Eight Ways to Prepare for Social Engagement At Scale

by Dion Hinchcliffe 27 Aug 2012 Blog Post, Infographics

Over the last year of so, social business has matured to the point that the vast majority of organizations have some operational social media capability, ranging from the largely tactical to the highly strategic. While we recently highlighted some of the very best strategic stories in the dozens of high-impact case studies in Social Business By Design (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), the industry has not stood still. For many of us, social business has moved beyond having a few social media accounts and a social network (or two) within the firewall.

While the first five years of social business were largely dominated by discussions of how to gain meaningful levels of initial adoption, this is really not the problem any more for organizations that have made significant investments to date. Instead, they’re finding that customers and workers are indeed trying to connect with them in social channels and that getting value out of social media requires participating in the literally endless streams of conversation that ensue when companies become social businesses.

In fact, this is now the central challenge for companies that have gone beyond the initial phases of social business maturity. These days, I find that social business leaders are now grappling with this thought:

“The world is now trying to connect with us via social media. But there millions of them and only a few of us.”

While certainly, only a subset of the universe of social conversations that are happening at any given time truly impact a company, just sifting through the endless Twitter and Facebook posts to find them is a significant challenge. Never mind tracking the blogs, community forums, media sharing sites, and hundreds of other social channels, many of which are just as influential or more so than the major social networking services on a given subject.

Engagement At Scale in Social Business and Social Media with Big Data

Simply put, the problem with strategically engaging with social media today is one of scale. To get the ROI from social business that many are starting to report, it means activating a strategy that has a set of processes, supporting capabilities, and a clear set of goals, whether that is to cut costs for customer care, boost sales, or improve the company’s brand image. Yet the strategies realized in the early days of social business are often inadequate to today’s scale and scope.

As social business becomes a standard way of working for many functions inside of organizations today, there’s always the risk that newness of the discipline will hinder outcomes especially when successful approaches, best practices, and lessons learned are still fragmented in different parts of the organization. While we currently urge companies to become more holistic and better organized to proactively share information about what works (and what doesn’t), support social business ‘change champions’ at the department level with real resources, and provide formal structures to enable decentralized — yet highly aligned — action by workers, we also see a need for a playbook for something now being called engagement at scale.

Also see: How To Accelerate Social Business Using Employee Advocates

Effective engagement at scale now appears to be the key capability that’s missing from most organizations’ social business efforts. Are you having difficulties handling all the questions and requests for help coming in from social media? Feeling overwhelmed at all your brand mentions and tracking your company’s influencers. Can’t identify the truly important social conversations for the company to engage in? Don’t know how to respond in a timely fashion to all the online discussions that matter to the organization? Don’t know who in the organization is best to dispatch to address important events in the social world? Then you are having challenges engaging at scale.

8 Ways to Prepare for Engagement at Scale in Social Business

Fortunately, it’s become pretty clear what most companies need to do to ramp up their engagement in social media to an effective level. The list below is a good start, with an eight point set of capabilities that covers the basics. You’ll need to adapt it to the specifics of the organization of course. Applied well, it will help you cope with and harness the tremendous value inherent in having a sustained and useful connection with the world where value can be created and exchanged in a far greater manner than we could in less social channels. Also note that this framework holds true both for external social business efforts as well as internal Enterprise 2.0 ones, and some of the time the exact same tools and processes can be applied to both.

  1. Listening. Effective scaling of engagement begins with a strong in-bound connection to the social world. Organizations must have a robust ability to connect to the thousands of social channels that have relevant conversations, valuable brand messages, support requests, new product ideas, etc. The social media listening industry, in terms of software, is still in its early days. Select promising tools now and be prepared to switch to better ones.
  2. Filtering. Create a set of criteria that teases out the right social media conversations and situations to be involved in. Social media is famously filled with noise (though nearly all of it is relevant to someone, somewhere.) The key is to layer into the organization’s listening capability a set of filters for the business that uncover the streams of engagement that really matter and are high value.
  3. Analysis. While filters are good at capturing specific events, much of the advantage of engaging in scale comes from understanding the big picture and how effective the company’s social business engagement efforts are overall. Understanding the shape of the haystack rather than locating a specific needle is the goal here. Focus first on the analysis that matters most to the busines: This includes marketplace sentiment and a brand equity to critical trends correlated against the company’s top KPIs. It’s in this way that social business is very different from the era of days gone by when ground truth was scarce or didn’t exist. Instead, abundance of information from the social world in real-time can ground companies in reality to drive course corrections and better decision making. But good analysis requires analysts and data scientists as well as supporting technologies and you’ll need to have those. A good starting point: Analysis can also determine who are the best advocates to get involved in particular conversations based on historical success.
  4. Marshaling advocates. First, you must be able to regularly identify who can be an effective social media advocate for the company. Note these are both external and internal advocates. Employee advocates can be particularly easy to scale, while external advocates must also be carefully cultivated. Get them aligned, communicate with them regularly, and give them lots to do. In particular, make sure there is a dispatching process that takes the high value events that have made it through the social media filter for the business and gets them to the right advocates in a timely fashion. Having a strong and committed advocate base is critical to scaling social business.
  5. Transformation. Organizations must pro-actively encourage the necessary changes in the workforce, org chart, management methods, support processes, and more. I’ve explored what this takes previously, but engaging in scale requires an ongoing set of changes to technology, business strategy, and rethinking of key functions matched with culture change. The more transformative a new way of working is, the more adaptation is required and social is a long-term set of such changes.
  6. Infrastructure and processes for scale. This means software and services that will support the capabilities on this list. You can get a sense of the requisite technology and high-level process here, the virtuous business intelligence cycle, or the overall social enterprise landscape into which this must all fit. It’s a long-term investment and one that will take years to put into place and refine, fortunately, that process now seems underway for many companies now. As you put the infrastructure in place, connect the first four points into a set of high-level business processes that will run centrally, or are at least coordinated loosely amongst all your social business efforts.
  7. Ensure a strong feedback loop. Open loop processes, where the results don’t get back to those that took the inputs and produced the outcome invariably produces scattered and ineffective value. Typical big data-powered trappings such as dashboards, situational awareness summaries, notifications, and automated listening and dispatching can help greatly as long as someone follows up consistently with what’s learned.
  8. Wield competency at scale on competitive business problems. While all of the above can greatly improve the efficacy of a social business effort, there are often long-standing competitive challenges which can also be surmounted because your company can engage in scale and your competitors cannot yet. As a nascent capability in most organizations, while firms often listen, most can’t engage effectively at scale today. This is a major competitive advantage that should be used while one can, taking marketshare, absorbing innovation at a higher rate, and creating satisfied and highly engaged customers and workers going forward in a way that not cost-effective — or even possible — for organizations that aren’t yet social businesses.

We hope this is a useful overview of what we see as the next phase of social business maturity: Engagement at scale. I’d be delighted to take your questions on this topic below in comments.

You may also find some of our other offerings useful in your efforts to lay a strong foundation to ramp up your processes and infrastructure for this signature challenge of the social media era. Please see below for additional Dachis Group resources to help you engage at scale: