Despite all of the hype and buzz surrounding social media, many companies have yet to even test the waters and get their feet wet with it. After all, integrating social media into existing business practices means "change",a word that won't get many "Likes" from a lot of people. So buying into the prospects and promises of social media may take a bit more time -- and courage.
In her book, Getting Bold, Sandy Carter, IBM's VP for Social Business and Collaboration Solutions Sales and Evangelism, points out what it takes for a company to embrace social media and transform into what she calls a "social business".
She cites two main ingredients that a company needs to cultivate in order to facilitate the transformation: courage and trust.
The road to social media integration is full of challenges, pitfalls and surprises. Traversing this road is certainly not for the faint of heart. Carter's book is all about gathering the courage to embrace social as quickly as possible so that your company isn't left behind.
She warns that unlike technology where companies could afford to come in late in the game and still catch up simply by upping their investment, social is all about building relationships -- a complex and often unpredictable process that requires time.
Companies need to make the decision now and back that decision up with resolute action and the courage to rise above the consequent difficulties and challenges. Trust may even be more of a challenge, but of these two ingredients, it's probably the one many companies are familiar with and are ready to accept.
After all, social or not, businesses need to build trust between themselves and their customers and prospects anyway. Consistency helps set expectations with customers and forms the foundation of trust.
On top of this companies must cultivate an environment of openness and honesty, which also includes how information is shared and used across the organization. The final layer that seals the deal on trust is the company's ability to share expertise and knowledge.
Trust, says Carter, is built by adding value not only to the company, but also to its customers and partners. In an interview, Carter shares this pearl of wisdom: "Culture eats strategy for lunch". According to her, it's important that companies strive to build a culture that embraces the social dimension of business.
She warns that the best social media strategy will fail if the culture to nurture and follow it through isn't there.
Carter shares the following steps to building your social culture.
- Look inward. Self-introspection is great for individuals looking to assess their strengths and weaknesses. It's also a great tool for companies to calibrate themselves and catalog their strengths and weaknesses. This is the best place for any organization to start; taking a good long look at the existing culture will reveal where the gaps are for embracing social.
- Pilot it. Get started on small, manageable projects that will let the organization get a feel for the experience and monitor any feedback.
- Develop brand advocates. Discover who among your people have a natural affinity for building rapport with your partners and communicating your message. Then empower them to do what they do best.
- Listen. There are many free and commercial tools that let you monitor what people think and how they feel about your brand. Tools for social analytics and social monitoring track what clients and prospects say about your company and your brands.
- Respond to what you hear. What do you do about the information you receive from the marketplace? You act on it. These responses provide excellent opportunities for your company to demonstrate that it is responsive to the needs of its customers.
It's not always easy and you won't have all of the right answers - all of the time.
Client's come to my agency for help with their social media optimization so we know how much is truly involved and can appreciate the amount of effort needed. But, if you are willing to put in an honest amount of work (or get help with it) - you can really develop your online presence to create a strong viable business on the World Wide Web.