Becoming a Social Business

by Shannon Paul on October 2, 2009

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Social Business Design by David Armano

Social Business Design by David Armano

Social media interaction may have started with marketing and public relations, but as the public facing elements of our businesses started engaging in a dialogue with customers and other community stakeholders, we started to realize something very important: true social media engagement transcends marketing.

Enter Social Business.

For the social business, silos don’t work if you need to communicate and adapt quickly. Plus, what happens when there’s no one to analyze all of the feedback? Word of mouth can’t happen with just one person owning social media if your company is larger than a hundred employees or so and farming it out to an agency doesn’t really work without a strong internal commitment.

My friend Mona Nomura and I were having a conversation about this the other day and she compared business’ understanding of social media to the early days of the IT department when executives thought one person could handle all the technology needs. Twenty years ago companies thought one person could fill the role of Systems Administrator, Web Developer, Systems Architect, Help Desk, Project Manager, User Experience, etc. I thought this was a good analogy. To be successful, we need to grow beyond relying on a single person or department to own the use of social media.

Listening is always the first step to social media communication, so please keep in mind that listening, monitoring and gathering data should take place from the very start and continue along as you ramp through the process I’m going to describe below.

Once you have a high-level strategy in place you’re ready to start

I. Building capacity (in 3 steps)
II. Building an army
III. Managing tactics…

Build Capacity in 3 Steps

1. Insert Social Media Consultancy Into the Web/Product Development Process

Identify opportunities to add social components to any website or web-based products. A lot of user experience people are great at doing this, but their focus is typically on making sticky sites. It’s your job to make it so sticky they take a piece with them – voluntarily of course – I’m not talking cookies.

Examples of Product Opportunities include:

  • Make the cool stuff portable through unique URLs for each bit of content. This includes images, videos, etc.
  • Syndicate content – RSS isn’t just about individual subscribers, it enables aggregation and all sorts of other really useful things, including widgets.
  • Widgetize content – what tools or features on your website would make a great widget?
    If it would make a good widget, it would probably make a very useful mobile application as well – think beyond just making an app for the entire site. What are the best parts?

2. Define Overall Metrics

Metrics can always be tweaked as you go, but if you’ve already started listening, you should already be thinking about the best ways to measure.

I think of it as connecting dots. Think of your company’s overall objective (this will most likely be sales or profits) and how social media engagement helps this.

If your business is web-based, traffic and incoming links are valuable. If not, there are other things like sentiment change, increased mentions over time and larger trends that can be correlated with sales and other initiatives.

3. Redefine Culture

I’ve become convinced that pioneering social media integration needs more than a strategy – it needs a story.

If you’re a typical social media evangelist, you already know the story, but you probably already know it so well you forget to start at the beginning. Chances are if you’re in a fairly large organization that’s been in business for more than a couple years, the culture isn’t conducive to transparent, real-time communication.

You’ll need to include the philosophical stuff in every strategy document. While you may be sick and tired of hearing social media buzzwords like transparency, community, collaboration, humanization. They are still radical concepts to most business people. Learn to love them – they help rally the troops to your cause.

Then, speaking of troops…

Build An Army

Social media success is not a solo endeavor. The one common element in every successful social media strategy is that there are several people to support the effort – typically in an official capacity.

Sure it helps if one person can own the overall social media health of the organization, but pulling it off requires that several people integrate elements of social media outreach and our fluency into their regular job description.

Push to have job descriptions and commitments altered so they’re included in performance reviews. Part of changing culture includes measuring individual performance on these tasks. A volunteer army may work for the U.S. military, but even they collect a paycheck. It’s important that what they’re doing be seen as a valuable contribution to the business – not just something fun to do on the side.

Half-assed commitments kill momentum and social media engagement is almost always dependent on momentum to ensure real ROI.

If you’re in charge of social media or community, that means it’s your job to educate and coach just about everyone around you on how they can help facilitate word of mouth inside and outside the organization.

Note: Chris Brogan and Julien Smith talk about the how and why of “building armies” in their very excellent book, Trust Agents.

And finally:

Manage Tactics to Support Initiatives

Every good marketing team needs to run fast toward their goals. Having the above in place should enable your team to do this. With a solid foundation in place and several accessible representatives for your brand, you can begin to make a bigger impact each time out of the gate, whether it’s responding to a crisis, sponsoring an event or building excitement for a promotion.

