Monday, April 6, 2009

Get A Grip: How much will it cost to run?

Twitter is free. That's the part that usually hooks people. "Whoa! Free access to millions of people who are just sitting around waiting to do our bidding! Let's do it!"

Then this excited person skips lightly to wherever the web team (or web person) sits and shares this fantastic new insight.... only to be crushed by the lack of enthusiasm in the web person. You might see frozen smile or the rolling eyes and probably assume that person thinks you are an idiot.

Let me fill you in on what's really going on inside that web person's head....

*frozen smile* "Great, they've discovered Twitter. Now I have to maintain that on top of the 50 other random requests I get from you people every day plus the stuff I'm actually committed to doing in order to keep my job... and, of course, there's the stupid custom code that blew up about 10 minutes ago that I'm trying to band-aid back together with digital duct tape and spit so that the site doesn't go down...." *eyes rolling* ..."And you think I should drop everything to start tweeting I-don't-know-what because no one gives me any content."

Most often it's not arrogance... it's panic overlayed and mellowed by being really tired.

What does this all have to do with cost? The biggest cost you will have (assuming you aren't reinventing the wheel by creating your own version of Twitter because you can't stand the thought of people interacting on a site that isn't your own) is in human resources. If you dump this on the web person described above, you will get negligible (if any) response. He or she is probably juggling too much already to do it properly.

Hire a full-time "tweeter"? Probably not. What does that job description look like anyway? Alternatives? One organization I ran across took a bold move to make this happen -- though the solution had some problems.

This organization identified the web site as central to doing business and demanded that social media become part of everyone's job -- basically a small, controlled crowdsourcing of this task, extending well beyond Twitter into participation in other social networks and blogging. You train everyone about social media culture and etiquette and give them talking points. This gives your organization a diverse group of voices all pointing toward a single set of coordinated tasks and goals. Sound strategy.

Here's the problem: Not everyone in the organization thought that they had bandwidth for another responsibility and they definitely didn't think that "tweeting" was a good use of their valuable time. Others had personal presences on these social networks -- some rather extensive -- and they weren't anxious to mix business with personal. Others were straight-out technophobes (or just nervous perfectionists), afraid of "doing it wrong".

Here's what happened: The efforts were lackluster. People did only what they were specifically told to do and tended to do it only when told to do it... by their immediate supervisors. These supervisors weren't all completely bought into the strategy or sophisticated about social media and so the specific instructions were not always coordinated or strategic. The problems snowballed to the point where the strategy just couldn't work anymore. Responsibility for the social media efforts once again fell to small group of "web people" and consequently fell far short of both stated organizational goals and its real potential for effective outreach.

I still think this is a useful strategy, but I'd suggest some adjustments:
  • The supervision and management of this task needs to be constant and strong. If there needs to be a full-time person anywhere, it should be the manager of the effort rather than the "tweeters".

  • A 2-hour briefing about online etiquette won't do it -- education needs to be constant as well. Everything makes sense in the briefing... the questions come up when people sit down and start to apply what they learned.

  • There needs to be a constant sharing of what different people are doing, what information and insights they are uncovering, and best practices. People can't just go back to their desks and do this in isolation.

  • This might have worked better if people came into the organization more experienced with (and enthusiastic about) web. While this would have been an unreasonable expectation ten years ago, it's becoming more reasonable with every wave of people graduating from college.
It's going to be a significant outlay of time and will impact the rest of your business.

I know I started out writing about costs and seemed to devolve quickly into whining about human resources again. It's a constant theme in this series because it is the fundamental barrier you are facing. It takes a lot to maintain these presences the way they are need to be maintained in order to "move the needle" on your overall web strategy. Human resources cost a lot, at every step -- the person doing the work, the person managing him or her, and the organizational resources needed to support this person.

The tools are generally low cost or free. Your costs are in the craftsmen.

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