“Social media is one more tool in your marketing toolbox. Social media-based marketing is one more ingredient in your overall mix. Sure, it may have a different set of rules, but then so does copy writing for outdoor versus magazine versus online. Once you’ve learned the new rules, it’s simply an integration problem, and my bet is that you’re already very accomplished as an integrated marketer.”

Dave Evans, ClickZ, Take Control by Letting Go (via)

It is pretty difficult these days to deny that social media has changed the game and introduced a whole new set of rules for engaging your customers in conversation. As Dave Evans so appropriately noted, once you’ve learned the rules, the next step is to integrate social media. When you look at a given function (like marketing) integration can mean providing training for staff in order to make social media part of daily operations alongside other activities. The larger opportunity for leaders and organizations who are ready, is to weave social media into the mix across the organization. While you’re undertaking this integration, it is important to not abandon your proven approaches for the new shiny social media object. It is also important that you not spread yourself too thin trying to do everything all it once. Instead, focus on those social media activities that provide you with the most value.

A study released last week by Wetpaint and Charlene Li at the Altimeter Group shows a correlation between financial success and a high degree of social media engagement for top brands. Included in the research is commentary about steps each company took to become highly-engaged in social media. Leaders like Starbucks, Dell and SAP (disclosure – SAP is a client) are profiled along with rankings of other top brand performers across segments.

Is your organization ready to get serious about embracing about the significant cultural change to truly reap the benefits of using social media to have conversations with your most important audiences? Here at Social Media Group, we’re helping our clients move their social media integration mandates forward. This is applied social media at its best. If you’re ready, here are five steps to tackle along the way:

  1. Develop a clear mission and purpose. Once you’re ready to move beyond experimentation into a deeper integration in your operations, decide what you are trying to achieve using social media. How will you evaluate your success? Make sure this is clear so your executive sponsors and your key internal stakeholders understand.
  2. Start with the leadership of your organization, and then get others involved and invested in success. Truly integrating social media means work across functions – marketing, public relations, product management and human resources, customer support and sales. To achieve that level of integration, an organization’s leadership must understand and be prepared to act on the tremendous opportunity integrated social media can bring.
  3. Define roles, responsibilities and communications processes. Internet communications is dynamic and the social media-fueled conversation happens in real time. Plan ahead to make sure you’ve got your monitoring and response workflows, message creation and internal communication process sorted out. Plan for what you’ll do when things don’t go as you expect, or you find yourself in the midst of a crisis.
  4. Identify some low-hanging fruit for quick wins early in your integration program. Celebrate those wins internally as a way to gain visibility and generate excitement. Share case studies and learn from your mistakes. At this point, much of the work in social media integration is unprecedented. What works for in another organization may not work in yours.
  5. Evaluate your success as you iterate on your approach for constant improvement. It is easiest to start small and build your activities in phases. Because, (as I mentioned above), work in online communications and social media is frequently done in real-time, so you’ll find yourself making decisions as you go, iterating on your approach to incorporate what you learn.

Our client, Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motor Company, celebrated his first anniversary with Ford earlier this month and has begun a series of blog posts about his time with the company and how he has approached integrating social media. On Wednesday, Maggie wrote about the recognition Ford is getting for the incredible progress made to date. The journey continues for Ford and many other organizations who are making bold strides in the shift from social media experimentation towards honest-to-goodness strategic enterprise-wide engagement with social media.