My Experience

I’ve had all this stuff in my head for awhile, but getting focused and honing things into easily digestible steps isn’t always my strong suit. I tend to have a very intuitive approach to all of this stuff, which makes me a fantastic do-er and a poor manager an aspiring manager.

Many thanks to Brad Goldberg for drawing the diagram on the image pictured on the right, and for helping me sort out my many thoughts into something I could articulate.

Your Turn

I realize every business is different so maybe share some of the things you’re doing to forge a new path in your company. My hope is that others will find this process useful. I’m invested in the success of social business, so despite my often-sassy demeanor, this means deep down I am invested in your success, too.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? They’re all welcome here.
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

October 2, 2009 Jessica Deal 1

What do you do when it comes to businesses that aren’t willing to give social networking a chance? They feel as if it has no value to business…


October 2, 2009 Shannon Paul 2


That’s a difficult question to answer since I’m not sure what your business does or how social media is being framed. If you’re approaching your boss telling them they need to be on Twitter — that’s probably a lost cause since you’re not providing context or including Twitter in any particular strategy.

If, instead of pushing people to adopt tools and communication platforms, more people at work volunteered to research the viability of including a particular social media tactic into a larger strategy we would make much more headway. I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing, but I know I did that in the past and I can see where I made mistakes.

Does this help?


October 2, 2009 Amanda Eyer 3

Tying social media’s impact into the business goals of the organization may help. For most organizations, building relationships, raising brand awareness and garnering thought leadership are larger business / marketing goals. They are also social media goals for many organizations.


October 2, 2009 Kevin Carter 4

“I’ve become convinced that pioneering social media integration needs more than a strategy – it needs a story.”

I completely agree. Some folks incorrectly believe that companies simply need to “do social media,” when in fact it is about so much more than just tactical day-to-day activities online. It should be about an overarching strategy and a business culture, as you note, that mirrors the human social interaction in which many of us are already engaged. In other words, our new media efforts should be an extension of a well-planned business strategy and culture. Great post!


October 2, 2009 Kevin Carter 5

Looks like I misread the line I quoted above. Let me clarify… I agree that to pioneer social media integration we need to have a story that will help persuade others to join us. But, after we’ve gained support, we then need a business culture and strategy that goes beyond merely “doing social media.” Sorry for the confusion.


October 2, 2009 jamiefavreau 6

I agree I have read some job descriptions and they expect Social Media/Marketing people to be graphic designers and other things when in reality it is about having a “story” and creating a strategy. Not necessarily creating the tools which are used to send the message.


October 2, 2009 Jay Ehret 7

Before you spend too much time and energy becoming a social media business, ask yourself exactly what you think it will do for you. Social media is sexy and there’s a rush for every business to become social. But not every business needs to be social. People don’t need to have a social relationship with you to do business with you.

Social media is not a discipline, it’s a channel. It should be treated as one potential opportunity to market your business and nothing more.


October 2, 2009 Shannon Paul 8


I don’t know how much experience you have with social media, but it is anything but sexy. It’s really all about facilitating word of mouth online.

The internet is a social place. For companies that seek to become social, this means harnessing technology in order to become more inclusive and collaborative. With social media marketing it means collaborating with your customers and empowering them with the means to carry your message into other spaces online. With social CRM it means developing a feedback loop and responding to customer concerns outside your 1-800 number or in your store. With HR, it means facilitating word of mouth so the most talented people want to work for your company, etc.


October 2, 2009 Kevin Spence 9

Nice post, Shannon.

I’m a bit of a social media noob (I resisted both Twitter and Facebook until the pressure became too great — I just have SOOO many things to sign into and so little time), so it’s interesting to hear you break it down like this.

As a newcomer, it seems to me that the essence of social media is sharing. Sharing thoughts, information, experiences, and connecting on that level that we rarely get to during the grind of a day at the office (or even with our families when we come home tired). This is why you are successful at what you do — because you’re willing to share what you know.

I see businesses fail at social media when they forget that they aren’t in charge here. Perhaps they’re so used to the strength of their brand, that they can’t imagine a world (social media) where that brand has little leverage on its own. I’m not going to follow Pepsi if they’re just going to spam me with caloric information. That’s on the can, man.

The tendency for big business in social media is to get on their high horse and think WE’RE GOING TO PROVIDE A SERVICE (read: spam every content update) AND EVERYONE WILL LOVE US FOR IT.

