What is Social Media Governance and 5 Key Elements of a Successful Model

I’ve been noodling on the topic of social media governance for a while and it took a chat with Jim Storer and Aaron Strout on the Quick n’ Dirty podcast to finally get it on my blog. (Thanks for the question, Jim!)

Much has been written about the importance of social media policy and why every company should have one. However, what’s often overlooked by companies and experts alike is that creation of a policy by itself isn’t cause enough to celebrate.

So, let me start by saying that social media governance is much more than just a policy (even if policy is the first thing that comes to mind, when you use  the term “Governance”).   Governance is much more broader in scope than policy and has greater significance, especially for larger companies.

While your social media policy defines how your employees should engage via social media channels, your governance model is a bundle of policies, guidelines, processes, and educational resources to guide your employees to successfully represent your company in social media activities.

Here are the 5 key elements of a solid social media governance model:

#1 Definition of Scope: This sounds so basic but it is critical that you define what is and isn’t covered by your governance model. Be sure to call out the specific social channels along with the policies and guidelines that relate to each of them. Depending on business and organizational needs, some companies may decide to have a common governance model for their internal and external customer-facing communities, while others may decide to keep the two separate. So it’s essential to call out which ones are included to provide clarity to your employees.

#2 Frequency & Process for Updates: Given that social media is evolving at the pace of light, your governance model will need regular review and update. Make sure you define the frequency of updates and the process for those updates. This will ensure that your governance model is not outdated and provides clarity on how the updates are made. If you want employee participation in the review (highly recommended), make sure you call it out along with details on when and how to provide input.

#3 Branding Guidelines: For a large company, the broad variety of social media channels makes it imperative to clearly call out the branding guidelines for your external channels. The same principles that govern the design of all your external-facing communications such as website, collateral, etc. should be applied to official social channels. This would include, but not limited to, branded templates for your social channels like Twitter, social sharing & follow icons, as well as the use of company logo and related elements on external-facing channels.

#4 Training & Education: A solid governance model should have plenty of educational resources for employees. This should include training on responding to customer feedback, both positive and negative. Typically, it’s the customer support and PR organizations that are tasked with the responsibility of responding to customer feedback. However, social media is breaking down the traditional boundaries and depending on your company’s social media engagement policy, it could be a marketing or salesperson who is having to respond to a customer query. So it’s essential to have training as a cornerstone of your social media governance model.

#5: Approval Processes & Continuity Planning: Your governance model should clearly call out what approval processes are in place for employees to engage in social media. It should answer questions such as: Can everyone participate (highly recommended) or only members of certain external-facing groups can engage via your company’s social channels? What is the process for getting approval for an official account?

Last but not the least, it’s critical you have a continuity plan, which covers not only accounts are set up but how the account will be transitioned to a new owner, if needed. Having a centralized governace model in place will ensure that you’re not locked out of your highly popular Twitter or Facebook account/s if the person engaging on your company’s behalf decides to leave the company.

Bottom line, rather than policing your employees, start with a robust social media governance model as that will empower your employees with the right resources and training to become successful advocates for your company.

If you think there are other items that should be included here, feel free to chime in.

Listening (by itself) is Not Enough in Social Media

I recently talked about ”B2B marketing in the Real Time Web” at the #140conf in San Francisco, organized by Jeff Pulver. One point that resonated the most with the audience is that “listening” has become the most overused and abused word in social media.

Some people actually think that “listening” is  a brand-new concept invited by social media gurus. The reality is that if you need an expert to tell you that you should “listen” to the customers, your business may already be in more trouble than you realize.

While listening is a great first step in getting started in social media and helps set up a good foundation for your activities, that by itself is not enough any more. As consumers get more savvy in their use of social media, it’s become a business imperative that companies move beyond just listening and start responding to what they’re hearing.

Setting up social channels by itself or “being on Facebook” is not good enough any more, companies need to have solid processes in place to quickly relay feedback from social media channels to create better products and help solve customer issues before they reach a crisis point. Social media monitoring/listening tool vendors should be focused on translating the streams of data into meaningful insights for their clients as quicky as possible.

In this fast evolving conversational age,  the true measure of success and a key differentiator will be how quickly companies respond to feedback from their customers. It’s time to assess – Is your company ready for this challenge?

