilized in some form in at least three consumer channels, then it's probably not worth creating."
9. Monitor your progress.
Despite all the talk among marketers about the importance of metrics, it’s amazing that more than half of the companies surveyed still don’t have a consistent measurement program in place for social media. According to Evan Greene, CMO of The Recording Academy (parent of The Grammys), a brand that has enjoyed enormous success via social media, "metrics are crucial. Listening and monitoring are really becoming the new frontier. After all, the better you become at interpreting the data, the more effective conversations you will be able to build with your social ecosystem, and the deeper the engagement you can create."
10. Establish a center of excellence.
Perhaps it's the newness of social media but I found it surprising that less than 1 in 10 companies have established any kind of repository for lessons learned. Without it, every division or employee is at risk to make the same mistake and or not capitalize on a recent success. One of the few companies with a "center of excellence" is Xerox. "We have empowered more of our marketing and communications community to get involved in social media and to do it with the benefit of training and best practices at their disposal," says Diego Pereda, Xerox's Social Media Program Manager.
Achieving social media fitness is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint. Explains CareerBuilder.com’s Jenny Weigle, "For a business to use social media, it must first consider what needs and goals it will fulfill, who will run it, what content will be shared, and what metrics will be measured. This takes more time, research and consideration for the business."
—The study behind this article took a month to field and then another month to analyze and conduct the interviews. You can find the full study here and the complete interviews with Pete Abel (Suddenlink), Stacy Braun (AXA Equitable), Kris Gates (Mass Mutual), Trip Hunter (Fusion-IO), Grant Johnson (Pega), Jennifer Lashua (Intel), Nelleke Kloet (TagMan), Ethan McCarty (IBM), Diego Pereda (Xerox), Greg Tirico (Sage), Evan Greene (The Recording Academy), Jenny Weigle (CareerBuilder.com) and Gayle Weiswasser (Discovery Communications) on TheDrewBlog.com. Finally, if you want to see how sociallly "fit" your company is relative to others your size, feel free to take the Social Media Fitness Test here.
[Image: CWA studios via ShutterStock]