Well, no. Not really — that isn’t what we expect. Or what we want.


October 2, 2009 Shannon Paul 10


“I see businesses fail at social media when they forget that they aren’t in charge here.”

You’re very right to point this out – the key is collaboration – with employees, customers and stakeholders of every sort.



October 9, 2009 Nathan Hartswick 11

Loved this post, Shannon, and can’t wait to print it out and sit with it a little more, so I may be back to comment in depth…but I wanted to say “hear, hear!” to Kevin’s comment about brands being deluded enough to think we want to sit around reading their spam advertising all day.

One additional point: this mistake was made before social media, and it will be made 100 years from now. It’s just easier to see them making it now, when it’s in a very collaborative channel, than it used to be.

The most arrogant brands serve up products, services, and advertising that are irrelevant to the needs of the customer, patting themselves on the back for how great they are. The good ones listen and innovate based on a need or a desire, and engage in a dialogue with the customer that makes them feel valued. This was as true for a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman in the 40s as it is with an electronics store’s Twitter account today.

Thanks guys! Keep up the good work!


October 3, 2009 Jay Ehret 12


I have just a little bit of experience with social media ;) What I meant by sexy is that it’s very appealing right now. Everybody’s talking about it, writing blog posts about it, setting up social media programs. In my opinion, it is viewed as a discipline, rather than a channel by which word of mouth is facilitated, as you suggest. For example, many companies have created the posiion of social media manager/strategist/evangelist. Do those positions report to a word of mouth manager?

In my observations, companies are substituting the term social media for word of mouth, to the detriment of their own organization. Because, as it turns out, social media is one of least-used channels by customers for engaging in brand-related word of mouth.

That is not to say that social media cannot be an important part of a word-of-mouth marketing plan. It obviously can. Just not the most important part.


October 4, 2009 Shannon Paul 13

Couple things:

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “social media”. It means a lot of different things to different people. Blogs are social media.

You’re right, social media is not a discipline, but adopting them changes the tactics and delivery of the same old disciplines that focus on monologue/one-way delivery of information.

I think social media facilitates word of mouth online, but tying online and offline experiences together is where they’re most powerful. To use your word, social media is one “channel” where word of mouth can take place — an important channel.

I would be interested to know where you get your data to support your position that, “social media is one of the least-used channels by customers for engaging in brand-related word of mouth.” That contrasts sharply with some numbers I’ve seen.


October 5, 2009 Scott Gould 14

I like this.

‘Social business’ is something I’ve been talking and thinking about – and your right that we must not stifle it by putting all these roles onto one person.

As far as I am concerned, social media is changing the way we do business, and by making it more social, our offline habits are changing, our attitudes are changing, etc.

Thanks for the insights, very useful


October 6, 2009 Chris 15

Building “The Army” is probably one of the hardest things to do. As I build my own Army in the live music community I see people within that community using the social media tools in different ways to communicate, so I try to meet them were they’re at and start the conversation there. It’s not that people don’t want to talk, it’s that everyone communicates in different ways social media or not.

And as I work with clients on a brand level in social media, I’m seeing the truth of your “Story” statement below becoming all the more important to having success. It’s also key to somehow show the brand that their customer will still be interested in their brand even if you start a conversation that has nothing to do with selling the product. If you can genuinely sell “The Story” then you’re closer to having success with the client and their customers.

“I’ve become convinced that pioneering social media integration needs more than a strategy – it needs a story.

If you’re a typical social media evangelist, you already know the story, but you probably already know it so well you forget to start at the beginning. Chances are if you’re in a fairly large organization that’s been in business for more than a couple years, the culture isn’t conducive to transparent, real-time communication.”

Nice post and yes, Trust Agents is an inspiring and challenging book to read.


October 6, 2009 Mona 16

I am so honored for the mention — this post is amazing and straight on point. How you articulated my very thoughts and managed to share in an organized fashion is beyond me… oh, that’s why you are a blogger with a very official blog and I’m not. ;)


October 8, 2009 Kate 17

Shannon Paul has thoughts before 6am that regular people may never have!

Great article! Thank you so much for writing what I have been thinking for months now in terms of social media needing to be owned throughout the company at all levels.


{ 2 trackbacks }

  • Shannon Paul does it again « Pinto’s Beans of Marketing Wisdom October 3, 2009
  • My Top 20 Posts of 2009 | Kyle Lacy, Social Media - Indianapolis December 22, 2009

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