Using Social Media to Reach a Local Audience

Typically, when the average user thinks about social media, the first sites that come to mind are Facebook and Twitter. These sites have formidable global reach and can help reach audiences from Asia to Europe. However, when it comes to reaching a local or regional audience, are these sites still as effective?

This is a key question for firms that operate in a niche industry or cater to a specific geographical region that requires a more tailored approach. As businesses contemplate investments in this new(er) media, here are 4 tips, for small and large companies alike, on using social media to reach as well as engage with a local audience.

#1 Create Location-Specific Social Communties:

Setting up a generic social media presence that appeals to a global audience but ignores your local customer base is a wasteful exercise. There are plenty of options that businesses can use to create social experiences that resonate with their local audience. Whether it’s through a location-specific Linkedin group or a regional Facebook page, it is possible to carve out highly engaging location-specific social presence on any social network. Moreover, sites like Linkedin enable highly targeted advertising based on location, which can be leveraged to reach your local audience.

#2 Leverage Existing Channels:

In their enthusiasm to use social media, many businesses forget to leverage the information that’s available, right at their finger tips. Unless your business was set up yesterday, your company already has a customer database that can be used to jump-start your social media community. Leveraging traditional channels like email and direct mail lists can be a smart and (cost)effective way of building your social media presence. And don’t just stop there! Make it easy for your customers to join/follow you on a social network by integrating social media links into all your traditional marketing channels to make the most out of every touch point with the customer, whether it’s through traditional or new media.

#3 Promote! Promote! Promote!

One thing to keep in mind when building your social media presence is that, “Just because you built it, they will not come!” …unless, of course you promote (the heck out of) it. Many businesses set up their social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but they forget the basics, which is to tell their customers and prospects about it. If your audience is small and local, it is very likely that your presence on a larger social network will go unnoticed, unless you make a great deal of noise about it and that’s where #2 can be very effective in getting the word out. Local events that bring your online and offline community together such as Tweetups can be a very effective way of growing the online social engagement for a local audience.

#4 Try Location-Based Services:

With the growing popularity of  geo-location services and applications like Foursquare, GoWalla, and white-label apps like DoubleDutch, going local has never been easier. These services now enable you to build social networks for specific states, cities, and even neighborhoods. However, your audience may not be adept at using some of these new technologies so, businesses may need to help them along with some education and plenty of incentives to keep them engaged.

As you can see, the “one-size-fits-all” social media model is evolving and making way for highly localized experiences. The key is for businesses to stay focused on their target audience and optimize their social media presence to make it more relevant for their customer, based on where he or she is located.

Making the Business Case for Social Media

Despite the skyrocketing adoption of social media by customers and explosion of “experts” in this space, there is still significant angst among social media practitioners across companies who are struggling with lack of support from management.

So let’s look at the key reasons why your management doesn’t “get” social media and effective ways of channeling the frustration into some concrete steps, which can be a much more productive way to counter this issue.

#1 Can you hear me now?

In many organizations, social media champions/practitioners have little business background or acumen. So, their case for doing social media is somewhat weak since they can’t effectively convey the value to management. To convince management why social media matters, you will need a strong evangelizer/s who understands the business objectives, has credibility with management and is able to communicate the value of social media effectively to your management.

#2 Failing the “So What” Test

Social media practitioners are failing to connect the dots between social media activities and business objectives. Management may not “get” social media but they understand business metrics. Too many social media champions are on “planet social media” while their management is firmly grounded in their financial reality. If social media champions want to make their case, they will have to start translating their social media metrics like fans, followers into real metrics like traffic, leads, and sales, ie. metrics that an executive can relate to and care about.

#3 Fuzzy is as Fuzzy Does

There are a wide variety of reasons for doing social media from “experts” ranging from “everyone is doing it” to “it’s risky not to do it”. Guilt and fear may be good instigators but rarely are good long-term motivators. The key is to share relevant examples and clearly highlight opportunities in your own industry, which is a much more effective way of getting your point across than showing random charts and examples from unrelated industries, just because the numbers look impressive. Having clearly defined business goals and tying social media activities to specific objectives will go a long way towards making a solid case.

