Strategy: Five Steps to Achieve ‘Escape Velocity’ –and Finally Stay out of the Social Media ‘Help Desk’

Escape VelocityOur November Report on the Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist (it helps to have read that first) yielded some surprising findings: these business decision makers are struggling to scale to meet the growing demands of customers and internal business units –while maintaining a very lean team.

One stark reality we learned about the compounding demands is that Corporate Social Strategists are now realizing that they cannot scale: in fact every time we respond to customer complaints in social channels we reinforce that they can get our attention by ‘yelling at their friends’ in public.

They have no choice but to quickly develop scalable business programs, which we call “Escape Velocity” or be rendered in a role that is responding to every fire, and cleaning up messes from ill-fated programs started by Business Units (BU) that lack experience in what is called the dreaded “Social Media Help Desk”.

[As demands from customers and business units compound, the corporate social strategist is at a crossroads: they must scale their program or be relegated to sanitation in the social media help desk]


In my keynote presentation last week at the Social Media Strategies Summit, I presented to a few hundred corporate social strategists some real-world strategies we’ve gleaned from those before them on how to scale and be proactive. Here’s five of them:


Strategy: Five Steps to Achieve Escape Velocity –Stay out of the Social Media Help Desk

  1. Get Proactive: Give Requirements to Business Units –Before They Ask. Many strategists told us they were afflicted by last minute “Give me a Facebook page now! Our campaign launches Monday, if you don’t do it my niece is all over it!” As a result, a proactive stance is required, the strategist must give a list of requirements to the Business Unit before they ask.  This list of requirements should include items such as: Understanding of social media, awareness of current policies, commitment to long-term efforts, a promise to engaging in the tough conversations with customers, tools and resources required, business plan, and understanding how to measure.  By providing these requirements before the BU asks, the strategist can pre-empt last minute requests, and guide stakeholders into a business program with order.
  2. Get to Hub and Spoke Now. We learned that most corporations that are novices in social business were in the ‘Centralized’ formation, then quickly moved to ‘Hub and Spoke’ a scalable formation, if you haven’t, read our latest report on social business maturity to learn more.  The strategist who leaves their organization in the distributed or centralized formation is at risk, as they cannot scale through uncordination or lack of resources, accordingly.  As a result, strategists should quickly move their company into the ‘Hub and Spoke’ model and then Multiple Hub and Spoke formation in rapid succession. Here’s one rich pattern we found during research to quickly end up in the Hub and Spoke model with the strategist in the middle:  start with Governance (policy and executive buy in), then quickly develop a triage and social media Process (see how the US Airforce has developed a blog triage), then immediately launch an ongoing Education program that includes internal sharing and external experts.
  3. Become an Enabler for Business Units –You Can’t Deploy All on Your Own. You can never hire enough community managers or run all the programs for the dozens to hundreds of business units and stakeholders within your company.  Social technologies are designed to be easy-to-use, and therefore implemented by the non-technical.  In order to scale, you must relinquish control over implementing the programs on behalf of the business units, and instead teach them how to roll out their own programs in a safe, and scalable manner.  Yet, don’t expect this to happen overnight, significant hand holding, education, best practices, vendor short listing, and technology support will be required on your behalf.
  4. Deploy Scalable Go To Market Programs –One to One Social Media Does NOT Scale. That’s right.  Social Media does not scale, and don’t let anyone fool you.  The logic stands that your customers will always outnumber the amount of talented community managers you can hire.  As a result, one to one social media programs cannot scale.  As a result, you must invest in programs that leverage the crowd and technologies.  These programs include communities, advocacy programs, Social Media Management Systems (SMMS), and investing  in SCRM initiatives. Update: In the comments Esteban Kolsky points out that automated social media tools will be another choice, see this post describing the benefits and drawbacks.
  5. Quickly Deploy Programs Beyond Marketing –as the Duration of Your Role is Limited. One of the fascinating findings from the report was learning that if these Corporate Social Strategists were successful, they’d work themselves out of a job as social media permeates the organization.  While most strategists are currently in the marketing department, they must quickly think beyond PR and move their programs to support, product innovation, then supply chain management.  The opportunity here is to quickly grow ones career to serve the entire customer lifecycle beyond pre-sales.  Don’t expect your marketing management to appreciate this broader view, but remember that customers don’t care which department you’re in, they just want their problems solved.

Use these five strategies now, to ensure that you stay out of the social media help desk and establish scalable business programs.  Remember, the demands are about to compound exponentially, you must achieve Escape Velocity as soon as possible.

(Attribution: Image from Nasa’s Marshall Space Center)

  • Work themselves out of a job? The social web is constantly evolving, if they are constantly learning the latest and greatest, they will continue to be an asset to their organization.

  • Work themselves out of a job? The social web is constantly evolving, if they are constantly learning the latest and greatest, they will continue to be an asset to their organization.

  • Todd, give the report a read.

    http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/10/report-the-two-career-paths-of-the-corporate-social-strategist-be-proactive-or-become-social-media-help-desk/

    We found that Corporate Social Strategists said that if they are successful, the company will learn how to use these tools –and barely need them.

    It was a shocking revelation, there were audible *GASPS* in the audience when I reported this at my keynote last week.

  • I’m sharing this with my social media team immediately!

