Strategy: Five Steps to Achieve ‘Escape Velocity’ –and Finally Stay out of the Social Media ‘Help Desk’

Escape VelocityOur November Report on the Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist (it helps to have read that first) yielded some surprising findings: these business decision makers are struggling to scale to meet the growing demands of customers and internal business units –while maintaining a very lean team.

One stark reality we learned about the compounding demands is that Corporate Social Strategists are now realizing that they cannot scale: in fact every time we respond to customer complaints in social channels we reinforce that they can get our attention by ‘yelling at their friends’ in public.

They have no choice but to quickly develop scalable business programs, which we call “Escape Velocity” or be rendered in a role that is responding to every fire, and cleaning up messes from ill-fated programs started by Business Units (BU) that lack experience in what is called the dreaded “Social Media Help Desk”.

[As demands from customers and business units compound, the corporate social strategist is at a crossroads: they must scale their program or be relegated to sanitation in the social media help desk]

In my keynote presentation last week at the Social Media Strategies Summit, I presented to a few hundred corporate social strategists some real-world strategies we’ve gleaned from those before them on how to scale and be proactive. Here’s five of them:

Strategy: Five Steps to Achieve Escape Velocity –Stay out of the Social Media Help Desk

  1. Get Proactive: Give Requirements to Business Units –Before They Ask. Many strategists told us they were afflicted by last minute “Give me a Facebook page now! Our campaign launches Monday, if you don’t do it my niece is all over it!” As a result, a proactive stance is required, the strategist must give a list of requirements to the Business Unit before they ask.  This list of requirements should include items such as: Understanding of social media, awareness of current policies, commitment to long-term efforts, a promise to engaging in the tough conversations with customers, tools and resources required, business plan, and understanding how to measure.  By providing these requirements before the BU asks, the strategist can pre-empt last minute requests, and guide stakeholders into a business program with order.
  2. Get to Hub and Spoke Now. We learned that most corporations that are novices in social business were in the ‘Centralized’ formation, then quickly moved to ‘Hub and Spoke’ a scalable formation, if you haven’t, read our latest report on social business maturity to learn more.  The strategist who leaves their organization in the distributed or centralized formation is at risk, as they cannot scale through uncordination or lack of resources, accordingly.  As a result, strategists should quickly move their company into the ‘Hub and Spoke’ model and then Multiple Hub and Spoke formation in rapid succession. Here’s one rich pattern we found during research to quickly end up in the Hub and Spoke model with the strategist in the middle:  start with Governance (policy and executive buy in), then quickly develop a triage and social media Process (see how the US Airforce has developed a blog triage), then immediately launch an ongoing Education program that includes internal sharing and external experts.
  3. Become an Enabler for Business Units –You Can’t Deploy All on Your Own. You can never hire enough community managers or run all the programs for the dozens to hundreds of business units and stakeholders within your company.  Social technologies are designed to be easy-to-use, and therefore implemented by the non-technical.  In order to scale, you must relinquish control over implementing the programs on behalf of the business units, and instead teach them how to roll out their own programs in a safe, and scalable manner.  Yet, don’t expect this to happen overnight, significant hand holding, education, best practices, vendor short listing, and technology support will be required on your behalf.
  4. Deploy Scalable Go To Market Programs –One to One Social Media Does NOT Scale. That’s right.  Social Media does not scale, and don’t let anyone fool you.  The logic stands that your customers will always outnumber the amount of talented community managers you can hire.  As a result, one to one social media programs cannot scale.  As a result, you must invest in programs that leverage the crowd and technologies.  These programs include communities, advocacy programs, Social Media Management Systems (SMMS), and investing  in SCRM initiatives. Update: In the comments Esteban Kolsky points out that automated social media tools will be another choice, see this post describing the benefits and drawbacks.
  5. Quickly Deploy Programs Beyond Marketing –as the Duration of Your Role is Limited. One of the fascinating findings from the report was learning that if these Corporate Social Strategists were successful, they’d work themselves out of a job as social media permeates the organization.  While most strategists are currently in the marketing department, they must quickly think beyond PR and move their programs to support, product innovation, then supply chain management.  The opportunity here is to quickly grow ones career to serve the entire customer lifecycle beyond pre-sales.  Don’t expect your marketing management to appreciate this broader view, but remember that customers don’t care which department you’re in, they just want their problems solved.

Use these five strategies now, to ensure that you stay out of the social media help desk and establish scalable business programs.  Remember, the demands are about to compound exponentially, you must achieve Escape Velocity as soon as possible.

(Attribution: Image from Nasa’s Marshall Space Center)