#4 Focus on What Matters

The reality of corporate America is that your management’s top priority is the bottom line (which can be a good thing as it keeps you employed). Rather than taking it personally, social media champions should address the real issues underlying the hesitation rather than demonizing the messenger. If your management’s goal is to drive more awareness of a new product, put together a plan that can help meet that objective rather than offering to set up a social program with no clear direction or purpose.

#5 Rome Was Not Built in a Day

Last but not the least, change-resistant culture continues to be a huge inhibitor to adoption of anything new and this is no different. The only way forward is to take small steps towards the end goal and be patient yet persistent to get where you need to go. What is critical to success is your ability to listen to the concerns (you’d be surprised that some are quite genuine) and address each one as you build your case. Good news is that you’re swimming with the tide not against it, so change will come, slowly but surely.

Blogs vs. Forums Which is the Right Option for your Business?

Social media has evolved to a point that companies need to put some thought into selection of the right social media format rather than picking a medium just because everyone is using it. Take blogs as an example. I’ve touched upon this before in my blog post “To Blog or Not to Blog”, where I’ve discussed that blog is a means to an end but the end has to be clearly defined before picking the format. It’s very easy to misuse any given medium, as we’ve all seen plenty of examples where blogs are (ab)used as just another means of passing on corporate spin.

Bottom line is that it’s not about the medium, the key is to identify your objective/goal first and pick the format/medium last. Although, I have to admit in the social media crazy age, the objective seems to be an afterthought in many cases.

This month, I came across an old(er) format that we’re all familiar with and seems to have made a resurgence lately. I am referring to good ol’ fashioned forums, that had taken a backseat to their more glitzier cousins, the blogs and rarely ever featured in social media plans.

According to entrepreneurs like Vincent (Vinnie) Lauria forums are ready to rock the social media world. I rarely discuss specific products/services on my blog. When Lauria’s startup Lefora.com recently announced Tal.ki , an “embeddable forum” or (forum) software as a service, which can be deployed anywhere on your site, it sure got my attention. Tal.ki is a 2nd Generation forum product, based off of Lefora.com platform which has over 100,000 forums worldwide.

Here’s the thing, if social is all about community, crowd sourcing, and exchange of information, then forums are the original social media and yet, they rarely get featured in any social media planning or strategy conversations. Forums have traditionally been associated with customer support in the enterprise space or hobbyists/fans on the consumer side with text-based discussion threads. Forums have come a long way from the text-based discussions and now offer ability to embed videos, files into the conversation. However, the newer versions have much more potential and full of social features such as a Twitter, Facebook (likes), etc.

Lauria says, Tal.ki forums allow members to sign-in with their social networking profiles, such as Facebook and Twitter. So a member does not need to create a new account in order to participate, instead they use their existing social network profile.

So you’re probably asking yourself at this point, does this mean I should start a blog or a forum?

The answer isn’t one or the other because each format has its own purpose and benefits. Blogs are a powerful way for companies to share information and have conversations with stakeholders but they require the conversation to be driven from the company (blogger). There is an expectation that the company/blogger will respond to the user’s comments.

However, forums require a more hands-off approach with minimal company “intervention”. If your objective is to foster conversations and nurture a community then forums are the best way to help get discussions rolling between customers. A forum provides a great online place where customers can help each other but there‘s a great deal of value in getting insights from the customer exchanges. You can use forums to uncover customer pain points, get product feedback, and also, channel top-of-mind issues to generate blog topics.

According to Google search, there are over 100million monthly global searches for “forum”.

The challenge for any company today is that social content is growing exponentially and companies are caught up in this tsunami of social data. So the question for enterprises is around data security and storage. Amazon has addressed this need by allowing that allows startups like LeFora, offering software as a service, to be hosted on Amazon EC2 platform that offers secure storage and access to data walled off within Amazon on a private firewall with a private VPN tunnel to the organization. So with SaaS offerings like Tal.ki, a company doesn’t need to install new servers, new software, nor worry about maintaining the security of the system, so that also allows them to scale easily as their community grows.

I think forums should be integrated into every social media practitioner and marketer’s plan. Forums are a treasure trove of invaluable insights direct from your customers. So the question that begs to be asked and answered is why do companies pay for market research when they could be mining data that’s available through their own forums for free?

