The key for large enterprises to effectively use Social Media isn't to control or unify it but to create the means for structure, independence, collaboration, and shared learnings. If your organization has laid the groundwork to prevent problems and avoid duplicate efforts, then the best way for enterprises to leverage Social Media is to give those within the organization the freedom and permission to use it, test it, and learn from it. Where do the ideas come from? Simply look at your upcoming campaigns or communication plans and ask, "How can I improve this by making it social?"
Here's a recent example: MyDeco.com is a site where you can design your own room from scratch or upload a photo of an existing room in order to change its style. If the site had done nothing else but furnish the tools that permit users to express and explore their own sense of interior design, the site would've been a great resource for consumers. Only they didn't stop there; they asked, "How can I improve this by making it social?" Voila, MyDeco.com permits consumers to save and share their virtual rooms, vote on existing designs, ask for and provide tips, and participate in a community with designers. (For a mere £19,559.66, the top-rated Natural Spiritual Bedroom can be yours!)
Taking an existing need, idea, or effort and developing ideas that make it social doesn't have to be rocket science. (The rocket science comes later when you consider measurement, functionality, promotion, and the like.) For example, let's say that you're about to launch an online sweepstakes. Online sweeps have become maddeningly routine: A form, a rules page, a thank you page, and a database from which a name is selected at the end of a predetermined period.
So, how can you improve a stale online sweepstakes by making it social? How about giving additional entries to people who succeed in inviting others to register? Or, how about a group prize that is won by a set of people rather than an individual? Or, let registrants vote on what the prize should be, then give them the code to add a widget to their blogs or social media profiles where the updated voting results can be displayed.
We're just getting started--let's raise the bar of our creativity. "Send to a Friend" functions which give consumers the chance to email one person at a time are fine, but let's put "Send to a Friend" on steroids with Twitter. Allow consumers to enter their Twitter username and password to broadcast the sweepstakes to their dozens or hundreds of Twitter followers. Reward them for doing so--additional entries or perhaps an entry into an alternate sweeps--and turn your visitors into traffic-driving marketers.
Here's another Social Sweepstakes idea: Give registrants an option to create their own prize pack from a list of possible prizes, then provide the means to post this dream package as a graphic widget on their sites. Others who see this prize pack could register to win that package with a single click or could create their own package. And when someone clicks through from a widget and registers, the person who posted the widget could earn another entry.
Here's yet another idea: Create an instant-win sweepstakes offered through a widget that consumers place on their own sites. Web surfers could enter their email addresses into the widget and click to see if they've won. When someone wins as a result of a widget posted by an individual, both parties could be prized.
I'll bet there are dozens of other ways we can use Social Media to breathe life into a boring sweepstakes. How about allowing consumers to photograph what they want to win (up to a given value) and post their desired prize to a particular Flickr account? Or, challenge them to earn a prize by posting a video on YouTube demonstrating why they deserve to win? Or allow consumers to upload a photo of themselves so they can see their face in the car or on the boat they could win, and then encourage them to share the image via email or on their site?
Not all of these ideas would be right for every brand, but this goes to show how any problem might be solved or opportunity enhanced by asking, "How can I improve this by making it social?" Let's explore others...
Creating a new casual game for your online visitors? "How can I improve this by making it social?"
Don't leave them playing by themselves--that's so Web 1.0! Game makers have long known people will engage more in their games if they allow players to save scores, but we can improve upon this with social media. Several years ago Fullhouse produced a very simply online bowling game for Miller Brewing, now MillerCoors. It could have been a pleasant but forgettable time waster, but at the end of the game, consumers could challenge friends to beat their scores via email. Better yet--since the client produces that golden elixir, beer--the game tracked the two players' scores in the beer frame and sent a message letting one player know they owed the other a Miller beer the next time they socialized. The simple game was quite a hit!
That shows a simple way to make a game social, even if people aren't playing each other in real time. ImInLikeWithYou.com shows how to make gaming more immediately social; you can play a version of Tetris that is competitive, requiring you to drop pieces in place while messing up the other players. (It's pretty darn addictive.) Better yet, since ImInLikeWithYou must be played head-to-head live, they've found a way to invite others to join in real time: By entering your Twitter username you can blast a message to your followers letting them know you're ready to play, and the Tweet contains a link to take people directly into your particular game.
Redesigning your ecommerce site? "How can I improve this by making it social?"
Turn it social by permitting consumer ratings. Of course, this is old hat in 2008, so why not give consumers the means to ask for ratings rather than see what's been posted? Many consumers suspect ecommerce sites filter or order ratings based on whether they are favorable or not, so give the power to consumers to reach out to their network. Let them post a widget that requests feedback on their sites, or create a means where a request for input can be sent to followers in Twitter, Identi.ca, or other microblogs. And if after purchase they give you a positive rating, ask them to share it with their friends or add it to their blog, perhaps with a reward when a referral results in an additional sale.
Launching a new product? "How can I improve this by making it social?"
Rather than relying on traditional PR sources, reach out to bloggers who specialize in your industry. Offer them a free trial and ask them to post their observations and feelings; bloggers hate press releases, but they love to be included! Or invite the early adopters to post their own video reviews of the new product. Or ask purchasers to share their feelings about what is great and what needs to be improved in the new product within an online forum. Or engage the community to create your advertising as Dell recently did with its Regeneration campaign.
The key to finding immediate social ideas is in what you ask. Don't ask, "How can my entire organization make effective use of social media?" Focus on your immediate opportunities and challenges.
And don't ask, "What do I want to tell consumers about my product or brand?" (or at least don't only ask that.) Consider how you can involve your audience by engaging them with two-way dialog rather than one-way advertising.
Simply examine what you want to accomplish and ask, "How can I improve this by making it social?" I believe you'll find so many ideas that the challenge won't be for you to figure out how to use Social Media but instead to determine which Social Media ideas are most sensible, measurable, and best suited for the brand.
Virtually any idea can be made social. If you're stumped, post it here or email me using the form at right, and we'll take a crack at socializing your idea together.