The Three Phases of Social Media Adoption for Businesses

Working in the social media space for seven years has given me a unique vantage point to observe how businesses adopt the medium. Normally, it’s the marketing or PR folks that are first to build a presence on social networks. Then the customer service department begins to play a role as they respond to people complaining about their brand. Finally, the sales, business development and evangelism teams start to leverage social media for their relationship building needs. Most businesses are still in Phase One even though their audience tends to be in Phase Three. In this post I’ll explain why that is and recommend some ways in which companies can change the model.

Phase One – Broadcast (Marketing & PR)

Marketing and PR is the natural fit to lead the charge onto the relatively new medium of social media. They are the ones that own the company’s website and existing online presence. That being said, marketing is a function that carries a lot of baggage that can inhibit effective usage of social media. Traditionally, the role of marketing has been to build creative campaigns and then buy media so people can see those campaigns. Marketing has always been about broadcasting a message rather than engaging in a conversation. Most of the time, this means that the goal of marketing on social media is to build a Facebook Page or Twitter Profile, with as many fans/followers as possible, and then post marketing messages to that audience. It’s important for businesses to create this kind of presence and publishing strategy on social networks but, stopping there means you aren’t really leveraging the true power of social media.

Phase Two – Reactive Engagement (Customer Service)

After marketing has built a presence on social media, the business starts to realize that their customers are talking about them on these same social networks. It’s the job of customer service to keep people happy so they are forced onto the social web. This is important, since the customer who is complaining about your brand on Twitter is reaching far more people that the guy bad mouthing your product at the bar. The customer support team keeps an eye out for mentions of the brand online and reaches out where it makes sense. As a consumer, it’s convenient to have a company respond to my Tweet rather than forcing me to call their 1-800 number but can you really classify this as building ‘social’ relationships?

Phase Three – Proactive Relationship Building (Sales & Business Development)

Companies have always dedicated resources to proactive one-on-one relationship building. This normally falls to the sales reps, business development guys and evangelists. In the new book, To Sell is Human, Dan Pink makes the case that one in every 9 American workers serve in the sales function. This type of relationship building is also where social media offers many more advantages than traditional media:

  • Your company can easily find the right people to engage with since the whole world is publishing their interests and bio information on the social web.
  • People are used to interacting with strangers and light acquaintances on social networks.
  • Interactions on social media can be tracked and stored making it easier to manage many relationships at the same time.

That being said, most businesses are not using social networks for this purpose. The sales function has been left out of the social media revolution and that’s one of the reasons we built Socedo. Almost all of today’s tools and resources have focused on the first and second phases of social media adoption, but that is quickly changing. We’ve seen a movement in the last couple years where many thought leaders are demystifying the tactics of social selling. New tools and technologies are also being built to help your employees identify and build relationships with the right individuals that can make an impact on the business’s bottom line. The first two phases of social media adoption are largely about building exposure and positive sentiment towards your brand. Phase three is all about driving real people through a pipeline to a point of conversion or revenue.


The key to leveraging social media to its fullest potential is to focus on all three functions evenly. The last phase is where social media can drive the largest impact and it’s normally the most under-utilized. As a business leader, think about how all three functions can work together to drive a social media strategy. If that is too daunting, then really evaluate which function can drive the most ROI for your business.

  • Phase 1 is normally the right focus for consumer businesses focusing on wide exposure and low touch sales.
  • Phase 2 can be the right focus for businesses where the brand is already well known and there is already a lot of chatter about your products online.
  • Phase 3 should be the starting point for businesses with a specific target audience and high value sales (most B2B companies fit here).

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