‘Best Practice’ and social media

First of all – happy new year!  Good to be here in London and forging ahead with work in the technology and social media space.

But now as I bubble away on several simultaneous tech and social media projects, I’m faced with a regular question – what’s best practice for social media?  Unfortunately the technology changes so quickly it’s rather hard to nail this down.  Steven Bennet has done a reasonable job of defining the components of a company policy in an article at MetroCorpCounselcom today, and six months ago, eMarketer produced a useful report on perceptions about use of social media in business contexts, but there are few hard-and-fast rules for social media when it comes to best practice benchmarking. Lots of tools – ComMetrics, Trovus and Radian6 are all examples of firms that have different metrics with which to measure an online presence or track a brand – but there are no clear and published methodologies for social media.  It’s actually something I was looking for from ACID back about four years ago but at the time the impact of social media was so poorly understood that the opportunity to develop a sophisticated (and academically rigorous) methodology for assessing social media strategies was too difficult.

We are now, however, at a stage where such a document could be collaboratively produced.  It would need to be a fairly substantial document, as it would have to triangulate industry sector and target market with skills and resources of the firm implementing a strategy, as well as providing some leeway for cultural differences and sensitivities operating in the host country.  It wouldn’t be foolproof – those benchmarking and strategic organisation that make their money from social media (myself included) wouldn’t be out of a job – but it might produce a clearer pathway for organisations activating a social media strategy.

There are thousands of blog posts, articles and tweets giving advice on social media but these are not sufficient to form part of a best practice methodology.  What is needed is instructional resources in the varying stages of implementing a social media strategy, and links to comparative services and sources of further advice for those that want to drill down in any particular area.

I wonder if we couldn’t develop initially, a database of stories and resources and have this act as a public exchange for best practice in social media?  It wouldn’t be that hard to build.  We could even enable input of content into the system using hashtags for busy entrepreneurs.  Essentially I see the system needing at least the following fields:

* Location
* Industry sector (as per subcategories of primary, secondary and tertiary sectors)
* Product type (tangible goods, information products, services)
* Target markets (by region, age, ethnicity and other standard demographics/ethnographics)
* Social media tool (social networking site, fanpage, wiki, social bookmarking, content sharing, messaging, etc)
* Objectives for social media (by customer service quantity of calls, perceived customer service quality, market research, product development, competitive intelligence, brand awareness, sales conversions and/or any other objective)
* Policies for social media (by product and industry types)
* Outcomes for use of social media (by time investment to implement, time investment to maintain, personnel investment by number and £ value, and risk factors for issue resolution)
* Technical resources used for social media (everything from hosting to bandwidth allocation, applications, hacks and work-arounds and so on).

From this set of data, we could then produce a form where businesses could specify their business product, targets and objectives, and a set of social media experiences and resources would come up which could then be filtered by time or cost parameters.  It would take a while for best practices to naturally rise to the top, but at least we’d then have a series of methodologies published and accessible in such a way as to adequately inform business managers about the opportunities to be derived from social media.

Part of the problem with being a social media strategist is that I’m dealing with corporates who hear contradictory and often deceptive advice about good social media practice.  I’d like to have a reliable, centralised resource I could call on that could genuinely describe social media best practices.  I’m not confident it will be built but it would at least give us a record of practices over time, and not just an endless stream of advice articles, peppered with generalisations.

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