I get to talk to a lot of companies about their talent acquisition. Specifically, about how to use social media in augmenting their reach and effectiveness in an ever-more connected world. The overwhelming thing I see is that everyone is afraid of doing it wrong. No one wants to think they backed the wrong horse and wasted their time and resources.

But in reality, all companies go through the same stages in developing their social media strategy and campaign tools. It is an evolution, and knowing where you are within the arc can help you understand what you need to do well and where you’re heading next.

Stage 1: Fear and Mistrust

Indicator: “Social media is for 14-year-old kids who want to talk about their cats and complain about their parents!”

Luckily, you just don’t see this much anymore.

Stage 2: Cautious Interest

Indicator: “Everyone I know is on social media, including my mom and her mom, so maybe there’s something to this.”

This is classic marketer thinking: I don’t know how, but if everyone is in one place, there’s a marketing opportunity here. Maybe at this stage someone starts reading articles and wonders if it would be possible to manage an effective social media strategy on a shoestring budget.

Stage 3: Toe In Water

Indicator: “Did we get any response to our Facebook post this month?”

The company launches a social media pilot project. Every week or month, something that may or may not be related to the company will get pushed out with all the expectations of a moonshot. There will be a bit of a letdown when that occasional post generates almost no response, but perhaps someone will keep slogging away, throwing content up to see what gets anyone’s attention. All of your analytics will be based on what the platform tells you they are, with no independent verification. At this stage, someone suggests linking to the social media channel from the website.

Stage 4: Diving In

The evolution of man to post to Facebook

Indicator: “How many fans and followers do we have this week?”

The company hires (or assigns) some dedicated support for social media, maybe even managing more than one social media channel (Twitter and Facebook, for example). At this stage, someone may wonder if there’s value in sharing items that don’t directly link back to the career site or corporate site. Later in this same stage, there will be a drive to post something (anything!) every single day, whether it’s useful to the end user or not (“Can we post something about how it’s Arbor Day next week?”). You may have even developed a simple playbook for what to do when someone makes a negative comment on your platform.

Stage 5: Getting Serious

Indicator: “Can we reuse that content other ways? And when would we push it out?”

In this stage, the company is looking at social media not as a collection of siloed channels, but as an ecosystem whose content, message and fans can be shared. There might be an editorial calendar set up so that marketing and TA and social media can see in advance what kind of messages are going to be pushed out and how they can link back to non-social events. Conversations will start about what the content mix should be in terms of owned, found and earned content. The team may have some free or rudimentary tools to help manage logistics and oversee the conversation.

Stage 6: Going Pro

Indicator: “Sounds great. What conversion rate would we expect?”

At this stage, you are generating content for a specific targeted segment, and that content will lead to a specific call to action. You can track what post or channel led someone to that content and whether or not they converted. Your editorial team is focused far less on overall follower numbers and more on how much engagement and conversion a given post receives. Your organization may have started to use specific platforms for specific audiences and invested in a deeper, more complete enterprise tool to collect, manage, distribute and measure social activity.

Stage 7: Showing Off

Indicator: Your name keeps popping up on recruitment sites

Your goal here is optimization of all steps, which involves reviewing the analytics and making adjustments based on what type of content each segment is reacting to. You’re also looking to anticipate needs and leverage fans by trying to develop a true talent community, where people are talking and learning from each other and you. Or you are creating multiple accounts within each account to better talk to each audience segment. These accounts are becoming “must read” accounts within each industry.

Just because you’re at stage 3 doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Every company went through stage 3 at some point, and now they are managing fan bases and turning that interest into real passion. Given time and commitment, you can reach that stage, too.

Just keep evolving.

Title image by Leonard Eisenberg at http://www.evogeneao.com/

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