Bringing Social Media to Your Organization – a Playbook

October 20, 2008

Best Of, Social Media

I’m giving a presentation, “New Media to Reach New Markets” at the California Association for Coordinated Transportation’s (CalACT) Annual Conference & Expo on November 6 out in Monterey, CA. I’ll be giving a presentation followed by a panel discussion on how social media is changing public transportation. My other panelists will be speaking about how they’re already using social media and showcasing some of their success stories. Because I’ll be the only one there NOT representing a transit organization, I wanted to think of something that I could discuss with the conference attendees that they could actually use.  One of the things that I both like and dislike about conferences is that you’re exposed to so many new ideas, but more often than not, you’re left to your own devices to figure out how you can actually do similar things once you get back to the office.  So, I’ve decided to focus my presentation on how to get your organization started in social media.

Every organization is different, but after doing it myself (the terms “social media” and “Booz Allen” were never found in the same sentence three years ago) and after seeing many successful (and many more unsuccessful) implementations of social media initiatives, several common features emerged. If you decide that you want to be the social media change agent within your organization and start blogging, creating and editing wikis, uploading videos to YouTube, etc., here’s my nine step playbook:

  1. Read Voraciously - You’re not a social media expert. Guess what – no one is. Social media as an industry is changing rapidly – new tools, new resources, and new methods are always emerging. The best that you can hope for is to build a solid fundamental knowledge of the principles of social media and use the tools and relationships that you’ve built to stay on top of the latest trends. Start by understanding what social media/new media/Web 2.0 is.  Read the ClueTrain Manifesto, Wikinomics, Groundswell, Now is Gone. Bookmark the blogs on my blogroll found to the right. Read the blogs that you find on those blogs’ blogrolls.
  2. Play with Everything – Don’t try to talk to your leadership about the need to create a Twitter account if you don’t have one. You have to understand how these social media tools work, not only from a technical (which button does what), but more importantly, from a cultural perspective. Yeah, you can regurgitate what you read, but it’s much more powerful if you can show how you’ve actually used these tools and what they’ve done for you.
  3. Commit - At this point, you will have to decide how far you want to take this idea of yours. Chances are good that all of your social media ambitions will take a back seat to your actual job. When I first started Booz Allen’s social media practice, I used to say that I worked 9am-5pm at my client site, and then 5pm-9pm on building our social media capability.
  4. Be a Champion – I also like to call this one “Be Annoying.” You have to talk the talk too. If there’s an All-hands meeting coming up, ask to give a presentation on social media. Lunch with the boss? Bring one of the above books and float some of your ideas. Have a new hire coming on-board? Direct him to your del.icio.us bookmarks instead of sending him an email. People will get annoyed with you – they’ll start calling you the “crazy wiki guy” (that’s me), or they might start asking if you ever tired of talking about social media. The answer, of course, is NO! More often than not, leaders are intrigued by passion. I had one of our VPs email me ask me to help him start a blog – he said to me, “I don’t really get why I should do this, but you’re obviously very passionate about it so I think I should at least give it a try.”
  5. Get Leadership Buy-in – Find someone, anyone, above you who can be your advocate. Start small by getting that person to buy in to what you’re trying to do. From there, branch out and start briefing other leaders on what you want to do. It’s a hell of a lot easier to convince that manager from Legal to start blogging if you can point to your manager who is already experiencing success with it.
  6. Take Risks – Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. If you wait for review/approval of absolutely everyone, you’ll never get anything done. This is why Step 4 is so important. Get the support of your manager, and start taking some small risks. This goes hand-in-hand with Step 2 as well. Chances are, there will be some sort of policy against using some of these tools – you’re going to pick and choose your spots where you take a risk in using them. This step is a lot easier if you’ve got the top cover.
  7. Integrate - Every failed social media initiative that I’ve seen had one thing in common – they were’t completely integrated into the organization’s existing strategies. The absolute worst thing that I’ve seen is one public affairs office that had NO idea that their organization even had a YouTube page. No matter how cool you and your boss think Twitter is, unless you can show how that’s going to help accomplish your org’s communications, engagement, and/or customer service goals, it will fail. This is why I HATE when people ask me to do a social media strategy. That doesn’t work – you don’t start a blog or a YouTube account just for the hell of it. Show how it can help enhance your organizational strategy.
  8. Get Others Involved – Once you’ve started to gain some traction with your social media initiatives, start identifying champions in other parts of your organization. Get Legal, IT, Public Affairs, training, etc. involved. Understand that you can only do so much yourself. Behind the most successful social media implementations are very diverse people from IT, public affairs, internal communications, training, etc. Don’t be afraid to let some things go and realize that social media can’t be “owned” by any one part of an organization. Over the long-term, you’ll be more successful if you can bring these other people on board.
  9. It’s About People - This last one isn’t really a step in the process inasmuch a mantra to remember as you’re going through the other steps. The tools of social media can and always will, change. The fundamental principles you read about in step one won’t. Remember not to get too caught up in the technical nature of some of these tools and forget that the reason these tools exist is to connect your organization to your stakeholders in a new way.  Social media is about building and maintaining relationships, and that’s only done by connecting people to people, not by playing with the latest and coolest tools.

