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September 18, 2009

Driving Results With Social Media

Brian Lenhart '10
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You’ve heard about companies using TweetDeck to tweet on Twitter, updating their Facebook status while feeding into FriendFeed, and building buzz to bolster conversation on their blogs. But if you don’t understand what any of this means, and consider yourself a marketer, then 1) you are not alone and 2) you need to understand what all of this is about.

Social media as a communications channel is the New Big Thing for marketers. So what do you need to do to stay ahead of the curve and make sure your social media initiatives are successful at your company? Let this article be your starting point.

1) Launch, Track, Learn, Evolve, Rebuild

Don’t skimp on reporting. Everything in the online space is trackable — so track it. Launch initiatives quickly and then use the information and results that are gathered to learn and continue to evolve your platforms. Some of my greatest insights and strategic program adjustments have come by really diving into the numbers.

As a student in the Executive MBA program I recently completed a class called Decision Models, which is focused on how to structure information to support managerial decisions. I had little exposure to these areas before, but I was able to use the classroom knowledge immediately in my job. I used the models and applied them to my results to help inform funding allocations. You might consider doing the same thing.

Powerful in its simplicity, yet worth emphasizing — in social media it is critical to launch quickly, track results, continuously learn, iteratively evolve, and periodically rebuild your entire system.

2) Leadership Support and Empowerment

The success of social media programs can be influenced by the degree of leadership support and decentralized decision-making inherent in the process. To me, leadership support means two things: 1) empowering employees and 2) encouraging new ideas by involving social media gurus.

First, empower employees. Senior leaders in most traditional companies are digital immigrants and they are still getting up to speed on these new channels, they need to have trust in the digital natives — the thinkers who have come of age in the digital era. Smart leaders will empower the digital natives to make decisions as they themselves learn the ropes. In time, it is likely that companies which support employees to deliver on new social media initiatives will be the clear winners and innovators. Take, for example, the story of P&G, which is recognized for pioneering sponsored advertising in soap operas when TV was the next big thing.

Secondly, involve social media experts. It is challenging to launch company “firsts” in social media, even if you are working with people who have a can-do attitude and are empowered to drive these initiatives forward. Employee burnout and retention can happen with social media, just as it can with any other creative endeavor. Whether as a leader or peer, continually identifying and retaining people who are skilled in social media will help serve any establishment seeking to make inroads in this space.

3) Form Progressive Partnerships

At its heart, social media is about people and relationships. You can say this applies for anything in marketing, but I believe it is especially true for social media.

In the beginning, the process is about finding and retaining the right employees who are resilient, can work within internal processes, and who are also willing to challenge the ideas when appropriate. However, quickly, this evolves to fostering the right external partnerships. At OPEN Forum, we are fortunate to partner with big brands, small brands, and individuals’ brands. We partner with major online publications like Mashable, experts like Guy Kawasaki, and sponsors like FedEx, along with some of the best and brightest small business owners out there — our customers. (Also, on a personal note about relationships, it’s especially nice to work with another Columbia Business School grad, Julie Hansen ’03 (EMBA) of The Business Insider.)

Through listening and remaining open to opportunities with our partners, we’re able to exchange value organically, in a way that creates efficiencies and opportunities for all. As an example, we frequently meet with small business owners to find what is working for them and what they need (including my own personal experience consulting for SweetRiot, one of our small business retail customers). We help drive their business growth by offering advice, and they come to better understand the value of our products and services so they use them more — it’s a win-win situation. Do this authentically and consistently and you will win. I will leave you with a final thought — whether you are a digital immigrant or digital native, it’s imperative that marketers realize that social media is the business strategy — not just a part of the business strategy. So, keep this in mind as you start to get social and you will be truly successful. If you have any questions, feel free to tweet me at @brianlenhart.

Brian Lenhart ’10 is Manager, American Express OPEN, responsible for the content strategy and development for OPENForum.com and a current student in the Executive MBA program at Columbia Business School, where he avidly tweets about life as an EMBA student.

Photo credit: Mike Paradise

Comments

by Emily McHugh | September 18, 2009 at 12:28 PM

Thanks Brian for your helpful insights. I enjoy visiting OPEN Forum and like the work that Sweet Riot does with their SM presentation (plus really like their chocolates!), will catch up with you on Twitter. Best regards, Emily

by Taryn W | September 18, 2009 at 1:47 PM

Great Article, Brian!

by Sarina Nicole | September 18, 2009 at 11:24 PM

Great article Brian. As someone who actively utilizes social media in my own ventures it frustrates me how many businesses and entrepreneurs are still reluctant to harness its power.

by Tish Grier | September 21, 2009 at 8:12 AM

Great piece Brian! but I would amend one thing: launch quickly. In my 2 plus years doing social media (on top of 10 plus with online communities) I've seen way too many companies launch blogs and such with incredible fanfare, only to have them crash and burn in a couple of months. Usually due to neglect. Sometimes it's best to play around a bit till one is confident, then do a "soft" launch, then a full-blown announcement. Crash, burn and rebuild works for particular campaigns within a larger social media strategy--but when first starting out, making sure a company can carry though with a social media objective is important.

by Steve | September 23, 2009 at 4:20 PM

I guess I have to take issue with "it's imperative that marketers realize that social media is the business strategy – not just a part of the business strategy." Social media might be a marketing strategy, but it is _not_ a business strategy!

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