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7 Levels of Social Media Engagement

There are seven stages to social media engagement from shallow monitoring to deep peer to peer economies. How deep is the rabbit hole of social media? Is your organisation doing the minimum they can do, or are they quite advanced? I put together this diagram to show the steps from shallow engagement such as just monitoring to full engagement including co-creating products and services. It’s probably worth noting that every baby steps stage in social media engagement is valid – from little acorns big ol’ oak trees grow :P

shallow to deep

 Stage Zero - What is Social Media?

Doesn’t know, doesn’t care about social media. What’s that FaceThing again? Probably doesn’t give laptops or mobile phones to staff. Had a website once but it cost nearly a thousand bucks a year to run so dropped it. The phone has always been good enough and typewriter ribbons are expensive now!

Stage One – Internal and Enterprise approach to Social Media

Social Media means “waste of time” – Facebook and Twitter are blocked at the firewall because we don’t want people wasting time on social networks, even on their lunch break. LinkedIn is blocked because someone mentioned someone once found a job on this online community. Youtube is only accessible via company mobile phones and only because IT didn’t realise everyone would get around the computer firewall blocks by using their mobiles.

There are staff guidelines and they start with Thou Shalt Not: thou shalt not leave a comment on a blog, thou shalt not use social sites in company time, thou shalt not talk to customers or the Press directly, thou shalt have everything approved by Public Relations, thou shalt not mention the company on Twitter, Facebook or Dogbook.

There are plans to set up an internal blog, wiki, collaborative knowledge management system, Yammer. And the CEO would quite like an iPhone app. One day.

Stage Two: Social Media Monitoring and Eavesdropping

At this point, the company has confused listening with engaging. Consultants are brought in to run workshops (yay!), money is invested in social media monitoring tools, and the company gathers more and more reports, that are longer and larger, with analytics, graphs, numbers, statistics and hints of “further actions” regarding keywords, searches, and sentiment of their Brand, products and services. The listening is done at arms length and there is no intention to address any of the issues being discussed. The online community is unaware they are being listened to, and couldn’t care less if they were.

Stage Three: Social Media as a Broadcast- Out medium

The company has decided that our DVDs aren’t really the thing so why not put them up online communities?  Stilted interviews with the CEO, niche tech announcements and the latest coolest TV ad that cost us a fortune should all be up on YouTube. Turn off or ignore comments, and embeds, because YouTube is really just full of snarky negative types. Doesn’t even realise YouTube has a backend analytics program but is mildly happy when the videos hit 100 views after six months.

Stage Four: Social Media is for Viral distribution

Eventually plonks some money down for a “viral” video because that seems to work as good as TV these days in delivering eyeballs.  Agency created content, agency distributed content. The only thing the social network has to do is distribute it. Make it quirky, rude or NSFW and it will be passed around. No feedback from the community comes back to the company except the number of people who “shared”, favourited or “liked” the viral photo, video or app. The role of the community is to forward on the material, but ssshhh! silently please.

Stage Five: Social Media Campaigns

The company has decided to risk engaging with the customer and will “give it a try”. For 6 weeks, they will build up a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and so on. It will usually revolve around a competition or event or “short term” strategy and at the end of six weeks it’s over. Unfortunately the Facebook Page and Twitter account were named after the campaign not the company or product so everything gets deleted including a few thousand Twitter follower connections and the Facebook content. The community members decide next time not to bother joining that Page and the internet is littered with social media accounts with solid connections not being used.

Coles signed up over 3000 on this Twitter account then threw them away in September 2009 (last update).  Did you know you can rename Twitter accounts if you are unhappy with the name you originally chose?  @colesonline has only 2600 followers so I guess they’ve spent the last 2 years diligently building up the numbers again?

Stage 6: Collaborative Social Media

The Brand is still managing and manipulating the media but the responses are more two way. So the Company puts out a request – please help us design a product, please tell us how we can do XYZ better, please create an advertisement for us. The impetus may not have arisen out of the social network (it probably came from the marketing department) but it’s thrown open to the online community. Or the idea came from the community but the company decided how to structure and monitor the responses. They then gave “permission” for the community to create content around those ideas.

