You may have a maintenance plan intended to keep your automobile looking and performing well. You may share the vehicle with another person, which requires negotiating who gets to drive it one day or another. You may scheme to improve gas mileage by hypermiling and carpooling. And, on particularly busy days, you probably fashion intricate plots to minimize drive and wait time as you drop the kids off at sports and music lessons, get to the dry cleaner, visit the convenience store, fill the tank, and collect the kids on the way home.
But what is your single, cohesive car strategy?
Trying to define a singular "strategy" for all the uses of your car is as ridiculous as trying to fashion one exhaustive social media strategy for an organization. Much like an automobile, social media is a tool to be used in different ways under different circumstances.
Sometime your car is like a bus, delivering a gaggle of children to school; sometimes it's a dump truck, hauling hundreds of pounds of soil; and sometimes it's a commuter train, getting you to and from work. You use your car in the way that best suits your wants and needs at a particular time.
Social media is the same thing: Depending upon your particular needs or goals, it may help consumers inform each other about your products; permit you to gather input from a panel of consumers; allow you to create a community that provides support and information on a particular topic; collaborate with consumers on new products or product features; help to create new and proactive means to provide customer support; offer a new channel for targeting online ads to prospects; provide a means to add viral elements to microsites or advergames; open up new ways to create more dialog and attention from journalists and shareholders; and (of course) create new ways to market to consumers in an effort to improve brand awareness, perception, and sales.
Social media is so powerful and diverse that just about the only thing that can get in the way of an organization making the most of it is the idea that social media cannot be exploited without a "strategy." That makes about as much sense as stopping you as you slide your key into the ignition and insisting you first develop a strategy that encompasses your automobile needs for tonight, tomorrow, and every day in the future.
I'm not suggesting business simply shoot from the hip, but the buzz I am seeing online and hearing from clients is that organizations are in turmoil trying to figure out how to govern and control social media. It reminds of me of the mid-90s when IT and marketing organizations battled over control of the Web site.
There's a valuable lesson to be learned from how Web site governance works today. Although every department uses the Internet, no one department controls it. In most organizations, a governance group coordinates efforts, sets guidelines, and avoids duplication of efforts. IT provides support for certain aspects, such as data standards, CRM systems, content management applications, security, hosting, and analytic tools. Divisions establish their areas of responsibilities--Marketing creates online marketing strategies, brand sites, and online ads; Customer Service maintains support information and responds to inquiries; etc. Outside assistance is secured when needed, results are measured, responsibilities are assigned to keep information fresh, and at any given moment dozens of different Web efforts may be underway throughout the organization.
No one person or department owns the Web in the enterprise, nor should anyone own social media. Even in large organizations such as Ford were "social media czars" are being brought in to drive Web 2.0 efforts, they should not govern and control it but instead foster collaboration and distributed responsibility.
Web 2.0 is still quite new and will continue to evolve rapidly, which means that as quickly as you attempt to develop a strategy around social media, it will have already changed. Simply put, the best way to use social media is to use it. Don't jump into the deep end of the social media pool, but you won't get any benefit nor gain any knowledge by staying dry and arguing over where and how to leap. Dip a toe into the water, test the temperature, and see what you learn about your consumers and your brands.
In future posts on Experience: The Blog we'll explore some ways complex organizations can rapidly develop and act on Web 2.0 tactics without bogging down in large and unnecessary efforts to try to unify the inherently diverse concepts, tactics, and tools that comprise social media.