Stephen Covey, author of many best-selling books—including his most famous work, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (RosettaBooks, 2nd edition, 2009), died at the age of 79 on July 16. While his book, first published in 1990, was written well before the age of social media, I have found his tenets, as a principle-centered approach to solving personal and professional challenges, to be highly relevant in the development of a fully formed and highly effective corporate social media strategy. To outline how to apply Covey's Seven Habits to social media strategy, I have rearranged them from their original order to demonstrate how they best apply today.
- Begin with the end in mind. Social media is a hot topic within companies today. It is tempting to jump right in and figure it out as you go. But like any part of your business strategy, you must think through how social media channels will enable you to achieve your given business objectives. In thinking about your end-game at the beginning, your social media investments will serve your strategic goals with greater clarity of purpose. No doubt you'll learn a lot along the way, but at least you'll know where you desire to end up before starting on your journey.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Traditional business communications has long employed the interruption model to get messages in front of target audiences. But social media is about engaging with your audience in relevant ways within the circles in which they travel. An important early step in your journey should be to employ social media listening tactics to get an understanding of the types of conversations taking place about your market and brand and with others topics of interest to your company. Tools you can use to listen range from very simple ones, like Google Reader, to more robust tools such as HootSuite, and on up to wide-net tools such as Radian6 and others.
- Think win-win. Authenticity and transparency are the watchwords within social media. Push communications are less effective here. Think about the value you can provide others, and how you can mine their contributions to add value to yours. Thinking win-win from the outset can help you avoid some common traps in applying broadcast thinking to the social media sphere.
- Put first things first. The social media world is full of tempting “shiny objects” begging for your time, attention and resources. Thinking about your end-game helps you prioritize and stay on track with your strategy. Get some early wins, learn and expand, rather than diluting your efforts too early in the game by reacting to every new tool or social outlet that comes along.
- Be proactive. Things happen quickly in social media. In some cases, social media time means minutes, not days. Be proactive about how you work within social media by thinking through your triage process. Be prepared to respond to issues, both positive and negative, in very quick fashion.
- Synergize. Social media is a communication channel that allows you to develop and share content in many forms and formats. To maximize your resources, think holistically about all pieces of content you develop to fully exploit them via various channels. If you create a whitepaper, for example, have one of your experts record the highlights of the paper for your YouTube channel. Repurpose the key points in a guest blog entry. Offer the paper up as a call to action in an email campaign—and so on. Synergize your content for maximum impact and return.
- Sharpen the saw. The great thing about the social media space is that people are very open to sharing, connecting and building on each other's thoughts and ideas. Keep your saw sharp by constantly learning new ways to leverage this brave new world, to advance your strategy and to serve your audiences with differentiated and relevant content that benefits them as well.