Facebook Privacy Debate Heats Up but do Users Really Care?

The controversy around Facebook’s announcements at the recent f8 developer conference  has kicked into high gear, as first lawmakers and now consumer groups weigh in on the privacy implications of the social networking giant’s recent moves.

GigaOM reports that over 15 consumer groups have now filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission to to protest the unauthorized sharing of private information by the social networking Goliath.

Epic.org, one of the organizations that has filed the complaint has described gist of the complaint,

“…that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. The complaint states that changes to user profile information and the disclosure of user data to third parties without consent “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.”"

At the heart of this firestorm is the “instant personalization” option that auto-opts in Facebook users into sharing their social graph with a few partners selected by Facebook, which according to GigaOM are  Microsoft’s Docs.com, Yelp and Pandora.

The Facebook experience has been described by some as bland and homogenized but the user response to these changes has been anything but unanimous. The responses vary from highly contentious to generally apathetic, depending on which of the following 5 categories, the user belongs to.

#1 Blissfully Ignorant users that belong to the “I Don’t Know, Don’t Care” group.

This group includes otherwise perfectly smart people, who have bought into the myth perpetuated by Facebook that all conversations on the site are “private” or “between friends”. This group doesn’t get what the fuss is all about and doesn’t have a point of view on the privacy debate. This group of users doesn’t care enough to educate itself because it firmly believes that the benefits of sharing far outweigh the costs/consequences from lack of privacy.

#2 The Pragmatists from “I Know, but Don’t Care” group.

I’ve come across scores of users who belong to this group and my friend, Dennis is one of them. He says,

“If I wanted privacy, I wouldn’t be sharing my information online. I know the information I share on Facebook is not private and I don’t care. Facebook is convenient and free, that’s all that matters to me.”

Those who belong to this segment don’t mind sharing information as long as they get something in return. Many within this group know better than to share anything personal or don’t think they have much to lose from the information they do share. This group is willing to give up their privacy in return for some perceived value so you probably won’t hear them complaining much or at all.

#3 This is a very familiar group – the Opportunists that are mostly concerned with “What’s in it for me?”

This user segment has the most to gain from this forced openness and probably the least to lose. This group includes businesses, news media, developers, celebrities, artists, and anyone who has a vested interest in seeing the users profile information being shared broadly and want to see their own social graph being indexed in search.

#4 Ambivalents or the “I Know but Not Sure if I Should Care” is the group that’s still on the fence.

This group may be a larger majority than some might suspect and has mixed feelings about the whole privacy debate. These users will take their cue from the “experts” and the lawmakers to determine the full implications of the Facebook changes. You can call this group, Facebook’s “swing constituency”, the one that can go either way and spell success or defeat for Facebook in this privacy debate.

#5 Last but not the least, the Activists belong to the “Keep Your Mittens off my Social Graph (and my privacy settings)” group.

This group is probably Facebook’s fiercest and most vocal critic. The users from this group wants choices, and want to ensure that users are aware of consequences of their decision so they can make an informed decision. I believe that the online world is a safer (if not better) place because of this group’s diligence because it forces sites like Facebook to think twice before forcing “openness” on the users. This is the group seems to be increasingly concerned with Facebook’s quest to dominate/control all social data. This group will not willingly give up the social graph debate without a fight and is likely to become part of advocacy groups that want to prevent any one site’s dominance of the web, especially Facebook.

Depending on which group you belong to, you may think Facebook’s move to a more “open social web” is the greatest gift to the online world or it’s a pact with the devil himself. Facebook’s model is based on users being open and sharing all their personal information, but this aggressive push for openness may backfire in ways that Facebook didn’t imagine.

Even, as I was opting out of the “personalization” option, the “are you sure” confirmation message was very clear in that, even if I opt out, my friends could share my “public” information to “enhance” their experience. Apparently, the only way to truly and completely opt out of sharing your social data on Facebook is to block all applications and/ore start ditching your “over-sharing” friends.

It’s not the vocal minority that Facebook should be most concerned about but rather the quiet ones. By forcing too many changes on its users, Facebook may have a passive rebellion on its hands where users are concerned enough to limit their use of the site and block what they share, which would make the social graph data mined from Facebook incomplete..and actually quite worthless.

