Is Your Business a Social-Media Laggard?

The Five Stages of Social Media Maturity. Where's Your Brand?

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After working with hundreds of companies -- and surveying 95 of them -- we've answered the question "What's the roadmap that organizations follow in adopting social media?" We've also got advice on how to get to the next stage. In a nutshell, here are the stages (from RIGHT to LEFT on the diagram below).

Dormant stage (laggards). No social applications, typical in regulated industries or conservative culture. Our advice: get started soon, concentrate on "small victories." I've working with companies in this stage, such as retailer Eileen Fisher, where Lauren Croke, a leader in the eCommerce group, told me "We are so collaborative, things take a really long time to get consensus and approval." Recommendation: concentrate on adopting listening platforms like Radian6 -- seeing what people are saying will often get them motivated to start participating in the Groundswell.

SMM stages chart

Testing (late majority). Social applications happening, but little coordination. Often focused on popular "talking" environments like YouTube and Facebook, typically run by PR. Recommendation: build on success. Expand out from blogs or Twitter to communities, for example. Shift measurement from volume metrics (e.g. "friends" ) to business metrics (click-throughs, sales, sentiment). Hire or appoint "shepherds" to coordinate resources and learning across the organization.

Coordinating (early majority). Management recognizing value of applications and putting coordination and governance in place. While the social innovator in a testing-stage company may feel lonely, his counterpart in the coordinating-stage company feels pressure, because she's in the spotlight. Recommendation: build a cross-departmental council of social managers for sharing best practices (31% of the companies we surveyed have such councils). Concentrate on policy, which is a natural element of the infrastructure to allow more applications to develop. Start building a long-term plan.

Scaling and Optimizing (early adopters). Company has a plan in place, and seeks ways to do multiple social applications efficiently. For example, at Home Depot, the launch of a customer service presence on Twitter and a marketing channel on YouTube naturally led to the creation of home improvement community, staffed by knowledgeable people who work part of the time answering questions in stores. IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) began to concentrate on training management staff at its hotels on how to respond to customer posts on places like Facebook and TripAdvisor. Many companies in this stage have moved beyond listening and talking and are systematically embracing new ideas from customers (like Starbucks' Recommendation: Use companywide tools to encourage HEROes with new social ideas to innovate throughout the organization.

Empowered (innovators). Few companies have reached this stage, where social pervades the company. Dell and Zappos come to mind. At United Business Media, an internal community for collaboration attracted 80% of the employees within 12 months, a great step on the way to an empowered, innovating workforce.

The takeaway: understand where you are on this journey. Teach your managers. Shift your goals as you move through the stages. But always be moving: companies that adopt these technologies broadly outside and inside the corporate walls create brand advocates, streamline business processes, and improve product quality and success.

Forrester just published this content in a report (for clients) called Accelerating Your Social Maturity. Or, you can read it in the newly updated paperback edition of Groundswell, which includes this material as a chapter.

Josh Bernoff is senior vice president, idea development at Forrester Research and the co-author of "Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business," a management book that teaches you how to transform your business by empowering employees to solve customer problems. He blogs at
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