The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration

by Brian Solis

stages imageBrian Solis is a principal at new media agency FutureWorks. You can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

An overnight success ten years in the making, social media is as transformative as it is evolutionary. At last, 2010 is expected to be the year that social media goes mainstream for business. In speaking with many executives and entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed that the path towards new media enlightenment often hinges on corporate culture and specific marketplace conditions. Full social media integration often happens in stages — it’s an evolutionary process for companies and consumers alike.

Here are the ten most common stages that businesses experience as they travel the road to full social media integration.

Stage 1: Observe and Report

observing imageThis is the entry point for businesses to better understand the behavior of an interactive marketplace.

Listening: Employ listening devices such as Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Radian6, and PR Newswire’s Social Media Metrics to track conversations and instances associated with key words.

Reporting: Distill existing social media conversations into an executive report. This early form of reporting is merely designed to provide decision makers with the information they’ll need for continued exploration of social media and its potential impact on business.

Stage 2: Setting the Stage + Dress Rehearsal

Once the initial intelligence is gathered, businesses will set the stage for social media participation. This is an interesting phase, as it often joins Stage 1 as a more comprehensive first step. Instead of researching the best ways to engage, many businesses create accounts across multiple social networks and publish content without a plan or purpose.

However, those businesses that conduct research will find a rewarding array of options and opportunities to target.

Presence: Create official presences across one or more social networks, usually Twitter and possibly Facebook (Fan Pages), YouTube, and Flickr. Early on, this is often experimental, and less about strategic engagement.

Analysis: Review activity for frequency (the rate of mentions), the state of sentiment allocation, traffic, as well as the size of connections (friends, followers, fans, etc.). Provide managers with a limited glimpse into the effects of presence and participation.

Stage 3: Socializing Media

social network imageThe next stage in the evolution of a new media business is the proverbial step towards “joining the conversation.”

As companies take the stage, they will eventually pay attention to the reaction of the audience in order to respond and improve content, define future engagements, and humanize communication.

Conversation: Representative of an early form of participation, this stage usually evokes reactive engagement based on the nature of existing dialogue or mentions and also incorporates the proactive broadcasting of activity, events and announcements.

Rapid Response: Listen for potentially heated, viral, and emotional activity in order to extinguish a potential crisis or fan the flames of positive support.

Metrics: Document the aforementioned activity in order to demonstrate momentum. This is usually captured in the form of friends, fans, followers, conversations, sentiment, mentions, traffic, and reach.

Stage 4: Finding a Voice and a Sense of Purpose

This is a powerful milestone in the maturation of new media and business. By not only listening, but hearing and observing the responses and mannerisms of those who define our markets, we can surface pain points, source ideas, foster innovation, earn inspiration, learn, and feel a little empathy in order to integrate a sense of purpose into our socialized media programs.

Research: Review activity for public sentiment, including negative and neutral commentary. Observe trends in responses and ultimately behavior. This allows for a poignant understanding of where to concentrate activity, at what level, and with what voice across marketing, sales, service, and PR.

Strategic Visibility: Introduce relevance and focus. You don’t have to be everywhere in order to create presence, just in the places where you would be missed. Understanding that the social web is far more extensive than Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, brand managers search across the entire web to locate where influential dialogue transpires.

Relevance: “Chatter” or aimless broadcasting is not as effective as strategic communications and engagement. This stage reflects the exploration of goals, objectives, and value implementation. Companies begin to learn that exchange is based on trust and loyalty.

Stage 5: Turning Words Into Actions

runner imageActions speak louder than words. Businesses must act. Once the door to social consciousness is opened, bring the spirit of your company through it to affect change.

Empathy: Social media personifies companies. It allows us to see who it is we’re hoping to reach, and what motivates them. Listening and observing is not enough. The ability to truly understand someone, their challenges, objectives, options, and experiences allows us to better connect with them.

Purpose: The shift from simple response to purposeful, strategic communication will be mutually beneficial. It is in this stage that we can truly produce captivating content and messages. In order to hold it, we have to give the audience something to believe in — something that moves them.

Stage 6: Humanizing the Brand and Defining the Experience

As Doc Searls says, “There is no market for messages.” Indeed. Through the internalization of sentiment, brands will relearn how to speak. No longer will we focus on controlling the message from conception to documentation to distribution. We lose control as our messages are introduced into the real world. Our story migrates from consumer to consumer. This chain forms a powerful connection that reveals true reactions, perception, and perspectives.

The conversations that bind us form a human algorithm that serves as the pulse of awareness, trustworthiness, and emotion.

