The 10 Stages of Social Media Integration in Business

What follows is the unabridged version of my post on Mashable, “The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration.

An overnight success ten plus years in the making, Social Media is as transformative as it is evolutionary. With every day that passes, we are presented with increasing reports that showcase the impact of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs within small and large businesses alike. As a result, we can now visualize the state of adoption, understanding, and implementation in different business ecosystems. What we realize as a result, is that individual examples vary based on the assorted stages of aptitude and proficiency in Social Media within each company.

In writing the next book, I interviewed many executives and marketing and service professionals as well as reviewed piles of case studies. I noticed that the path towards new media enlightenment was directed by the conditions of their respective market places and the consumers who define them. Furthermore, the timetable for integration and permeation was dictated by the politics and support system within the business infrastructure.

A pattern became very obvious. There are at least ten stages of Social Media adoption, strategy, and execution that determine their place in the attention economy of today and tomorrow.

The Evolution of a Corporate Renaissance 2009 – 2010

2010 is designated as the year Social Media proliferates mainstream businesses. Indeed this year will showcase the transformation of business acumen while also shifting the culture and the communication that embraces an inward and outward flow for listening, interacting, learning, and adapting.

Social Media Marketing is exhilarating to behold as it evolves “media” from a broadcast platform to a sophisticated network of connections and rewarding engagement. We learn that through participation, we ultimately eradicate the myths that initially fueled skeptics and prevented early experimentation. The perceived loss of control was in actuality, the ability to realize public sentiment and the gatekeepers who could help us actively steer perception. It is a chance to actually gain control rather than simply possessing the illusion of it.

As 2009 raced to an end, Social Media marketers realized that listening to the proverbial conversation offered very little in terms of influence. In fact, it was the listening that would eventually set the stage for intelligent participation.

It was the realization that listening would only engender empathy. But, in order to truly shape and guide market sentiment and hopefully one day empower advocacy and a new workflow, a supporting infrastructure would require construction.

We are only as relevant as our ability to not only realize the state of affairs, but also have the prowess necessary to define and also adapt along with it.

The next stage of Social Media Marketing will mature from one of listening and unguided participation to one of strategic observation, analysis and informed engagement. It is how we can shift from a state of awareness to one of intelligence, setting the stage for relevance and affinity. It is a new age of “unmarketing” inspired by purpose and vision.

As Social Media evolves, behavior and intention modifies, mirroring the depth of learning and confidence that develops with experience. In New Media, we are always learning and as such, we are forever in pursuit of the next stage.

The 10 Stages of New Media Evolution

Stage 1 – Observe and Report

This is the entry point for businesses to better understand the market behavior and interaction within their marketplaces. These initial tasks materialize the current state of affairs that defines share of voice and the potential for new opportunities to compete for attention.

Listening: The employment of listening devices such as Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Radian6, and PR Newswire’s Social Media Metrics to track conversations and instances associated with key words.

Reporting: Capturing related conversations tied to commentary into a report prepared for executives and managers. This early form of reporting is merely designed to provide decision makers with the information to demonstrate the need for continued exploration into social media and its potential impact on business.

Stage 2 – Setting the Stage + Dress Rehearsal

Upon amassing an initial understanding of conversational dynamics and stature, businesses will build the framework that sets the stage for social media broadcasting and participation. This is an interesting phase as it, in many cases, actually joins Stage 1 as a more sweeping first step. Instead of researching current activity to answer an important question as to why engage in social media at all and as such, how should we engage, many businesses create accounts across multiple social networks and unfortunately publish content without a plan or purpose.

However, those businesses that conduct research will find a rewarding array of options and opportunities of which to analyze and target.

Presence: The creation of official presences across one or more social networks, usually Twitter and possibly Facebook (Fan Pages), YouTube, and Flickr. This stage is also reflective of initial experimentation through activity, with or without the following analysis. But, this is less about strategic engagement in this early stage, resembling either chatter or the traditional broadcasting of messages.

Analysis: Reviewing activity for frequency (the rate of mentions), the state of sentiment allocation, traffic, as well as the size of connections (friends, followers, fans), etc., provides managers with a limited glimpse into the effects of presence and participation.

Stage 3 – Socializing Media

The next stage in the evolution of a new media business is the proverbial step towards “joining the conversation.”

As companies take the stage, they will eventually pay attention to the reaction of the audience in order to respond and improve content, define future engagements, and humanize communication.

Conversation: Representative of an early form of participation, this stage usually evokes reactive engagement based on the nature of existing dialogue or mentions and also incorporates the proactive broadcasting of activity, events and announcements.

Rapid Response: Listening for potentially heated, viral, and emotional activity in order to extinguish a potential crisis or possibly to fan a flame of positive support.

