You've built a team. You've sorted out some roles and responsibilities. You've got a listening tool system in place, and you've got a sense of what you're going to say. Now it's time to start participating - in other words, talking to your customers online, in the places where they congregate.
For some organizations, getting ready for that may mean a discussion (or a series of them) with IT and management about dissolving certain firewall restrictions and/or being able to install applications on individual desktops. This means laying out your case for social media participation in compelling and clear terms: "We know our customers are asking for us to be present on these sites because of X learnings we've captured through monitoring. We have selected Y sites as our outposts and Z tools for internal and external communication because..... Here's what the time and capital requirements will be for our team and the expected benefits to our participation...." (You get the idea).
You may need to do some negotiating and addressing of concerns and potential risks and rewards of social media participation. To help do that, consider the tools you'll need to make that participation as effective as possible.
While not a technical application, this could be something that really allays the fears of some folks in your organization about this participation. Check out some examples from other companies here. Even if you don't need a formal policy, it can be helpful to outline the philosophy and approach of your company's social media participation to share with others that are still learning about this type of communication.
Depending on the external sites on which you choose to participate, your social media team members will need profiles and a presence on those sites.
As for the whole "corporate vs. personal" profile argument, I'm in the camp that says having a personal presence either instead of or in addition to a "logo" presence is really critical to making the most of social media. I think the approach differs a little based on the site:
Twitter: I think each person on the front lines needs an individual profile with a photo (much like the Dell or Comcast guys do). You can have handles that reflect the corporate presence - BobAtCompany, for example - but do let individual people have individual accounts. (As for the "who owns your account" stuff, your mileage will vary based on your company culture and policies. When in doubt, have the discussion first).
If you're going to use a general logo/corporate presence as a Twitter profile, consider that Twitter is a very person-to-person medium. You'll need to think about how you're planning to use this more generalized presence; at Radian6, we're planning to use ours to help further our best practices and educational content, including facilitating backchannel conversation for webinars and gathering feedback about content our customers would like to see. But the bulk of our outreach happens through our individual accounts.
Facebook: Facebook Pages are a popular corporate solution, and while I'm not yet totally convinced of their ultimate value, they're designed to be built as a logo presence versus a personal one. That's the nature of these sites, but think about how you can provide a personalized, human touch to this by really thinking through how you'll engage your customers on that page, and how you can help them connect with a real, breathing individual straight from that page if they'd like to.
Since most people tend to use Facebook as more of a personal communication channel, I'd advise that your team members interact through the page itself (via the wall or messages). Rather than offering up their personal Facebook profiles as a link, publish appropriate email addresses or other social network profiles (like Twitter) so customers can reach out that way.
LinkedIn: Here, my recommendation is that each team member maintain their own individual profile and use that to participate in areas of the site like Answers, or join groups. Then from a company perspective, you can form a Group if you like to engage in more company-to-customer and customer-to-customer activities.
Forums: The forum culture is such that people really expect to be talking to people. If forums are a viable channel for your company to be talking to customers, then I think you really need to allow each individual to have their own presence on the site and communicate with forum members that way.
Blogs: When leaving a comment on a blog, always identify yourself as the individual representing the company. That's simple to do: close your comment with your name and your company name. People want to know who they're hanging out with. For instance, I sign blog posts:
Director of Community, Radian6
Deciding who should be participating on which social networks is a matter of several factors, and your mileage is going to vary. But here's some things to think about when you're determining that.
Interest: The members of your team doing the participating need to be interested in doing so in the first place. Some people have a natural affinity for Twitter or Facebook, and that might be the perfect place for them to engage on behalf of your brand. Check out whether your team members are using social networks or blogging in their personal lives, and see where their interests lie.
Expertise: It's important that the people interacting on the social web for your company have two-fold expertise: they need to understand the tools they're using, and they need to be equipped with the right information and skills in their corporate role to respond and engage in their area of expertise. In other words, if you're using Twitter for customer service, you want someone with the right blend of social media savvy, web and tech expertise, and deep knowledge of your company's customer service practices.
Resources: When I say resources, I mean that your social media team members need to have the ability to integrate this into their other work (time), as well as access to people and information they may need to fulfill that part of their role. You've got to treat team member social media responsibilities as an integral piece of their job, not a bolt-on accessory.
Even if you have full-time social media or community team members, scaling your social media strategy is going to require that more people get involved and immersed. The full-time person can then be a bit of the hub for social media activity and strategy, and work closely with all of the other members of the team to keep efforts cohesive and on track.
Don't neglect the importance of making sure that your customers have plenty of clear, applicable reasons to visit your website. Use your outpost social presence to bring people home to roost and hang out.
It's not enough for a website to be a static brochure anymore. Your customers want to do things, find things, share things, participate in things. If you haven't done so, audit your site for opportunities to enhance that content presence. Be open minded and creative about the ways you use your site. Invest in making your website a resource and destination for people, and a conduit to information and interaction with you.
In the next Social Media Team post, we'll talk about internal communication and sharing information and intelligence among your team. What else can I help with in the toolbox?
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