The 3 Stages of Social Media Maturity


Mashable recently carried the following article from me, looking at the 3 stages of social media maturity:

Exactly where social media lives within a company depends largely on what goals have been set for social media. And these objectives are in turn usually a function of how far along a business is on the adoption curve.

The argument about marketing or PR “owning” social media is shortsighted. It’s more important to identify future objectives and develop a culture of social thinking inside the organization.

As social behaviors and technologies become more embedded into all aspects of business, smart companies are looking as far up the adoption curve as possible. This means getting beyond what often passes for social media marketing to a more holistically social way of thinking about marketing, customer service, stakeholder management, employee engagement, product innovation, risk management and much more.

That’s a lot to chew on, so for simplicity, here’s how I see the journey, broken down into three rough stages of maturity (though actual adoption cycles of the elements of social media will differ for everyone).

1. Develop Channels
In the first stage of maturity, organizational goals for social media may be unclear, and linked to marketing or PR outcomes. A basic presence on relevant social platforms that is informally managed and/or created on an ad-hoc “campaign” basis will be expected to generate reach for awareness purposes. As this first stage develops, internal advocates and/or agency partners may help implement a more formal process for publishing content, managing conversations or aligning with other marketing activity. Influencer outreach may extend traditional PR tactics, and further extend conversations and awareness.

At this stage there are usually a small number of internal advocates fitting in social around their other duties, owned by marketing with input from PR (or vice versa).

Many companies stop at this level of participation, because the second stage of social media maturity means getting past the channel mentality and starting to apply real social thinking.

2. Streamline
Goals such as community building, reputation and risk management, advocacy and social CRM enter the lexicon. In larger companies, disparate activities in different business units or geographies are brought together under a common strategy.

By now there is some organizational weight (and an annual budget) behind a company’s social media effort. Marketing and PR are working together closely, with one discipline taking ownership. In some cases a clearly defined split of responsibilities can work, but it’s usually harder for all parties to deliver high impact work in this framework. Either way, it’s essential that input and representation from sales, customer service, legal and operations are part of the organizational model for social. A specialist agency can help balance stakeholder interests and advise on best practices at this stage.

The end of this second stage may see specialist social media roles being created internally, and gradual adoption of social tools and techniques across the business may start to occur.

3. Social Becomes Native
This leads into the third, and most evolved stage of social media adoption. Objectives for social media will permeate additional areas of the business: social intelligence, internal collaboration and efficiency improvement, social insights and innovation through to advanced advocacy programs, consumer and influencer collaboration, even integration with legacy technology.

By this stage, social media will cease to be centered in marketing and instead seep into the cracks of the company and its culture.