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Lost in Social Media: Phase 4 – Operationalizing & Scaling Social Media #lostinsm

July 29, 2011 - 1 Comment

This is another post that’s suited for your coffee or tea break so grab a bag of biscotti!

A few months ago, I started a series on the evolution of social media adoption within an organization. Phase 1 talked about the Missing (which I introduced earlier as the Mistrusting), phase 2 discussed experimentation, and in phase 3, the Integrators learned the importance of looking at social media as part of the bigger picture. The difference between stage 3 and stage 4 practitioners is the level of sophistication, spread within the organization and access to resources.


The Integrators know how to bring together the various components to achieve a shorter term marketing goal but phase 4 practitioners know how to use the selected tools across their programs and activities, and connect with their audience on a deeper level. They have a much clearer understanding of their careabouts. Their conversations feel more natural, human and well, more conversational. They understand that content needs to be a combination of industry, everyday and company topics – and know how to do it. They understand that each channel needs to have its own purpose and its own deliverables – and know how to do it. They are in it for the long haul and look at social media more strategically and holistically.

There is a fundamental change in their approach: their thinking shifts from augmenting launch or event activities with social media to integrating launches and events into their everyday social media activities. In other words, they think about how they want to use social media every day instead of letting an announcement or event drive their social engagement. They are starting to segment social media planning by everyday conversations and special occasions in an effort to create on-going, fresh and engaging conversations.

If you work in a field that requires highly specialized skills, you’ll find that your social media managers can only take your social efforts so far. They will need to rely on subject matter experts, or SMEs, who can engage in meaningful two-way conversations to take social media to the next level. If this sounds familiar, then this is the time that both the internal SMEs and social media managers make a commitment to purposefully integrate this form of marketing into all of their activities (where it makes sense). Yes, in an ideal situation you will want to have your SMEs deeply engaged from the get go (so if you’re starting out now, please do so. It will save you a lot of time an effort down the road!), but for many companies that were the early adopters of social media, this is the phase in which widescale social adoption by SMEs is going to happen. Many of these SMEs (and social managers) will increasingly engage in guest destinations – i.e. social media channels they don’t own or manage. Their comfort level with moving online conversations offline when the occasion calls for it, and vice versa, will also reach new heights.

Marketing dollars will start opening up for long-term programs and third party applications such as sophisticated listening, monitoring, analytics or social CRM. Practitioners will partner with other groups across the company that are engaged in social media even beyond the marketing team. Their use of these tools will change too. They will dig deeper into the qualitative aspects of social media marketing such as “how will this help me better engage?” or “how do I filter out the noise and measure success where it really matters to me?”. They will start thinking of ways to meaningfully connect their quantitative and qualitative metrics over time. Data mining from social media will likely be an area of interest to them.

Questions will expand beyond the number of followers or fans to “Am I being followed by the right people?” and “How can I get those that really matter to engage with me?” They will become increasingly curious about tying their social media efforts into the sales process. Integration with and other sales-oriented tools and processes come to mind. Identifying and nurturing advocates and influencers will be another burning question for them so expect to see the emergence of advocacy and influencer programs.

I believe that this is also the stage that will trigger a lot of industry innovation. As practitioners in the phase peel the onion, they will push the boundaries of today’s tools. The questions they can’t get answers to and their desire to approach social media more holistically will become developers’ next challenge. These practitioners listen. They converse. They monitor. They analyze. They measure. They improve. And they do so much more consciously and consistently than the Integrators.


Now that we’ve covered the social attitudes and behaviors of phase 4 practitioners, let’s shift gears to what a phase 4 organization might look like. As highlighted earlier, especially in large corporations with many business units and groups, most likely social media experimentation and integration will start happening in (a) spoke(s) – unless you had set up an organization and created rigor around entering social media before your first teams entered. If that’s not the case, this is also the time that a company might decide to establish a centralized social media marketing group, or a hub. (Or maybe multiple hubs that map into the respective functional areas.) The objectives of this central group are to help connect the dots and bring together the –by now- several groups that are practicing social media marketing, provide resources, tools,  education and guidance to anyone who wants to give it a try or is already immersed, offer consulting and maybe even support a group or initiative financially. We will start seeing the increase in the number of dedicated social media marketing professionals:

  • In the hub, they will show the ropes to others, help drive company-wide adoption, and manage the brand.
  • In the spokes, they will manage social activities for their respective groups.

This is the stage scale becomes a regular word in the organization’s vocabulary, and the desire to operationalize social media increases in importance. In this phase, the existence of a social media policy is a given. The adoption of social media marketing as a discipline will be more widespread in the overall marketing organization. Phase 4 practitioners will become the internal stars when it comes to best practices sharing although best practices sharing in general may start earlier in the evolution. The key lesson in this phase is that social media marketing as a cohesive long-term initiative – rather than a siloed and periodic one – requires a robust support system – tools, people, practices – that need to be ready to scale. And this is the phase practitioners figure out how to do just that.

If you want to see how we operationalize social media at Cisco, check out my blog post from a few months ago.


Outside the world of marketing, there will be an increased awareness of social media activities in other parts of the company. Increased efforts by PR, customer service and HR are just a few examples. The challenge for practitioners in this phase is to assess how these groups can leverage each other and play together long term and in a more coordinated fashion. For example, this is most likely the phase in which we’re going to start seeing the emergence of joint activities between social media marketing and PR to improve the health of social media adoption within the company and to arm practitioners with a set of tools, protocols, guidelines and education. 

Where do you think your organization is on the social adoption curve? …And how was your coffee?

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  1. In the scope of social media and the complex informational job market, one must have the social medium relay the proper context which is paramount to success and delivery to the consumer. Otherwise, it could be a huge expenditure in the end.