Get Social Networking Right


by Samuel Greengard

FUD rules the business world. Half-baked initiatives get approved by executives who are desperate not to be left behind -- even when they don't know where they're going.

Nowhere is this thinking more apparent than in the social networking universe. On Facebook, for example, just about every company now rolls out a Fan page, simply because everyone else is doing it. But I'm not sure that most of these companies have any clear idea what the heck they're doing.

If I sign up to be a "Fan," I earn the privilege of viewing a regular stream of advertising, marketing tidbits and micro press releases?

I'm sorry, Ms. Marketing Director, I'm trying to trim clutter and noise from my life. Everyone else I know thinks pretty much the same way.

Yes, of course there are people who will sign up as a Facebook Fan or a Twitter Follower just because you're there. But that's no indication of success. Somebody is going to sign up for anything. Most of us with busy lives want targeted messages and information that's relevant.

According to a 2009 survey commissioned by Cisco Systems and conducted by four leading business schools, only one in seven firms have formal policies for adopting consumer-based social networking tools for the enterprise, and a mere one in five have any policy in place for overseeing the use of social networking tools. In fact, only one in ten have direct IT involvement in externally facing IT initiatives. [More on this topic here.]

The solution? Stop groping around for answers until you hit on something that works. Or sort of makes sense. Or kinda should work...maybe.

Instead of making it look like you're just doing something, anything, develop a cohesive strategy and mission, forge strong links between IT and business units, and use metrics and measures to understand what's really taking place. Build a governance model.

Buy social networking tools designed for business and solicit outside expertise. That's what Del Monte did when it framed a best practice social networking strategy.

Oh, and while you're at it, please create a compelling reason for Fans or Followers--as well as business partners--to connect with you. Don't think sales or cost cutting, think connection points. Find a way to create a unique bond and ratchet up value--for your audience, customers and others you interact with.

If you build it (right) the revenues will come.