How to Integrate Social into Technology Platforms, Marketing Programs and Business Processes

The Social Integration Journey

Most organizations go through six stages of Social Integration Journey. They start with inaction, then move to incubation and experiment with standalone platforms and tactical programs, before they are ready to integrate social into their technology platforms, marketing programs and business processes.

This simple Social Integration Journey framework helps business leaders not only contextualize their own experience with social, but also plan to extend it. It helps them map which stage of social integration they are at, then build a case to integrate social into their most important platforms, programs, and processes, to drive strategic change and real ROI.

Here are the six stages of the Social Integration Journey:

1. Create a static campaign or country microsite
2. Create an official page organization page on Facebook or Twitter
3. Create a Facebook contest or a Twitter influencer program
4. Integrate social into technology platforms
5. Integrate social into marketing programs
6. Integrate social into business processes

How to build a case for social integration?

It’s important to realize that different stages in the Social Integration Journey are most appropriate for different organizations in different contexts. So, we need to assess the organization’s maturity, motivations and money (budgets) to successfully build a case for social integration.

1. Maturity: We start by assessing the present stage of social integration for the organization and relevant others and the highest stage the organization can transition to, within 12 months.

2. Motivation: Then, we assess the organization’s reasons to invest in integration, including the objectives and decision criteria for the organization and the triggers and barriers for the main decision makers.

3. Money: Finally, we assess the investment required and the organization’s capacity to invest, over 12 months. We recommend planning for a phase-wise approach to transition to a higher stage, with at least 3 to 6 months to consolidate investments at each stage.

We need to use different messages to successfully build a case for social integration at each stage in the Social Integration Journey. Let’s look at these messages.

Stage 1: Create a static campaign or country microsite

In stage 1, organizations create campaign or country microsites to push out information on a campaign or a topic.

Typically, these microsites have limited content and a short shelf-life (my rule of thumb is six pages for six weeks). This fascination with microsites can be traced back to the days when marketers created Flash-based campaign microsites to support TVCs. These microsites were heavy on experience but light on content and had the same shelf life as the TVC, after which they were either preserved for award entries or taken offline. I’m relieved to see that most marketers have moved beyond the campaign microsite, but, surprisingly, many MNCs haven’t created country specific corporate websites in India, China and Japan.

Key Messages for Stage 1
1) The internet has serious scale in Imost Asia markets with 450+ million netizens in China and 100+ million in India.
2) The website is usually the first and often one of the most important sources of information on the organization.
3) Most other peer organizations have created a well-designed country or campaign website, so it’s simply expected.

Case Study: GE Plug Into the Smart Grid
In 2009, GE created an award-winning Plug Into the Smart Grid microsite with augmented reality functionality, but the website had limited content, and GE abandoned it after a few weeks.

Stage 2: Create an official page on Facebook or Twitter

In stage 2, organizations create Facebook or Twitter accounts to push out news updates about a topic. Typically, most updates include links to news items and engagement with followers is limited.

When Facebook and Twitter become mainstream, marketers rushed to create a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, without really thinking about what they will do with it. Even when marketers increased the fan count on their Facebook page by buying ads, the fans rarely engaged with the brand. Even as the first wave of marketers are seeking ways to increase engagement, the next wave of marketers are still setting up their social media presence.

Key Messages for Stage 2
1) Social media has serious scale with 750+ million on Facebook, 200+ million on Twitter, 150+ million on Weibo, 100+ million on Renren, and a high number of these social network users are in Asia.
2) Both B2C and B2B influencers are active on the social media and engaging with organizations.
3) Social media is cost effective as creating official pages on Facebook, Twitter, Weibo is free.

Case Study: Anand Mahindra on Twitter
Anand Mahindra, the highly respected Vice Chairman of the diversified Mahindra Group, uses Twitter to weigh in on topics of public interest and even answer customer complaints in public.

