Six Strategies to Optimize Your Social Business Efforts

by Dion Hinchcliffe 01 Nov 2012 Blog Post

Once an organization starts listening to and begins engaging in the social world in a meaningful way, then the many benefits of becoming a social business can be fully be explored. And exploration is the right word for it, because the amount of unknowns about how to best go about taking advantage of our profound, scalable, and real-time connection to the marketplace via social media often considerably outweighs the knowns, at first.

Over the last couple of years, as an industry, we’ve been developing a good sense of the necessary pieces that organizations large and small must put into place to effectively engage in social media. The list really isn’t that long for the most important elements, even if obtaining the resources and establishing the imperative sometimes seems like the hardest part. These elements are:

Listening. Virtually all companies today must establish a social business intelligence capability to tap into and understand their conversational context at any given time. And as they engage in activities like social marketing or support, their listening capabilities must be able to isolate the effects that their efforts are having and be able to attribute performance to individual actors and their contributions. A good number of companies have now done this to some degree.

Engagement. By harnessing internal and external advocates, companies can co-create outcomes that they could never accomplish by themselves. The profound and needle-moving results of social marketing efforts like Doritos Crash The Superbowl or Procter & Gamble’s famous Old Spice campaign came through mass engagement with the marketplace. Companies today must become highly competent at cultivating and orchestrating their millions of advocates in joint partnerships to move towards and achieve shared goals. I’ve discussed the vital shift towards engagement over the past year as it’s evident that this skill is both largely underdeveloped and becoming essential to survive and become a next-generation business. Many companies are just starting to seriously mobilize around this capability.

Optimization. The future of engagement is what that is both data-driven and people-driven. It also requires closing the loop on strategic and tactical plans, which must change based on what you learn about your ongoing engagement with the marketplace. Too many organizations continue on an inexorable trajectory that was set in the past, rather than course correcting their plans and activities based on reality. Using today’s powerful methods to monitor, measure, analyze, and derive insight, which only social media can uniquely deliver in an open and transparent way, we can rapidly adapt in a highly agile way in order to ensure our desired outcomes are achieved. In fact, it’s the only way to ensure we get past the unknowns mentioned above, and figure out what really works. This is where companies are generally weakest, yet it holds the potential to capture the larger share of the possible opportunity.

So, we do have some good news: Many organizations have now established listening programs and are tuning them up. They’re also starting to build out much more systematic and effective engagement programs as well. It’s encouraging to see that the industry is now growing up and we’re putting into place the elements that will make social media in the enterprise much more effective than it already is.

However, we still have some work to do. What we still see that’s fairly lacking is the ability to optimize well.

6 Strategies for Optimizing Social Engagement

So to help with that, I’d like to enumerate the most common social engagement optimization strategies that we see. These are particularly effective for social media marketing, but also across the entire gamut of engagement. Please keep in mind, these are ways of changing what you’re doing to focus on the desired result that you’re seeking to elicit. These might be looking at different numbers, trying out different engagement methods, or creating new vehicles or venues for mass participation that are aimed at changing the data that you see in a more desirable direction. By doing this, we can considerably amplify the value that we’re co-creating and generate the kinds of significant ROI that we want to see as we become social businesses. It’s not going too far to say, that without an effective optimization loop, our social engagement efforts can leave most of the value on the floor.

  1. Look for and address the bottlenecks. Scrutinize your social data and see where your engagement cycle is piling up. Is it taking you too long to find important conversations and advocates? Are you taking too long to respond? Are you not engaging broadly enough? Are you taking too long to make changes in your engagement processes based on feedback? Look at the throughput numbers daily, find the issues, triage them, make changes, and try again. You can explore agile methods to help speed this up.
  2. Be ready to adjust your engagement level dynamically to meet your objectives. Only you know what you’re trying to achieve, but most businesses must generate a significant outcome from their social media efforts to justify the investment. Enlisting 50 advocates in your marketing process when you know you need 500 or 5,000 is obviously a shortfall. Be prepare and have the capacity to enlist enough participants to drive your outcomes, either from external social networks or other inbound funnels you control. Understand network effects (and the other power laws) as well as how to use them in short term situations.
  3. Seek out the right measures and keep looking. Don’t assume that you have all the right key performance metrics (KPIs) at the outset. There’s a good chance you’re missing some or there are others which, if known and solved for, will create outsized results. Seek social data that will validate them.
  4. Use your community managers to maximum effect. While community management sometimes has scale limits, it can also be hugely powerful in trying out new ideas. Effective community managers can orchestrate mass participation in your community and dynamically patch weak spots or other shortfalls that your social data has identified.
  5. Always have a firm grasp of the story. Understand how you are actually proceeding with your social campaigns, customer support program, or innovation efforts using ground truth. That means having hard data that’s credible and up-to-date. Be ready with reports and insights to internal business leaders and other stakeholders. Be able to show the trajectory of what you’re doing, both narratively and with data. Even large successes can be fleeting and must be backed up with additional participation or resources about which you must explain and then mobilize quickly. Whenever possible, use your understanding of the current state to clearly define new imperatives. Use these to enlist your advocates to take the actions that will seize the optimization opportunities that have been spotted in your data story.
  6. Try different engagement processes. There are many ways to engage socially. These include using creating compelling content as a seed to draw in and start conversation, establishing a crowdsourcing project to jumpstart a large scale joint effort, using contests and the emerging power of gamification, and so on. When your social data shows that what you’re doing isn’t producing the result you want, you can try tactical experiments, or even strategic side bets, to see if it works. Take heart from the fact that of the hundreds of social business efforts I’ve examined, that the very best of them often came after many hard knocks. Use social listening and optimization to take those knocks quickly and cheaply, and find out what works best for you.

Of course, this is only a start on optimization strategies, but it’s a good one and certainly there are additional lessons we’ll learn in the coming years as companies ramp up fully-fledged new engagement cycles (see Nestle’s social business insights story on Reuters recently for a powerful example of this.) I’d be interested in hearing about your optimization strategies below in comments as well.


We’ve made an extensive investment in strategic social business engagement capabilities so that our clients have the best tools at hand to achieve competitive advantage and realize value as rapidly as possible. To learn more about these, just get in touch for a 1-on-1 conversation.