A small wins strategy: The social web as liner notes

Albums - not just for the music.

Albums - not just for the music.

I’ll say it: Effective participation in the social web is hard. Damn hard.

It requires strategic acumen more akin to leadership (valuing social capital and investing in the necessary competencies to build and leverage it) and execution skills more akin to in-person networking (add value to those you want to reach and do it all the time) than any kind of marketing and communications discipline.

It isn’t free. It isn’t fast. And the worst time to build your social web presence is at the beginning of a campaign, a crisis, or any other time when you want to broadcast and promote.

It’s exactly the same as this truism: The worst time to build a real-life network is when you want a job. Or a sale. Or anything at all. Social systems sniff out those who are out for themselves. They can detect them like a gas leak. And they’ll leave your house posthaste.

So how do you demonstrate the value of the social web in a culture with competing priorities?

Make no mistake about it: Building an effective social web presence is big change in many organizations. It’s hard work to change a culture into one that values online time to listen, converse, and add value for free. It’s also hard to make the kind of sustainable change necessary to do it again and again and all the time.

It’s a cultural issue as much, if not more, than an execution issue. The questions that need to be asked aren’t tactical: What Shall We Tweet or What Shall We Post. They’re strategic: How Shall We Connect and What Shall We Give Away.

For many, that’s a big cultural change that represents a disciplined approach to something very new.

b2_quoteCulture of Discipline: Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action — operating with freedom within a framework of responsibilities — this is the cornerstone of a culture that creates greatness.

– Jim Collins, Good to Great. Stage 3 Input Principle

So it’s best to find small wins when developing a social web presence, and build on it (yes, another leadership principle.) Have a grandiose goal, but start by finding a purpose that adds value to your organization and build on small wins. This is a sustainable approach based on your strategic context.

It seems to me that one of the most potent small wins for an enterprise lies in the very nature of social web itself: You can use the social web to connect. Forget forward facing campaigns, forget ROI. Use it to connect to people doing stuff in your space, and learn.

We forget about this, I think. But it can be just the toe-hold into the social web that enterprises can use to demonstrate value and build upon.

Boil it down even further than large-scale listening. Approach it simply. Like we use album liner notes.

Remember albums? Time was that we’d buy an entire collection of music from an artist who caught our attention via a single song. The album would include liner notes about other projects the supporting musicians, producers, engineers, or others had been involved with. We’d read these liner notes, and we’d buy another album based on what we learned from them. This process would branch us into all kinds of related but ever-growing experiences.

Follow your favorite author, journalist, CEO, or idea person on Twitter (you’ll be surprised who you’ll find on Twitter using Google). Watch those people’s re-tweets, then follow the people attributed. Watch their links (the things they’re finding value in) and subscribe to those blogs. Follow the links in those blogs and subscribe to those podcasts. Start small and manageable, and before you know it you’ll be sending company-wide emails with a relevant piece of industry news, competitive intelligence, or inspirational thinking.

At a former job I used to send out weekly internal email blasts called “Competitive Flash Reports.” It was a simple thing with blurbs and links to relevant industry and competitive news. It became very popular. People referenced bits of information from it in all kinds of meetings and planning sessions. If the social web was around then, it would have served as a veritable advertisement for the power of the social web. If I did it today, I’d put the source (or source-of-the-source) with the blurb. Demonstrating the social web’s value in this way could change the conversation from “I don’t care what people are having for breakfast” into something meaningful.

Small win. Value to the enterprise. Building blocks based on your strategic context.