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the danger of the swirl: when social escapes the bounds of social

2706040341_99cd7e04b8_b Something funny happens when social finally clicks.  Suddenly senior leadership wants in on seamingly random initiatives, and gobs of teams and divisions want to go live nowThought leaders come out of the woodwork, and scores of self appointed gurus claim they have the solution.  Words like listening, Facebook, Twitter and blog start popping up in random and often misplaced context, and everyone needs these magic beans in their near-term executions.  And while the brand erupts from within, all of the brand's agency's ears perk up and suddenly everyone has solutions and big ideas, while consultancies and niche agencies are shouting from the rooftops that "the big boys don't get it."

Oh, and the one or two dedicated "social" employees are in a panic.

Yet somewhere in this whirlwind of activity, someone with a cooler head needs to direct this excitement to drive real business.  While enthusiasm should be recognized and rewarded, someone needs to set expectations, educate, allocate resources, establish corporate policies, best practices, standards, legal clearance, message and design consistency and even customer facing brand clarity. 

The reality is that without a central governing and leading body, you will likely end up with community pages that live and die with campaigns (wasting the long term RM community potential), multiple overlapping and often confusing and nascent social pages (Facebook, blog, Twitter), wasted insights through unstructured and poorly shared social listening and insights, inflated expectations and poor performance tracking, a morale nightmare after employees are poorly managed or slapped around for taking the initiative, and multiple overlapping and confusing messages across social and traditional communications channels.

Escaping the Swirl - Taking a Step Back

The #1 goal of marketing is to solve a customer need through salable equity.  It's far from sexy, but there is a harsh reality that most brands have ignored for a while: there are holes in their solutions.  Most often this is either their customer service or a product design flaw.  Before you attempt to build new social equity for an established brand, you need to address what people need most, solutions for their challenges.  This is your preliminary reactive strategy.  (note that I'm recommending you start by being reactive rather than proactive)

Before going proactively live in social, you need to set the stage.  What is your current social footprint?  How are you being mentioned?  How does this compare to the competition?  What social accounts and pages are already active?  Are they all officially sanctioned?  How will you deal with rogue pages? 

Next you need to align your brand to social.  Find your voice.  Establish your personality.  Identify the conversational goals of your brand - which should be derivative of and map directly to you brand objectives. 

Now, after some education to all engaged parties you are ready to think about activating.  But remember, your goal is to drive social business. Yes, excitement and promotions and shiny objects are part of this, but at the end of the day your goal is to build value for the brand. 

Conclusion: The reality is that social is exciting.  But excitement doesn't make real business happen.  It's time to get organized.