Stage 7: People Powered Social Media

Imagine a bank where the person wanting a loan puts up the request and the community analyses and responds with the interest rate and a couple of thousand members put up a dollar or two each. How much is the bank involved with producing the products and services? Or are they simply providing the social space for online community commerce to continue? That is what Prosper, Zopa et al do. Imagine something similar for dress makers and designers and jewellers to create and transact in their vertical. That’s etsy. Artists? Redbubble. Imagine a recruitment company that allowed members to put up a job and for other members to bid on it. That’s,, You get the idea. Put up the platform then stand back and let the community do commerce. You get a clip of every sale and solve some tough problems for them (including matchmaking the one with the need to the one with the solution).

Is your company ready for Stage 7? Is your industry ready for Stage 7?

What do you think? Which stage is your company at? Am I missing any stages?


Join The Conversation

  • DavinaKBrewer's picture
    Mar 18 Posted 6 years ago DavinaKBrewer

    "Typewriter ribbons are expensive now." HA! Love that, but it's a big jump from there to an iPhone app someday. Sadly the wasted time and effort on consultants, broadcasting the same old messages via SM is true. The name, being able to change it just speaks to listening to the wrong consultants, jumping in for a campaign without an overall strategy. I think the final stages are probably more multi-tiered, as brands integrate marketing, listening and monitoring, develop both long-term SM initiatives and focused campaigns. @Schweiz has an interesting model as well, with different ROI based on different objectives at each level. FWIW.

  • Mar 17 Posted 6 years ago @wrytir (not verified)

    Did anyone edit this article? I could barely finish with the grammatical errors and the "worst-case-scenario" approach to each category. The categories themselves make sense, but the narrative doesn't offer solutions. Many of us know how companies execute social media tactics poorly. What did I learn from this? Well, the opening diagram was interesting.

  • Mar 17 Posted 6 years ago MargaretEgan



    Its always about who is the audience but I think there's room for all kinds of interpretations for approaches to Engagement.  Somewhat particular to B. Solis but thanks Laurel for this sharing.

  • Mar 17 Posted 6 years ago John Merritt (not verified)

    I think this is a great model to consider when developing your social media strategy.  It comes from more of a practitioner's point of view which is something I think has been missing in a number of proposed models in the past.  Good stuff!

  • Mar 14 Posted 6 years ago Csaba Pusztai (not verified)

    I find both models useful in thinking about patterns of corporate communication attitudes and practices.  Laurel's model focuses on web 2.0 stages, whereas SocialMediaSchweiz's stages model puts social media in a more general (and abstract) context based on the 'paradigm' that dominates thinking on and about the role and importance of information and communication within the organization. It is useful to reflect on where we might be coming from and what it takes to move on and what the implications are.

  • Mar 12 Posted 6 years ago SocialMediaSchweiz (not verified)

    Based on studies we made and our working/consulting experience we have developed a maturity model which includes seven levels, too. However we define the different levels differently compared to yours:

    Level 1: Information
    Level 2: Communication
    Level 3: Dialogue                 

    Level 4: Personal involvement
    Level 5: Process-oriented involvement
    Level 6: Corporate involvement
    Level 7: Enterprise 2.0

    A short explanation

    • Up to level 3 all activities are still based on the traditional communication behaviour just made on Social Media platforms
    • Difference between level 3 and 4 is the so called Mind Change-effect. Even though it sounds rather obvious  in practice this step is one of the most critical one as it is linked to cultural change. It is the moment when managers starts to understand that Social Media is not a common push-communication tool.
    • Social Media activities which do not reach at least level 4 will be stopped after a certain time as a consequence of missing success.
    • From level 4 Social Media activites starts to create a positive Return on Investments. However, with a further development the more the corporate culture and working/management processes are getting under pressure to be adopted
    • With the exception of level 7 a company can start its Social Media activites on all levels. However, each level has a higher need of education/training, resources and change management.

      We are looking forward to your opinion about the difference of these two models.


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