The Humanization of the Brand: Once we truly understand the people who influence our markets, we need to establish a persona worthy of attention and affinity. A socialized version of a branding style guide is necessary.

Experience: Our experience in dynamic social ecosystems teaches us that online activity must not only maintain a sense of purpose, it must also direct traffic and shape perceptions. We question our current online properties, landing pages, processes, and messages. We usually find that the existing architecture leads people from a very vibrant and interactive experience (social networks) to a static dead end (our web sites). As we attempt to redefine the experience of new customers, prospects and influencers, we essentially induce a brand makeover.

Stage 7: Community

community imageCommunity is an investment in the cultivation and fusion of affinity, interaction, advocacy and loyalty. Learned earlier in the stages of new media adoption, community isn’t established with the creation of a social profile. Community is earned and fortified through shared experiences. It takes commitment. As Kathy Sierra once said, “Trying to replace ‘brand’ with ‘conversation’ does a disservice to both brands & conversations.”

Community Building/Recruitment: While we are building community through engagement in each of the previous stages, we will proactively reach out to ideal participants and potential ambassadors. We become social architects, and build the roads necessary to lead customers to a rich and rewarding network, full of valuable information and connections.

Stage 8: Social Darwinism

business evolution imageListening and responding is only as effective as its ability to inspire transformation, improvement, and adaptation from the inside out. Survival does not hinge solely on a company’s social media strategy. The social element is but one part of an overall integrated strategy. It’s how we learn and adapt that ensures our place within the evolution of our markets.

Social Media as embraced in the earlier stages is not scalable. The introduction of new roles will beget the restructuring of teams and workflow, which will ultimately necessitate organizational transformation to support effective engagement, production, and the ongoing evolution towards ensuring brand and product relevance.

Adaptation: In order to truly compete for the future, artful listening, community building, and advocacy must align with an organization’s ability to adapt and improve its products, services, and policies. In order for any team to collaborate well externally, it must first foster collaboration within. It is this interdepartmental cooperative exchange that provides a means for which to pursue sincere engagement over time.

Organizational Transformation: The internal reorganization of teams and processes to support a formal Social Customer Relationship Management (sCRM) program will become imperative. As social media chases ubiquity, we learn that influence isn’t relegated to one department or function within an organization. Any department affected by external activity will eventually socialize. Therefore, an integrated and interconnected network of brand ambassadors must work internally to ensure that the brand is responding to constructive instances, by department. However, at the departmental and brand level, successful social media marketing will require governance and accountability. Organizational transformation will gravitate towards a top-down hierarchy of policy, education, and empowerment across the entire organization.

chart image

Stage 9: The Socialization of Business Processes

social crossword imageMultiple disciplines and departments will socialize, and the assembly or adaptation of infrastructure is required to streamline and manage social workflow.

Social CRM (sCRM): Scalability, resources, and efficiencies will require support, resulting in a modified or completely new infrastructure that either augments or resembles a CRM-like workflow. Combining technology, principles, philosophies and processes, sCRM establishes a value chain that fosters relationships within traditional business dynamics. As an organization evolves through engagement, sCRM will transform into SRM — the recognition that all people, not just customers, are equal. It represents a wider scope of active listening and participation across the full spectrum of influence.

Stage 10: Business Performance Metrics

Inevitably, we report to executives who may be uninterested in transparency or authenticity. Their goal, and job, is to steer the company toward greater profits. In order to measure the true effects of social media, we need the numbers behind the activity –- at every level.

While many experts argue that there is no need to measure social engagement (much the way that some companies don’t explicitly define the ROI of Superbowl ads or billboards), make no mistake: Social is measurable, and the process of mining data tied to our activity is extremely empowering. Our ambition to excel should be driven through the inclusion of business performance metrics, with or without an executive asking us to do so. It’s the difference between visibility and presence. And in the attention economy, presence is felt.

ROI: Without an understanding of the volume, locations, and nature of online interaction, the true impact of our digital footprint and its relationship to the bottom line of any business is impossible to assess. An immerssive view of our social media goals and objectives allows us to truly measure ROI. Stage 10 reveals the meaning and opportunity behind the numbers and allows us to identify opportunities for interaction, direction, and action.


There is a great distance between where we are today, and where we need to be. Our work in 2010 will be dedicated to narrowing the social chasm.

The thing about social media is that it’s always new, and as such, these stages represent a moment in time. They will continue to evolve and expand with new technologies and experiences.

In the end, social media is a privilege and a tool — one more opportunity to run a more meaningful and relevant business.

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