Scaling Social Media

clothes on a wire If you’re a company considering using social media tools for business communications, marketing, sales, etc, you’re no doubt wondering about how much time it will add to your already busy day, especially if you’re a smaller business. The answer varies depending on how you’re using it, how many platforms you’re engaging, your goals, and more. But we can still walk through some potential recipes and give you a sense of what will take time, how you might budget for it, and how to consider your engagement efforts. From a business perspective (and you can stretch this for non-profits and other organizations), it comes down to a mix of prioritizing and satisfying customer needs. Here are my thoughts on scaling social media.

Methods of Engaging in Social Media

First, let’s level-set what we’re talking about here. When I talk about scaling your efforts, here are the efforts I’m talking about:

  • Listening/monitoring for PR, for customer service, for marketing opportunities, for R&D opportunties.
  • Customer service.
  • Client relations.
  • Social marketing (such as two-way sales conversations).
  • Sales prospecting (including two-way conversations, but also listening).
  • Publishing (blogging, video, etc).

Of these six, everything but “listening/monitoring” assumes a little bit of two-way participation, meaning that you choose to comment on the other people’s posts and statuses, etc. This takes time, as well. It’s part of the relationship-building, however, and can’t be skimped on.

Approaches to Assigning These Tasks

Listening/Monitoring – In my estimation, every social media effort has to have Listening/Monitoring at the core of it. I tried thinking of exceptions, and couldn’t (without accepting that some people choose to be scammy). That said, you can opt to split the listening/monitoring chores out such that each member of your team that will be touching the social web owns some level of the process. For instance, your PR person can use the tools to listen for crisis issues, for storytelling opportunities, etc. Your customer service team can use the tools to enhance their customer service channel. Your marketers can listen for opportunities. Thus, you’ve already looked at how to split the vast bucket of information that comes in during listening. Someone should still own it. Maybe that’s the product lead, the manager of that line of business, whoever is responsible for the bottom line. They should have their eyes on listening the whole time.

Customer Service – Some companies already have this nailed down. Dell and Comcast have built great customer service integrations using social channels. Zappos has, as well. This area seems the most important to scale. Customer service is a tireless experience, and requires prompt attention. Thus, you need a deep bench. I think Frank at Comcast has 14 people on his team at this point, to give you a sense of it. Of all the social media tasks, this is tie for the most time consuming and most important (client relations would be the other). Learning how to scale this might be nuanced and customized, but just by knowing that it’s the hardest part might be enough to get you a little further in this part.

Client Relations– I split out client relations from customer service, because I think this part includes managing things like Facebook groups, managing blog comments, etc. It’s the “there’s no problem, but I’d like to keep you warm” part of business. You sometimes see “community manager” in this role (though I see the best community managers as a blend of a few of the above topics). This is tied for first place in time-consuming with Customer Service. People want the warm touch. It’s also the hardest of the brand promises, because if you’re nice to me on Twitter, but your counter help stinks, did you really move the needle? I vote no. With time, this one requires perhaps even more special care and attention. If you start offering this to your customer base, you’ve got to maintain it. Toy with the hours spent here at your own risk.

Social Marketing – By social marketing, I mean things like finding new customers via Twitter, or coming up with YouTube challenges, things like that. This clearly falls into the marketing department of larger companies, and it falls on the shoulders of whichever of your small business partners markets the best. Like all roles in a small business environment, you should cross-train. Don’t get lulled into thinking that just because Surya has a Twitter account that he’s the only one who should do social marketing. This is probably the easiest to scale, but it’s also the one where you can see the most obvious results of marketing effort. For instance, if you build a loyalty program and you need sign-ups, you can count pretty easily how many people took advantage of your offer, so you now whether or not to add attention to it. This is probably a lot less personable than client relations and customer service, so can likely be scaled the easiest.

Sales Prospecting – Your sales team (or you, if you’re a company of one or two) should already be realizing the sales benefits of the social web. Every day, someone’s out there talking about their needs, and giving you a sense of how you could sell to them. It’s lots of opportunity and requires a bit of time, but not much more than old fashioned prospecting. Switch out some of your time from sifting through phone books or wherever you find your customers, and put it into using search tools on the web to find new clients. Also, for ongoing relationships, if you’re not keeping tabs on their social presence, you’re missing the opportunity to know how they’re doing before you make your important sales calls. This doesn’t take a ton of time, but requires you to build it into your process.

Publishing – Blogging, shooting videos, all that stuff – that’s where some of your time gets eaten up, and yet, that’s where a lot of the value comes from. In seeing some of the comments from my post about redrawing, a lot of people offered that maybe I should blog and tweet less. That’s where I get my revenue. This post? It will generate a query for business where someone wants me to further customize and formalize these processes for their organization. I give it away to you for free, and you can run with it, but someone will ask for that next step, and I’ll make money from that. Thus, publishing should never be considered the thing to slip. Hell, it’s the product sometimes, and other times, it’s the best advertising you could ever create. Never skimp on publishing.

Where Does That Leave You?

I’ve told you that everything’s important and that nothing can be cut back. So where do you scale?

  • Spread listening/monitoring as deep as you can.
  • Enhance customer service and deepen that bench internally.
  • Add to client relations when you can, from internal resources. It pays off.
  • Social marketing can be augmented by external help.
  • Sales prospecting is a sales job, but can be augmented.
  • Publishing is important, but can be augmented by external help.

That’s how I see it. Again, if you’re talking about smaller scale operations, you’ll have to find the mix. I’ve put it almost in order of importance, from top to bottom. You can shuffle it a bit. Is that how you see it?

For those complaining that social media doesn’t scale, the trick is this: we equate these tools to personal relationships. Because of that, we can’t just open a “call center” for many of the touchpoints. However, as we move forward, and these tools become the new phone, the new radio, the new TV, it’s no longer going to be a world of solo trust agents, but trust agencies.

Will you be ready?

Photo credit Bill Lapp

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