There are dozens of other sub-steps involved with each of these, depending on your particular organization and environment. However, I did want to keep these high level enough so that they could apply across a wide variety of organizations.  What other steps would you include in your “playbook?”

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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27 Responses to “Bringing Social Media to Your Organization – a Playbook”

  1. Jeremy Bicha Says:

    Good points!

  2. Rebeca Trautner Says:

    Great round-up Steve. I would stress the importance of asking the question “Why are we doing this” at the outset. Maybe it falls into the “integrate” step, but I think it’s pretty critical to establish the reasons why you want the company to embark on specific social media paths (i.e. why a blog might be more effective than facebook for some companies).

  3. sradick Says:

    @Rebecca – that’s a great point! I do think that this is a fundamental question to ask at the outset, but do you know the answer to this question if you don’t yet have a grasp on the basic principles (e.g., how do I know that my org should use social media if I don’t understand it myself)? Don’t you have to know how blogs and Facebook are being used, be comfortable with them yourself before you can identify the reasons why the blog would be more effective?

  4. Geoff Livingston Says:

    This is a great post, Steve. Thanks for including Now Is Gone. Mobilizing Generation 2.0 is a nother book which I really liked. Hope you are doing well.

  5. Emma Says:

    1.5: Network network network with other social media leaders via social networks (so you can get people all over the world) AND in real-life (which is why conferences are so awesome – good luck in Cali!).

  6. JE Says:

    Great point on the need to properly integrate social media, Steve. We’ve actually been discussing this in my management class over the last few weeks. Too often libraries and information centers (yea, I live in a library world) try to stay on the cutting edge with 2.0, which isn’t a bad thing, but interest quickly dissipates. Their websites are now full of inactive blogs and outdated wikis. If these ‘social media strategeries’ were investigated beforehand and were properly integrated into the mission or vision of the organization, they might have worked harder with the upkeep and would likely have realized the benefits.

  7. sradick Says:

    @Emma – couldn’t agree more. Networking (both virtual and physical) is definitely something that I should have added in here. That’s why Tweetups are so valuable – the ability to connect in real-life with people whom you know primarily only virtually.

  8. sradick Says:

    Jeremiah Owyang’s most recent blog post, “Social Media Book Trilogy” does a much better job of explaining the books to get started with. Check out his post (and make sure you scroll all the way down to read the comments) at http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2008/10/20/social-media-book-trilogy/.

  9. Andrea Baker Says:

    I used to think I was annoying the community in that first year I took on the role as a community manager/advocate. Some of the initial feedback was a bit rough by the few naysayers we have. But I say, from my experience stick your guns. Its not annoying, but stay on message and keep up the enthusiasm. Your street cred is what will carry you through the highs and lows.

    Also, own up to your decisions. If you make a choice, stand behind a product or best practice, explain why to your community or organization. Without such answers to why you do things or say things, the people you are trying to reach out to may think you are tyrannical. You know you are not, but with some hand-holding and getting out the message you can give out the virtual stiff arm to let them know, hey I am doing things this way, so you can be a dragger, supporter, or be an igniter with me. Your choice. (Thanks to Robert Van Arlen for the terms)

    I also have to publicly shout out to Gary V as the man who when I was feeling the initial push back from the community, encouraged me to keep engaging the community and being positive.

    Definitely a good choice of books. I have all of them here in my home library except “Now is Gone”. I was promised a copy for knowing what/where Zipperhead was once on a call-in talk show… :P

    I am also with you as not to call myself an expert, even though many in the community see me as one. I do not know all the answers, but I will do my best to find you one that makes you happy or at least satisfied enough until the answer you want to hear comes along. I am a Social Web Evangelist, Community and User Advocate and I am here to help.

  10. Katherine Tobin Says:

    Great post – I fully agree with every point of yours, and the comments as well. As an addendum to #8, I’ve found it immensely helpful to have a support network of people who have been there/done that (including you!) who can provide advice, as well as people who are learning the tools at the same time as I am, so we can teach each other the ropes as we go. The benefits of this mix: encouragement against the inevitable roadblocks, comfort taking risks because I have a “safety net” to help if I hit a technical glitch, and (with the social media peer buddy) regular opportunities to reflect upon what I’m learning, how to use the tools, how to teach the tools, etc. It’s not called *social* media for nothing!

  11. Aaron Antrim Says:

    Hi Steve:

    I’m looking forward to speaking on the panel with you. I made a note about your topic on my blog.

    Transit touches many people’s lives in any given day, and one of the interesting effects of that is that, because of that, transit already is mentioned in, and becomes part of people’s use of social media. The question, then, I think is how or if an agency can leverage that existing use.

    The BART twitter feeds are interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

  12. sradick Says:

    @Aaron – I too am looking forward to the panel (and not just because I get to fly out to Monterey)!

    One of the things that’s always fascinated me about public transit is that it’s intrinsically social, yet somehow the typical public transit environment is filled with thousands of solitary individuals listening to iPods or reading books. Why is that? How can social media change this? Should social media change this?

  13. Lyndon Says:

    Great tips on how to bring social media to an organization. Thanks for sharing this. Great post!

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