Metrics: The documentation of the aforementioned activity in order to demonstrate momentum in a particular direction – usually captured in the form of friends, fans, followers, conversations, sentiment, mentions, traffic, and reach.

Stage 4 – Finding a Voice and a Sense of Purpose

This is a powerful milestone in the maturation of new media and business. By not only listening, but hearing and observing the responses and mannerisms of those who define our markets, we can surface pain points, source ideas, foster innovation, earn inspiration, learn, and feel a little empathy in order to integrate a sense of purpose into our socialized media programs. We open the door to new possibilities.

Research: Reviewing activity for not only sentiment allocation, but to embrace negative and also neutral commentary to surface and observe trends in responses and ultimately behavior. This allows for a poignant understanding of where to concentrate activity, at what level, and with what voice across marketing, sales, service, and PR.

Strategic Visibility: Introducing relevance and focus, we realize that we don’t have to be everywhere in order to create presence, just in the places where our presence is missed or unfelt. Understanding that the Social Web is far more extensive than Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, brand managers search across the entire Web using listening services or the methodologies rife within the Conversation Prism to locate where influential dialogue transpires.

Relevance: The realization that “chatter” or aimless broadcasting is not as effective as strategic communications and engagement. This stage reflects the exploration of goals, objectives and the exploration and implementation of value. As we learn that interaction is based on exchange and the exchange is measured by loyalty and trust, our interaction is thus defined by benefits and significance.

Stage 5 – Putting Words into Action

Actions speak louder than words and therefore we are committed to putting our words into action. While we opened the door to the emotions that awoke social consciousness, they eventually permeate the spirit of the company and inspire us to set into motion a change in everything we do and say.

Empathy: Social media personifies those with something to say, allowing us to see who it is we’re hoping to reach as well as what motivates them. Listening and observing is not enough. The ability to truly understand someone, their challenges, filters, objectives, options, and experiences allows us to truly become the people with whom we hope to connect.

Purpose: The shift from response to strategic communications, purpose, powered by empathy and resolution, facilitates meaningful and mutually beneficial interaction. Affinity requires an emotional connection, a sense of purpose if you will. It is in this stage that we truly visualize the motivation necessary to captivate one’s attention. In order to hold it, we have to give them something to believe in, something that moves them in a way that they can connect as well as bond.

Stage 6 – Humanizing the Brand and Defining the Experience

As Doc Searls says, “There is no market for messages.” Indeed. Through the internalization of sentiment, brands will relearn how to speak. No longer will we focus on the attempted control of the message from conception to documentation to distribution. We realize that we lose control as our messages are introduced into the real world. Virtual control migrates to the actual control of the shaping and protection of our story as it migrates from consumer to consumer. This chain forms a powerful connection that reveals true reactions, perception, and perspectives.

The conversations that bind us form a Human Algorithm that serves as the pulse of awareness, trustworthiness, and emotion.

Branding – The Humanization of the Brand: Once we truly understand the people who influence our markets, we need to establish a persona worthy of attention and affinity. The state of a brand in social media is largely tied to the awareness that a Socialized version of a branding style guide is necessary. It is during this step that brand managers assess the state of the brand persona, realizing that it is derivative of the actions, words and mannerisms associated with interaction. In this stage the persona of the brand and the personality of those who are representing it are calculated and defined by how it is they wish to be portrayed and perceived.

Experience: Our experiences in dynamic social ecosystems teach us that our activity online must not only maintain a sense of purpose, it must also direct traffic and shape perceptions and experiences in the process. We question our current online properties, landing pages, processes, and messages. We usually find that existing architecture for civil engineering leads people from a very vibrant and interactive experience (social networks) to a static dead end (our Web sites). As we attempt to redefine the experience of new customers, prospects and influencers, we essentially induce a brand makeover.

Stage 7 – Community

Community is an investment in the cultivation and fusion of affinity, interaction, advocacy and loyalty. Learned earlier in the stages of new media adoption, community isn’t established with the creation of a Facebook Fan Page, Group, or any online profile for that matter. Community is earned and fortified through shared experiences. Hosting a community isn’t a prerequisite in the cookie-cutter templates of social media of which so many programs are patterned. Community is a commitment and must be done so without compromise. As Kathy Sierra once said, “Trying to replace ‘brand’ with ‘conversation’ does a disservice to both brands & conversations.”

In this stage, businesses learn and visualize through experience, the nucleus of connections and the interests, pains, hopes, and benefits that bind us.

