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cat herders small(Read time = 3-4minutes)  Woooo hooo!  Ring the bells, light off the rockets… a round for the house!  A software client company we shepherd just dipped a toe into Twitter waters as part of a tech product launch.  Sure, it felt a bit like the Wild West, at times – and it wasn’t exactly the global, social media mega-initiative Agency-types might have wanted, but it was importantly, a start.

Most interesting, for discussion here,  were the observations regarding the barriers to social media engagement… issues that surfaced due to knowledge gaps, the perceptions around urgency and behavior, and the inconsistencies of stakeholder engagement.  Hoping this summary case study will prompt some feedback and additional learning as others plan first-time social media experiences.

New content just added late 8/27: Results after the week-long push:

*  6 company tweets supporting traditional PR/AR news and briefings from a corporate account w/250 followers (audited narrow for content interest).

*  Additional tweets supporting rich-media content (video clips, whitepapers, benchmark lab report)

*  6 RT throughout the week from associated company Twitter accounts

*  6 ePub stories;  4 blog posts (all very in category)

*  20+ follower re-tweets, again to narrow audience communities very much in category/useful.

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Back to the Story: Surprising barriers and complexity…

unexpected epiphanies…

Good news: the client team found a way to navigate the maze of internal turf, knowledge gaps and imagined fears…   Nothing bad happened (yes, some had visions of employees tweeting amok, of authorized spokespersons being seduced to public misstep by Twitter’s  real-time click stream).  The better news: it was a visible first, small step toward evolving a blueprint for participation and understanding of the business advantages presented by the new, social media tools and channels.

Barriers to Social Media Engagement:  No formal social media policy.  No previous company-branded social media outbound campaign.  A skittish  legal department.   A traditionally conservative marketing mentality.   A virtual marketing community operating from multiple offices/multiple time zones.  Oh… and of course, there was the usual deadline pressure and last-minute “…OMG now we gotta pay attention…” hurdle.

The Collaboration Matrix Required for Success:  As is B2B typical, an outbound initiative requires a matrix of intense collaboration.  Just this small Twitter/web page execution required touching 10+ groups… PR, AR, content experts, marketing communications, social media advocates, copy writers, graphic designers, web developers, metric  specialists, rich-media producers, eLearning staff, legal and the senior executive leadership team, IT , and of course layers of management on several fronts.  (Whew!  Just writing the stakeholder list down should cause most Agencies and Advocates pause.)

The Big Lesson Learned

Don’t underestimate the time/energy required to teach, ground the team with explanations so that real conversations around strategy/execution can start… and that the most critical element driving first-time success is the old-school relationship dynamic as the core team struggled thru roles/responsibilities, and the trust needed to bridge knowledge gaps and ultimately execute. 

Smaller, Important Epiphanies along the Way:

  • The social media advocates underestimated the knowledge gaps w/in the production and marketing communications teams, and the consequences stemming from these knowledge gaps w/r/t strategy and implementation.
  • That SM required a shift away from “business as usual” behavior… wasn’t seen as an urgency by the tactical teams, and took far too long to seep into the collective consciousness.
  • Advocacy needs to be “plural” (ie, there needs to be more than one voice, and advocates must discover each other for support in the face of disinterest, delay and disinformation.
  • Turf concerns will still hinder efficiency.  Twitter blurs the line between marketing, PR, web, advertising, training, etc.
  • Conference calls, email and webex remain poor substitutes for hammering thru time-critical discussions  F2F.
  • Existing agency resources contributed little
  • Stakeholder managers engaged inconsistently: at times delegating too much too low, at times wrestling w/granular detail rather than trusting those with experience/knowledge.
  • Distinctions between traditional outbound/web v. Twitter’s real-time nature impacted greatly the thinking and deliverables around metrics/measurement;  Most stakeholders did not understand the viral nature of social media, blogging, etc.  
  • Core skills needed to be trained ahead of need.
  • Existing spokesperson policy and practices were not seen as easily transferrable
  • The opportunity for customer dialogue actually caused concern among some.
  • Perceptions of what “starting small” meant were vastly different between those w/slight social media experience and those w/out.

Results:

  • One British journalist otherwise unavailable for traditional media briefings took the on-line assets and gained a significant jump in reporting the news; the client gained coverage scale and scope, beyond the norm.
  • Competitors with same-day, same technology news were confronted with having to share the social media landscape for the first time.
  • Social media infrastructure requirements were discovered first-hand and can now more specifically be discussed and made useful
  • The need for real-time metrics and the differences in reporting for social media v. traditional website and old-media were exposed and debated.
  • Nothing bad happened; fear of the unknown was blunted; the door for more was opened.

With coverage now rolled up and analytics presented,  conversations have turned from “starting” to “sustaining”. 

Another very valuable outcome was that relationships were newly formed between otherwise isolated social media advocates w/in the client company itself.  This “leadership from the middle” is, I suspect, from where the social media vision will be most spoken.  And, while at times painful, the experience clearly hinted at the possibilities social media can add to the marketing mix. 

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