Six hot tips for starting a social media revolution

When I began doing social media for Southwest Airlines in 2006, it was just me and my buddy Brian Lusk trying to find time to manage a corporate blog in addition to our full time jobs. When I left, nearly five years later, we had a seven-person emerging media team with a simply but lofty mission: World Domination!

Or, more subtly put, complete integration of social media into every internal and external communication effort in a way that made sense for our company and met customer expectations.

Clearly, that was a long-term goal that would take years to truly accomplish. But the mission was clear, the players were in position, and, from top to bottom, the company had accepted that social media was neither a novelty nor a silver bullet, but a cultural shift that would play an important role in the future of communication and commerce.

Many companies are “doing social media,” but few are embracing it as wholeheartedly. They have a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, and maybe even a blog, but they are leveraging them primarily for gimmicks and feel-good self-promotion with little integration into overall communication strategies.

Of course, we all have to start somewhere. But at some point all companies will need to make the leap from simply “doing social media” to embracing it as a primary driver of daily communication.

Why? Aside from its near complete permeation into our everyday lives, it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s highly measurable and, contrary to popular belief, it gives you more control over your messages than perhaps you’ve ever had.

That transition will require time, but also deliberate action and persuasion on the part of practitioners. For those charged with that responsibility, here are a few tactics that we used at Southwest Airlines to drive the philosophical change required to truly integrate social media. They may sound basic, but with all of the hype around social media, the basics often seem to get overlooked.

1. Create reports that make jaws drop

I’ve written about measurement and reporting before, but I can’t stress it enough. If you look close enough, you can find so many interesting things to report about your social media progress. Yet so many create dreadfully boring reports consisting of every graph and chart Radian6 can produce (no offense to my friends at Radian6) without making connections to the bigger picture. If you dig deep enough, something is bound to make your jaw drop. And once you’ve found that jaw dropping information, shout it from the roof tops!

2. Launch an internal PR assault

Sell your social media story at every company luncheon, meeting, summit, or retreat, and in every newsletter, magazine, and memo. Get people excited, recognize those who are supporting the movement, and let others know how they can be a part of it.

3. Make your executives love it

Unless you work for Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare, don’t expect your CEO or leader to “get” social media. Why should they? Even those of us who spend every waking hour thinking about it are still trying to figure it all out. As social media practitioners, it is your responsibility to win their hearts and minds. Scare them, hypnotize them, bring in a third party to make your case (I’m available if you need me ), but do whatever you have to do to get them onboard!

4. Get your infrastructure in place

The question of “who owns social media” rages on. Is it Marketing? Is it PR? Is it HR? Is it CR? Certainly everyone has a stake in it, and they are all intrinsically linked. But someone needs to drive the effort. We did our best social media work at Southwest Airlines once we were able to break out on our own and think about social media without the filter of traditional PR and Marketing. Our autonomy allowed us to get in the trenches with our Customers and focus on what they were thinking; to operate on our own schedule; and to move with the speed and agility required for social media success.

5. Social media is not for entry-level employees

Fear still appears to be a primary factor preventing companies from truly embracing social media. And if they’ve tasked a 22 year-old intern to manage their efforts, I don’t blame them. You wouldn’t send an intern to speak to The Wall Street Journal on your behalf, and, likewise, you shouldn’t send them to broadcast messages to the entire world online. Social media deserves seasoned and trusted employees. At Southwest Airlines, our Emerging Media Team had 70 combined years of service to the airline in almost every field. I was a nearly 10-year employee who knew our customer and public relations inside and out. Brian Lusk was a 30-year veteran of the industry with Rain Man-like knowledge of aircraft, operations, and aviation history. Christi Day had five relatives that worked at Southwest Airlines; she was practically raised at the company and knew the culture instinctively. We made mistakes, and we got our hands slapped occasionally; but, together, we had the knowledge, experience, judgment and trust to do the job well.

6. Bring it!

Social media isn’t always easy. You have to be willing to fight, to put yourself in some tough situations, and to personally take it on the chin to protect and defend your company, both internally and externally. But those white-knuckle moments are almost always the most revealing and rewarding.

So many organizations still view social media as a risk, a burden and a side show. But it truly is a gift. As social media practitioners, the onus is on us to inspire change and revolutionize corporate communication.
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Categories: Sales & Marketing