Community Building/Recruitment: While essentially we are building community through engagement in each of the previous stages, as we now possess intimate knowledge of our stakeholders and influencers, we will proactively reach out to ideal participants and potential ambassadors to personally recruit them. We become social architects to build the roads necessary to escort them to a rich and rewarding network to help them receive valuable information and connections.

Stage 8 – Social Darwinism

Before we can collaborate externally, we have to improve collaboration and communication within. Listening and responding is only as effective as its ability to inspire transformation, improvement, and adaptation from the inside out. Survival of the fittest is not in any way tied to whether or not a company engages in social media. Remember, social is but one part of an overall integrated strategy, all of which will point leaders in the direction to effectively compete for the future. It’s how we learn and adapt that ensures our place within the evolution of our markets.

Social Media as embraced in the earlier stages is not scalable. The introduction of new roles will beget the restructuring of teams and workflow, which will ultimately necessitate organizational transformation to support effective engagement, production, and the ongoing evolution towards ensuring brand and product relevance.

Adaptation: In order to truly compete for the future, the actions that govern genuine and artful listening, community building, and advocacy align, in parallel, with the ability of any organization to adapt and improve products, services, and policies according to the laws of the now Web. In order for any team to effectively collaborate externally, it must first foster collaboration within. It is this interdepartmental cooperative exchange that provides a means for which to pursue sincere engagement over time.

Organizational Transformation: The internal renaissance and reorganization of teams and processes to eventually support a formal sCRM program becomes pervasive. As Social Media chases ubiquity, we learn that influence isn’t relegated to one department or function within the organization. Any department affected by external activity will eventually socialize. Therefore an integrated and interconnected network of brand ambassadors will collaborate internally to ensure that the brand is leading and responding to constructive instances, by department. However, at the departmental and brand level, successful social media marketing will require governance and accountability. Organizational transformation will gravitate towards a top-down hierarchy of policy, education, and empowerment across the entire organization.

Stage 9 – The Socialization of Business Processes

As companies and brands learn through participation and analysis and transform teams and processes to support critical opportunities, the stage of organizational transformation surfaces the channels and themes that map accordingly to the internal structure of departments and divisions affected by outside influence and in turn, can also participate in the direction of said influence to benefit individual goals and objectives.

Multiple disciplines and departments will socialize and therefore the assembly or adaptation of a technology and methodology infrastructure is required to streamline and manage social workflow.

Social CRM (SRM): Once opportunities register, scalability, resources, and efficiencies quickly necessitate consideration and support resulting in a modified, or completely new, infrastructure that either augments or resembles a CRM-like workflow. Combining technology, principles, philosophies and processes, social CRM (sCRM) establishes a value chain that fosters relationships within traditional business dynamics. As an organization evolves through engagement, sCRM will transform into SRM – the recognition that all people, not just customers, are equal. It represents a wider scope of active listening and participation across the full spectrum of influence mapped to specific department representatives within the organization using various lenses for which to identify individuals where and how they interact.

Stage 10 – Business Performance Metrics

Inevitably, we report to executives who don’t wish to quantify transparency or authenticity. Their goal, and job, is to steer the company towards greater profitability, relevance, growth, and new opportunities. In order to measure the true effects of social media and eventually guide people to desired locations and actions, we need insight to the numbers behind the activity – at every level.

While many experts argue that there is no need to measure Social, much in the same way that some companies don’t explicitly define the ROI of Superbowl Ads or billboards, make no mistake, social is measurable and the process of mining data tied to our activity is unbelievably empowering. Our ambition to excel should be driven through the inclusion of business performance metrics with or without an executive asking us to do so. It’s the difference between visibility and presence. And in the attention economy, presence is felt.

ROI: I place ROI in stage ten for several reasons. Without an understanding of the volume, locations, and nature of online interaction, the true impact of our digital footprint and its relationship to the bottom line of any business is impossible to assess. The embodiment of social influence and an immersed view of its path and effects combined with our goals and objectives and an intrinsic knowledge of the resources required to achieve them allow us to truly measure ROI. Stage 10 reveals the meaning and opportunity behind the numbers and allows us to identify ways to introduce opportunities for interaction, direction, and action. The “action” is defined by a desired result or outcome and serves as the beacon to reverse engineer activities that end with a point of capture and analysis.

In The End…

The distance between where we are today and where we need to be however is separated by the people who seek solutions and direction in the places where we’re not currently focused. Our work in 2010 is dedicated to narrowing the social chasm.

The thing about new media is that it’s always new and as such, these stages represent a moment in time. They will continue to change, augment, and expand as new technologies, experiences, and innovations are introduced to those champions who can effectively integrate and learn from experimentation and assessment.

In the end, Social media is privilege and with it, we learn just one more piece of how to run a more meaningful and relevant business.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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