How to: Demystify the Social Media Expert Myth

Much has been said about social media “experts” ranging from Hallelujah, they exist! to “(they) are the cancer..and must be stopped.

These diverse responses are perfectly understandable in an age where every other person (and her nanny) is an “expert”, “guru”, “pundit” or other. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, companies still rely on these darn “experts” to help navigate the uncharted and often turbulent social media waters.

The key to demystifying the social media “expert” myth and finding the real deal is to take a hard look at what a social media “expert” actually does. Based on their role, the experts can be classified into 3 major categories – “Do”ers, Planners, and Talkers.

The most popular and generic “Social Media Manager” roles typically belong to the “Do”ers category, which includes folks who “do” social media and typically are the public face of the brand on social networking sites. These are the folks who manage communities, tweet, blog, and engage on sites like Facebook on behalf of the brand. “Do”ers tend to be individual contributors who spend a great deal of time on the social networking sites and/or have roles that require them to be highly visible brand ambassadors. Having strong online communication skills is a must-have for this role. Folks with engaging personalities and community background (forums, chat, etc.) shine in these types of roles. While this is often an after-thought, this role is best suited for folks with calm temperaments who are less likely to go off the deep end in a crisis. Case in point is the Nestle crisis, where the company rep snapped under pressure on Facebook and had to apologize at the end.

Planners are typically folks who have decent social media expertise and presence but their focus is primarily on planning/managing social media activities. The typical role in this category is social media strategist, who is responsible for pulling together all disparate social media activities into a cohesive strategy/plan. Actively engaging on social media sites is a time-consuming activity, it’s rare to find someone who can balance both roles (planning and engaging) without getting overwhelmed. Folks with solid marketing and/or community management backgrounds seem to do well in these roles. You’ll probably see these types of roles filled by people managers who typically work behind-the-scenes vs. on the front-lines. There aren’t many folks who have the skill set/experience required for these types of roles so increasingly, companies are relying on external social media agencies and consultants to meet their planning needs.

Talkers are your blogbertis or twitteratis who are well-known for talking/writing about social media and may or may not actually engage in social media on behalf of any specific cause for your company (other than social media). Folks in this category typically have a large following on social networks, but may lack the experience in applying social media in a business context. This is a great category for hiring your spokespeople especially if your company is trying to build brand-recognition and wants to get more visibility in the social media space. Many major brands seem to have at least one social media celebrity on their roster, who is not strategically aligned to any specific business function or objective but is rather focused on promoting the company’s overall brand and related messaging.

So there you have it, not everyone is an expert but even among the real experts, different folks excel at different roles. That being said, knowing what you want to achieve is key to deciding the type of expert you need and to avoid getting sucked into the expert myth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on other categories/roles that should be added here.

What Facebook's New Platform Means for your Business

The online world’s been buzzing about the bold announcements at Facebook’s third f8 developer conference yesterday, where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg discussed his vision of the new social web and unrolled the next version of the Facebook platform.

While this conference was primarily aimed at developers, here are 3 announcements that have significant implications for businesses and users – Social Plugins, Open Graph protocol, and Graph API.

Social Plugins are the “like”/“recommend” buttons or widgets that allow users to share content from any site with their social network. Here’s the “like” button on Levis.com, which is one of the 30 launch partners along with Microsoft and CNN.com.

Levis.com

The Open Graph protocol is the rebranded Facebook Connect but “on steroids”. Developers using this protocol will enable users to “like” and “recommend” content anywhere on the internet as long as the Social Plugins  are enabled on that site.

This allows users to share information back to their Facebook social hub without ever leaving the page or website. Facebook claims that this will enable companies/website developers to,

“ integrate your web pages into a user’s social graph and also allows your pages to be seen across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.”

This move brings users closer to the “semantic web” than ever before, where any website can automatically recognize the user and serve up relevant content without requiring multiple logins. With Open Graph, all information on user’s preferences and social graph is delivered directly to the website (from Facebook) so the users can effortlessly share and recommend their favorite products to their social network, all of which is great for marketing.

