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What Is Social Media Maturity?

Maturity_blogNearly every technology applied to business processes, from change management software to cyber security, now boasts a maturity model. They’re intended to point out how far a company has gone towards optimizing the use of the technology. Social media is no exception.

State of Social 2015

Among the sources of information on social media maturity today, one stands out. It’s business research and consulting firm Altimeter Group’s paper, “The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Business Transformation.”

The six stages – planning, presence, engagement, formalized, strategic, and converged – describe how companies go from dabbling part-time in social to considering social in every strategic business decision they make in every department. When a company reaches this final, most evolved stage, Altimeter calls it a “social business.”

How Close Are You to Being a Social Business?

How far have you progressed towards complete social media integration? What would your next step be?

Below is a summary of the six stages Altimeter describes, with some additional thoughts from our social analytics perspective here at Simply Measured.

Altimeter, and the web analytics firm At Internet in their own research, both suggest that moving through stages of maturity requires overcoming challenges, such as setting aside resources to hire full-time social media professionals or getting the human resources department thinking about social media in their day-to-day operations. At Internet says you’re as mature as your “weakest link,” the area you most need to grow in.

Six Stages of Social Media Maturity

What makes up the six stages? We’ll start with stage one and the following chart from the Altimeter Group which explains the characteristics of companies at each stage of maturity, looking at the typical resources, initiatives, metrics, and goals for each.

1. Planning – “Listen and Learn”

Summary: In this initial phase, as few as one to two individuals give part-time hours to listening in on social media activity in their company’s industry and competitors.

The result should be a good sense of the influencers, networks, audience demographics, paid strategies, and any tactics that would likely require resources and lead to success, once a company’s social media presence is established.

SM View: Most companies pass rapidly through this phase but actually should never quite leave it. Keeping a pulse on baseline social metrics for your industry and strategies employed always serves your strategic planning efforts.

Altimeter Group’s six stages of social media maturity and the key characteristics of each.
Altimeter Group’s six stages of social media maturity and the key characteristics of each.

2. Presence – “Stake Our Claim”

Summary: Here is where the company goes from planning to action.

They will make some calculated additions to their existing marketing efforts, such as launching a Twitter account or a blog, based upon initial research.

Little effort is made to set up metrics and tracking since the main goal of this phase is to produce content and establish a unified personality on social. Internal governance is huge as there is a need to create only a reasonable number of social accounts with common branding, rather than every arm of the company coming up with their own page or channel.

SM View: Making sure you have the resources and know-how to launch a broad-reaching, productive, and sustainable social media program that supports your business vision is well worth the effort.

Knowing what you’re getting into and what you can expect to get back from in it in the next month, quarter, or six months will pay off as your program grows.

3. Engagement – “Dialog Deepens Relationship”

Summary: This is the stage where social media takes its place as an essential part of the customer life cycle. Tactics include creating valuable content that sparks a feeling of community with the target audience, answering customer inquiries, or educating them on your product, and regularly sharing results in terms of business value.

As part of this increased exposure, companies at this stage develop a social media policy with guidelines on content and triage of customer issues, in addition to dividing up responsibilities on social among employees.

SM View: What an exciting phase! There is so much data to organize and use for optimization.

We recommend gathering data right away and making a schedule for reporting and analysis on your efforts. You can even bake the importance of analysis into your social media policy. You can instill the habit of studying your results, company-wide, right from the start.

As we say at Simply Measured, data or it didn’t happen.

The Altimeter Group offers a number of helpful visuals, including this chart of typical resources, initiatives, metrics, and goals for each stage of social media maturity.
The Altimeter Group offers a number of helpful visuals, including this chart of typical resources, initiatives, metrics, and goals for each stage of social media maturity.

4. Formalized – “Organize for Scale”

Summary: Organizing for scale means trying to contain the wildfire of interest in social in three different ways: (1) through executive sponsorship supporting an internal strategist or agency setting policy, (2) by creating a centralized “Center of Excellence” from which best practices are created and shared, or (3) by establishing organization-wide governance by sorting through which departments or people manage and pay for social media at the company.

Altimeter mentions five components of social business governance to address: policies, processes, playbook, technologies, and training.

SM View: No matter what route an organization takes — perhaps mixing executive sponsorship with a hub and spoke model — Altimeter emphasizes the importance of tying the company’s efforts to larger business goals at all times.

By doing so, companies ensure that the essential purpose of social is clear and it remains a valuable resource to the company. We agree! We believe that social must tie to larger business objectives to be a valued resource in any organization.

5. Strategic – “Become a Social Business”

Summary: On the way to becoming a social business, a company’s executives have seen the power of social to impact overall business goals and now want to integrate social into every department in the company.

They’re willing to set aside the resources to do so and expect regular reporting on social’s success from leaders in each department.

An example of company-wide social integration is the finance department using internal social networks to provide context for discussion around expenses and budget.

SM View: We love this vision, where multiple minds and voices are shared by communities being created.

Altimeter emphasizes the challenge to manage and learn from the data being created by these many communities and how regular sharing of information must be established through scheduled meeting or reporting.

Here is where education on analysis, reporting efficiency, and consistency across the company can really pay off.

Altimeter Group’s chart shows how different company departments can integrate social media into their day-to-day workflow.
Altimeter Group’s chart shows how different company departments can integrate social media into their day-to-day workflow.

6. Converged – “Business Is Social”

Summary: Here is the zen-like state where the company doesn’t really point out that their integrating social into a process, much like we don’t point out that we use the phone to communicate. Social is just a way work gets done. There is no separate social business strategy. Digital marketing always works seamlessly with social, including paid, owned, and earned efforts.

SM View: High fives to every company that achieves this state. It’s certainly the future. We like the idea of social everywhere since we know that bringing people together and allowing them to connect, collaborate, share, and shout makes for a stronger community and stronger business.

Are You on Track to Be a Social Business?

What did these six stages bring up for you? Fear, anxiety, or heel-clicking happiness? We like the way the Altimeter Group gave the advance stages some close focus, even if they are aspirational for most companies.

Their vision of a social business is inspiring because it helps more customers and employees be a part of every company’s success.

Bridget Quigg

Bridget Quigg

Hello, fellow Marketeers. My job at Simply Measured is to tell Kevin and Lucy how awesome they are at running the blog. Because, they are.

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