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Bringing Social Media to Your Organization – a Playbook

October 20, 2008

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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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