  • Agree with your assessment completely. Empowering your partners across the organization helps everyone. Then together, you can share in the technology investment that is necessary for scale!

  • Agree with your assessment completely. Empowering your partners across the organization helps everyone. Then together, you can share in the technology investment that is necessary for scale!

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  • Interesting… perhaps I’m misunderstanding the role of the Social Strategist. But the part where it talks about them moving “on to the next wave of emerging technologies” doesn’t necessarily mean they leave the corporation that currently employs them. I see it as meaning that their job will evolve as new social tools emerge… constantly learning, constantly sharing, constantly improving.

  • Interesting… perhaps I’m misunderstanding the role of the Social Strategist. But the part where it talks about them moving “on to the next wave of emerging technologies” doesn’t necessarily mean they leave the corporation that currently employs them. I see it as meaning that their job will evolve as new social tools emerge… constantly learning, constantly sharing, constantly improving.

  • We agree Todd, their title would be better suited if it were new media specialist or customer strategist –rather than be tool dependent.

  • That is *Exactly* what I wanted to hear. Onwards to #EscapeVelocity

  • J,

    Good entry position on this topic – agree with your conclusion, lack of scale, but you are missing the key point here, something that CRM saw as the solution back in the days we determined it could not scale — automation.

    I know, I know – heresy! wash my mouth with soap! etc.

    Guess what, business are finally getting around to the realization that social media IS just another set of channels, there is value it brings – but automation and self-service plays a bigger role in here than most humans-triumph-over-machine people will ever acknowledge.

    This is something i am exploring already in a few engagements this year. more to come.

    I like your five steps, I’d juts point to self-service, bots, and automation as another way to “scale” SM investments. Just saying.

  • J,

    Good entry position on this topic – agree with your conclusion, lack of scale, but you are missing the key point here, something that CRM saw as the solution back in the days we determined it could not scale — automation.

    I know, I know – heresy! wash my mouth with soap! etc.

    Guess what, business are finally getting around to the realization that social media IS just another set of channels, there is value it brings – but automation and self-service plays a bigger role in here than most humans-triumph-over-machine people will ever acknowledge.

    This is something i am exploring already in a few engagements this year. more to come.

    I like your five steps, I’d juts point to self-service, bots, and automation as another way to “scale” SM investments. Just saying.

  • customer strategist? now that is a name i like…

  • customer strategist? now that is a name i like…

  • Agree that’s worth exploring more, I’ll add it under number four and credit you. I did a cursory piece indicating that automated social media is going to happen (there’s downsides and upsides) in Nov 2009 http://bit.ly/2DFLvx

    I know of at least two SMMS systems that already help automate discussions.

    There’s already an entire industry that’s geared up for this and will switch to the social channel. IVR, in fact the deployment may indeed be easier.

    (This may be a bot responding to you Esteban, and this conversation may be monitored for quality assurance)

  • Agree. How can we integrate this channel such that it is just another channel for marketing, sales, service? Is anyone doing this today with any level of automation?

  • adapting what already exists is actually not that hard, and you will see very quick ramp-up through the next couple of years — if i was smarter, less lazy i’d have known you covered that before — i like you other post as well.

    stay thirsty, my friend.

    good coverage.

    (Kevin: most of the eService, Customer Service vendors of the old-and-boring CRM have the ability to automate this, a lot of them already do – but it is not advertised since most of the Social-Is-Humans people would bury them with attacks – happened in a couple of instances already – so they are just waiting for the right time. More on this coming soon)

  • Terry P.

    I like that too, Esteban. Perhaps customer relationship strategist would be a good fit too.

  • A proactive stance is required of a lot of business owners, because you can’t wait around for others to do the work for you.

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  • Great points Jeremiah: once the Social Media ‘Genie’ is out of its bottle your customers won’t let you put it back. Moving rapidly through from tactical campaigns like promotions, to operational areas like customer support to strategic level where social media is in the DNA of the company culture and integrated into systems as Social CRM thinking and tools evolve will provide a great career path for Social Media specialists.

  • Jeremiah,
    Good steps to take. I think it works in most organizations, unless there is a command and control culture. The hub and spoke model requires open leadership and obviously collaboration. I’m hopeful that the growing demands will help transform old regimes, but we shall see.

    Also, number 4 confirms my thoughts on advocacy and scaling through customer-focused systems.

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  • It’s important to note that the duration of your role is limited. Versatility is key to success.

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  • I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that “every time we respond to customer complaints in social channels we reinforce that they can get our attention by ‘yelling at their friends’ in public.”

    As we first learned through exhaustive TARP research in the 80s, people will complain to others about bad service. This is not new to social media, and it’s not going to stop just because brands decide not to “respond to complaints in social channels.” Personal publishing platforms like Twitter and blogs make it easy to amplify a bad or good service experience and customers will use them whether you are there to respond or not.

    Every negative public exchange is an opportunity to create and amplify a positive corrective response, or at least to gather good data and demonstrate you care about your service level. Contrary to the sentiment above, I suggest there is good reason to encourage customers to complain on whichever channels they prefer. Namely because what is even more insidious are the customers that *don’t* complain because in those cases you have no opportunity to fix the problem. They just stop doing business with you. I posit that it’s better to encourage service via social media — as public and uncomfortable as it might be — than to risk not losing the customer with no opportunity to recover.

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