I recently participated in a discussion in which we debated how size of brand or firm should affect social business strategy, so I’ll dive deeper into the issues here because they are an excellent opportunity to show how strategy and execution are connected and how they differ. I’ll compare how startups and enterprises approach four areas of executing a social business initiative: team, collaboration, learning and scaling.
Whether you lead a startup, an established small/medium business or a global brand, the fundamental tenets of strategy, focusing on stakeholders and their activities, should not change; however the size of the desired effort will impact the complexity of the strategy and execution. That said, I have consistently seen that, if you are trying to engage defined stakeholders, you’ll need to be focused in your effort to develop and engage those audiences, no matter what size your firm is. Not all social business initiatives try to engage defined audiences; for example, a company’s main (general) Facebook Page, which generally serves a public relations function for all audiences. However, if you have a defined business intent for engaging a specific audience, here is how you would approach strategy, regardless of size:
- Forget social platforms until you define and identify stakeholders (customers, prospects, partners, employees, regulators..). These definitions need to be specific enough to create very granular keyword families to identify SHs online. All SHs aren’t created equal, and client/brand needs to be clear on the relative importance of each SH.
- Define and identify relevant workstreams. In most cases, client/brand is only interested in SHs who are engaged in specific activities, in a certain context in which their brand is relevant. Develop granular keyword families to identify workstreams online.
- By combining SH and workstream keyword families, you can rank social venues in which SHs are having the most heated conversations about targeted workstreams. This tells you what venues to use (where to engage). Here at SNR, we do that during the Ecosystem Audit.
- Now brand/client has to look in the mirror and ask, in terms of SHs and their workstreams, what *unique* value can we add? The answers here underpin the content strategy for each venue (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+..). Of course, the venue also colors the nature of how we engage. This is covered in SNR’s Readiness Assessment.
- Now look at the top venues in which SHs are having the best conversations about topics that are relevant to you. Look at the patterns in the top three venues. Determine your content strategy. BTW, at SNR, we believe that the conversation is the content, so “content strategy” refers to conversation topics you want to start and nurture, not only stuff you are going to share (i.e. links, photos, posts..). The latter are included in the content strategy, but they are the starters, the focus is on interaction.
- Best practice is using this strategy process to determine how to add unique value in several venues, which you leverage extensively by managing your venues as an ecosystem (venues’ activity will magnify impact). For example, Facebook and Twitter are excellent for chit-chat, where blogs and forums are often ideal for deeper conversations.
- By having a robust strategy, a company of any size can be far more intentional AND set up business-relevant results metrics. You can also use this approach to “relaunch” existing social media efforts that are underperforming (the majority).
The size of firm/organization can have a major impact on how you execute because larger organizations have more stakeholders (internal and external), more resources and complex business processes that you must accommodate. To illustrate the point, I’ll give a general description of how small and large firms might execute strategy differently.
- Team: Although this is a general statement, size often affects culture. If being small and nimble is part of your org’s persona, having top executives or the founder(s) involved is probably a good idea. If a big part of your brand is the founders, it’s critical. They don’t have to have do most of it, but they should be present.
- Collaboration: Small firms generally have more informal communications, so your execution can follow that and be more loosely organized (since everyone’s talking regularly anyway). This means getting around a whiteboard and determining who will cover what part of the content strategy as well as the basic social business ground rules (write these down). Make realistic commitments, goals and metrics. Choose qualitative and quantitative metrics that indicate increasing trust and commitment. Here’s an example.
- Learning: Use Google Docs, your wiki or a collaboration space on your intranet to share insights—or meet every other Friday and exchange ideas. Be committed to sharing your learnings regularly; even better, white them down. Grow the number of people who are involved; start them small and let them expand.
- Scaling: Work up the ladder of engagement in each venue (here’s a Facebook example). Once you start getting some traction, start inviting your favorite clients and business partners to get involved by commenting.
- Team: Generally speaking, large brands are known in themselves, they are less connected to individuals. Unlike with small firms, stakeholders probably won’t expect top executives to be involved. However, in many cases, one of social business’s key values is personalizing relationships (i.e. “humanize the enterprise”). Therefore, it can make sense to weave executives and other usually-inaccessible experts into the content strategy when they add value to the content strategy.
- Collaboration: Communication and collaboration will probably be more formal, so you will need a digital collaboration space, meetings (virtual or not) and knowledge capture/sharing processes. You will need formal project plans and participant templates to keep everyone synchronized. The project plan (we call them “charters”) only needs to be 3-6 pages max, but it should make everything explicit for each initiative. “Templates” are task sheets for every role involved (i.e. some people might specialize on sharing unusual links, while others are asking people questions). Here at SNR, the nexus for learning and scaling social business is the Competency Team.
- Learning: If you see significant potential in social business, you will probably want to create more formal learning, training and mentoring programs. We use mentoring because social business can’t be cookbooked or formulaic, that’s are of the point. You give people guidance, but they have to be themselves.
- Scaling: Similar to the small business, ask key internal or external stakeholders to participate as well, but in your case, it can add considerable value to have other parts of the enterprise enter the initiative. For example, your business development and account services have kicked it off; now expand by getting engineering and product development involved.
- Although this is a very short treatment of a complex subject, I hope it helps you to plan or manage your social business initiatives.
- Regarding execution, our clients have had excellent results in hiving off more specific presences from general ones (i.e. firm’s general FB Page starts a campaign to a stakeholder and hives it off to another page when metrics are met). But key to success is thoroughly understanding SHs and workstreams, engaging SHs and rapidly adjusting when you validate what works.
Which of these techniques are you using?
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