Case Study: Li Dongsheng on Sina Weibo
Li Dongsheng, Deputy to the People’s Congress and President of TCL Group, engages with consumers and citizens on Sina Weibo and has more than 2 million followers.

Case Study: Ching’s Secret
Chinese packaged food brand Ching’s Secret has attracted more than 8,50,000 fans on Facebook in India by sharing recipes and engaging fans in witty conversations.

Stage 3: Create a Facebook contest or a Twitter influencer program

In stage 3, organizations run tactical, short-term, channel-specific campaigns to increase engagement, like a Facebook contest, a Twitter influencer program, or a blogger program.

As marketers seek to increase engagement on social media platforms, they often start with tactics that are specific to the platform, like a Facebook contest or a Twitter influencer program. While these tactical programs are successful in engaging fans and followers in the short term, they fail to exploit the full potential of social media. Most marketers are still in this stage, but some are ready to move beyond.

Key Messages for Stage 3
1) Presence is not enough, organizations need to engage influencers on social media.
2) To engage influencers, organizations need to create regular content, influencer outreach and contests.
3) Engaging influencers is the first step towards converting them into advocates.

Case Study: Identifying influencers via Klout
Klout has emerged as the predominant platform for measuring influence across the social web, primarily on Twitter, but also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and blogs. Klout has recently started the Klout Perks program to help corporations run infuencer programs.

Stage 4: Integrate social into technology platforms

In stage 4, the website is reimagined as a social hub, by adding social features into the website itself, or by integrating website with social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare and YouTube.

After much speculation that the Facebook page might replace the brand website, sophisticated marketers are beginning to view the website as their social hub. Marketers are integrating social into web platforms by adding content creation features like blogs, wikis, photo-sharing, and video-sharing; content-curation features like commenting, voting, reviews, and ratings; and connection features like profiles, groups, activity streams, and leader boards. Marketers are also integrating websites with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn by adding social sign-on, sharing buttons, profile boxes, and activity stream widgets to their websites. Some marketers are even reimagining the website as an aggregation of their social media activity streams. In essence, consumers have become used to an integrated experience across social web, mobile web and mobile applications, enabled by open application ecosystems from both social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and mobile platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry).

Key Messages for Stage 4
1) Maximize the impact of your content across channels by uploading content to YouTube/ SlideShare, embedding it on blog/ website, then sharing it on Facebook/ Twitter/ LinkedIn.
2) Use API code snippets, widgets and RSS feeds to integrate social networks into website to improve search optimization and discovery.
3) Enable Facebook/ Twitter/ LinkedIn social logins to customize website experience based on the user’s social graph and simplify content sharing across the user’s social networks.

Case study: Nike+
To realize its purpose of helping each one of us find the athlete within us and transform running from a solitary pursuit into a social activity, Nike created the Nike+ app and community. A sensor tracks running data via the iPod or iPhone and syncs it with the Nike+ community. Nike+ members have run 37 million miles so far.

Stage 5: Integrate social into marketing programs

In stage 5, organizations design community-centric integrated marketing programs to connect people around a shared social heartbeat.

Some sophisticated marketers are beginning to realize that their marketing programs are most effective when they don’t only use social platforms, but also become social at the core. As a result, marketers are moving from TVC-centric integrated marketing campaigns to community-centric integrated marketing campaigns. They are talking about shifting the focus of their marketing “from moments to movements” and engaging in purpose-inspired benefit-driven brand-building. In essence, they are talking about designing powerful purpose-inspired platforms and programs to inspire, organize and energize people around a shared purpose.

Key Messages for Stage 5
1) Convert influencers into advocates by designing integrated marketing programs around a social heartbeat that connects the brand values with the influencers’ passions.
2) Build owned media permission assets by creating a long-term community platform to organize influencers around the social heartbeat.
3) Trigger participation and action by creating a series of interconnected programs around the social heartbeat to energize influencers.

