Social media has been around for long enough that we’re starting to see the difference between a company that approaches it with a fairly off-the-cuff set of concepts and policies, and one that comes at it with a mature and comprehensive approach. It’s a natural evolution that is predictable and learnable — which means that a company determined to approach social media with maturity can accelerate themselves along the path if they believe it’s worth their while.
Infancy: Listening and Learning
The earliest stage of using social media is (after realizing that it exists and that it matters), listening to it. The companies in this stage begin collecting social media data, observing trends, finding out what people are saying about them. They may also begin breaking that data down, looking at where people are talking (LinkedIn vs. Twitter as well as Sioux Falls vs. Detroit.)
Toddlerhood: Analysis and Activity
The next step a business takes is to start looking at how social media influences decision making. They start to pick out influencers — both beneficial and detractors — on their major social media platforms. They follow each product or service’s individual responses to form an idea of what the social sphere thinks could be improves. Their first activity in the name of the business is almost always to address a significant detractor or common negative sentiment.
Youth: Exposure and Engagement
Once they’ve taken the first plunge into social media, a company’s next phase is to figure out how to use this tool to get the two things it wants: more customers and a positive reputation. Exposure comes from producing quality content and then connecting the social media world to it for feedback and sharing; engagement comes from interacting meaningfully with key audiences through social media ‘events.’
Teenhood: Community and Care
As a business develops its voice through social interaction, it inevitably realizes that their social media platform is being used at least in part as a ‘help desk’ of sorts, with customers sharing stories and advice for how to best use the product. They respond by developing FAQs and how-tos, but they also respond by guiding the community into a social-troubleshooting role, allowing people to help one another without the business itself getting involved in every question or thread.
Adulthood: Trends and Takeaways
As the community around a company’s social platforms grows and develops, the company inevitably comes to see the community itself as a resource it can utilize to get a trendline on recent changes. If the immediate response is negative, a course correction can be put in place quickly to fix the issues. Toward the later portion of this phase, the company may even engage the community for product ideation or to test marketing campaign concepts. The ability to achieve rapid and useful takeaways by leveraging their engaged audience massively increases the RoI of their social efforts.
Maturity: Marketing and Management
The final stage of social media maturity is a nearly-complete integration of the social media into every phase of business: marketing, lead generation, sales, service, customer relationship management, and fan-making — with public relations management as an important sideline to the process. The analytics at this stage are often detailed enough to follow a specific individual through all six stages, and the focus is on building positivity by proving to the community that you’re paying attention and that you’re concerned about what concerns them.
Every phase of social media maturity improves the RoI and expands the role of social media within a company, but it’s all too easy for a business to get ‘stuck’ at a given level, because it’s not always obvious what to look for next. Hopefully this will help you guide your next social media explorations and get you looking at the next phase of your business’ social media life cycle.