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Can You Scale Social Media?

Note: This post appeared on the Sysomos blog last week but I thought it was interesting enough to share with MET readers. I recently ran into the head of social media for a consumer-facing company, and asked about the challenges of scale and whether there were ways to do it other than adding more people. It seems the answer has yet to be determined.

As more companies embrace social media, a reality is the amount of time and effort required to nurture, support and expand activity begins to expand.

Blog posts need to be written, external blogs need to be monitored and commented on, and shared; Twitter has to be updated, conversations need to happen (often in real-time, 24×7) and followers/friends need to be managed and monitored; content and updates for Facebook have to happen and be managed; and videos need to be created and uploaded; and the list goes on.

The question is: how you support all of this activity? If the answer is simply adding more people, then social media programs become increasingly more expensive, making it more difficult to achieve ROI. In the short-term, this is a strategy adopted by many companies because they’re scrambling to keep up. As a result, they don’t have the resources or time to create new, more efficient ways to manage their social media activities.

So, what’s the solution? How do you scale your social media programs without scaling your expenses?

There are two reasonable and feasible answers.

First, you leverage technology as much as possible without creating an automated social media machine that spits out content with no personality or people behind it. This happens by using social media monitoring and measurement services, as well as tools that let you update multiple social media platforms at the same time such as Ping.fm. This lets you stay real and have conversations led by a small group of employees, while technology powers much of the behind-the-scenes work.

The second approach is engaging people within the organization beyond your social media team. The social media team acts as a quarterback, while encouraging employees to create a healthy amount of the content needed to maintain a vibrant social media presence.

For example, blog posts can be written by a variety of people willing to share their insight and domain expertise. IBM, for example, has more than 13,000 internal bloggers, who operate using 12 straightforward rules. Employees can also be involved in support Twitter, Facebook and other social media activity. This can be done by participating within corporate-run tools or their personal accounts.

In a sense, companies can outsource social media to employees rather than having a large social media team that tries to do everything.

So, the answer to the question of whether social media can scale is “yes” – although it does require an embrace of technology and internal resources.

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