Case Study: Starbucks
Starbucks has created a series of programs to realize its vision of being the “third place”, of the hub of local communities. In 2008, Starbucks created the V2V volunteer network to connect people and actions around local Starbucks stores. In 2008, Starbucks also offered a free coffee to people who voted in the US presidential elections. In 2009, Starbucks created the Pledge 5 campaign to encourage young people to volunteer. In 2010, Starbucks created a campaign to encourage its consumers to switch from paper cups to reusable travel mugs. In 2011, Starbucks donated $5 million and asked consumers to donate $5 to support small businesses across USA and create jobs. Starbucks has also tied up with Bono’s Red initiative to donate 5 cents for every drink to save lives in Africa.

Case Study: Pepsi Refresh Project
As part of its commitment to “deliver sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet”, PepsiCo is giving grants worth $20 million per year to ideas that can refresh the world.

Case Study: Tata Tea Jaago Re
In 2008, Tata Tea tied up with non-profit Janaagraaha to inspire almost 700,000 Indians to register to vote. Since then, Jaago Re (“wake up”) has evolved into an active civic action community.

Case Study: Mahindra Spark the Rise
To fulfill its purpose to enable its stakeholders to rise, Mahindra Group has created the Spark the Rise platform to share ideas that can propel innovation, entrepreneurship, and positive change in India.

Case Study: Dell Go Green Challenge in India
In 2010, Dell created a challenge for design students and others to share ideas on how to redesign, reuse and recycle gadgets to make them go green.

Stage 6: Integrate social into business processes

In stage 6, organizations leverage social media as a tool for business transformation by integrating it with sales, support and innovation processes.

The most sophisticated business leaders know that social media is most effective when they leverage it for doing the right things, instead of merely saying the right things. Organizations like Dell, Starbucks, and GE are using social media as a tool for business transformation by integrating it with their sales, support, and innovation processes. Early experiments to crowdsource innovation are particularly promising, with Dell Ideastorm, My Starbucks Ideas, and GE Ecomagination Challenge being the most prominent examples.

Key Messages for Stage 6
1) Drive real return on investment by using social to drive business objectives like sales, support and innovation.
2) Improve customer satisfaction by listening and responding to customers at the point of need or demand.
3) Crowd-source innovation by tapping into the wisdom of crowd to discover ideas for product or process innovation.

Case Study: GE Ecomagination and Healthymagination Challenge
As part of its commitment to “imagine and build innovative solutions to environment challenges”, GE has created a $200 million Ecomagination Challenge to fund ideas that can reimagine powering the grid, or powering homes. GE has also created a $100 million Healthymagination Challenge to fund ideas that can accelerate innovations to fight breast cancer, as part of its “shared commitment to create better health for more people together”.

Case Study: Dell Ideastorm
Dell uses customer-driven support community to enable customers to answer each other’s questions. Dell’s support forum has helped it increase customer satisfaction and drive down support costs. Dell uses customer-driven ideation community Dell Ideastorm to listen to customer’s ideas on product improvement and new product development. It has also created an internal ideation platform called Dell Employee Storm to listen to product and process innovation ideas from its own 80000 employees. Finally, Dell has created a social media command center to listen to, classify and respond to social media conversations. It has even trained 900 staff in India via its SMaC university and unconference to use social media for marketing, customer support, recruitment and innovation.

Case Study: VANCL Star social commerce community
On the VANCL Star community, fans of the Chinese apparel brand can open a “store” or a photo blog, showcase their VANCL styles, and even earn a commission of 10% of the profit on sales through the store.

In Summary: Six best practices for social integration

In summary, organizations can use these six best practices to integrate social into their technology platforms, marketing programs and business processes.

Technology Platforms
1. Use the website as a social hub that connects content across channels.
2. Use social networks to build relationships and engage in conversations.

Marketing Programs
3. Create platforms that organize people around a social heartbeat.
4. Create a series of programs that energize people to participate and act.

Business Processes
5. Listen to, classify and respond to conversations on the social web.
6. Create private or public communities for collaboration or co-creation.

Which stage of the Social Integration Journey are you at?