Graph API reflects Facebook’s push towards a more open social web and putting the onus back on the users to pro-actively manage their privacy settings but it remains to be seen how users feel about that responsibility once this is rolled out widely. Facebook is simplifying all its individual privacy permissions into one unified permission.

However, this convenience will come at a price – users may not have much control over how much of their data should be shared with an external site and how their data is being shared or used by those sites.

What adds some more complexity is that Facebook is asking their developers to have their own privacy policies which means that users will have to be diligent in reviewing the policy for every site where they have opted to share their data, it’s not Facebook’s responsibility.

“In addition, with explicit user consent, you can use their data for purposes beyond displaying it back to the user. However, you’ll now need to have your own privacy policy and enable users to delete all of their data from your app.”

Also, for company websites (where this is enabled), it’s not clear if there’s any responsibility on part of the company to safeguard the user information, given there is personal data flowing between Facebook and other sites, which raises some privacy concerns.

These social plugins don’t provide option to “unlike” or share negative reviews of products, which is great for marketers, not so good for consumers. I believe this will complement rather than replace the existing reviews/ratings feature which are widely implemented on most retail sites.

This move also strengthens Facebook’s control over any and all social data, which will reside on Facebook hub not on the company’s website so if you’re a business, you will be dependent on Facebook for access to that social data.

Some additional great news for businesses is that Facebook will be able to provide analytics on their users’ social behavior, which would help in more targeted marketing. However, this move towards “social web” makes Facebook the de facto owner of all social data on these users and could potentially charge for access to this data in the future. This is a bit scary and as MG Siegler points out,

“that’s a lot of power for a still-private company to have.”

Overall, this is a game changing move for Facebook, which is already nearing a formidable 500million visitors per month, according to ComScore. But as they say the Devil is in the details and many of the questions/concerns will be hopefully addressed as this becomes widely deployed.

Here are some great write ups, if you want to learn more:

Debunking the Top Three Social Media Myths for Business

As social media has evolved, so have the myths. Here are the top three fallacies that are widely prevalent in the corporate circles and if left unchallenged, these can do serious damage to your business and brand.

Every Company Should have a Blog

I’ve heard so many “experts” claim that every business needs a blog, so here’s a reality check for all blog advocates – corporate spin by any other name and in any format is still…corporate spin. Unless, the medium is used for what it’s intended, i.e. genuine dialogue/conversation with the readers, a blog is no more effective than a static web page. There are plenty of examples of really bad corporate blogs out there, which should be pulled down because the content is outdated and/or in many cases, it’s just a rehash of the company press releases.

Companies and “experts’ who are fixated on blogs are missing the point. At end of the day, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about bragging rights because your company has hundreds of blogs but rather focused on what really matters - meeting and even exceeding your customer needs.

It’s a fallacy that every company needs a blog, because what a company really needs is a medium to engage with and deliver value to its customer, regardless of format. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to leverage forums, external social networks like Linkedin and Twitter to engage with their customer base rather than force them to read a badly written corporate blog post.

Listening is Critical in Social Media

I’ve said it before and here it is again, “listening” was not invented by social media experts and companies should be open to all feedback regardless of whether it originated in traditional media or social media. Customer feedback is critical to any company’s continued success and just because a customer emailed the feedback instead of tweeting it, shouldn’t make the feedback any less (or more) valuable. 

Smart companies already had programs in place, to gather and route feedback from customers, prospects, influencers and other critical stakeholders, before the advent of the social media. Granted that enabling technologies for monitoring the social media landscape may be new(er) but without an overarching framework/plan for using all that customer data, the “listening” part is quite pointless.

Anyone can “do” Social Media

Just because anyone and their granny can update their Facebook status, doesn’t mean that anyone in the company can “do” social media. Engaging on a social network in the business setting requires people skills and the ability to communicate effectively (even under pressure) on a public forum. In addition, social media roles such as blogging require content creation skill sets like solid writing and subject matter expertise, so the blogger can add value to their readers.

Social media has evolved from random tweeting and blogging to a sophisticated medium that should be taken seriously because it has serious implications for your brand. Companies should staff their teams with the right talent rather than handing off social media to the first employee who signs up, because regardless of what the “experts” say, your customers deserve better.

Let me know if there are other myths you would add to this list.

The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening - ”Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” - Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.