The Truth is … We Don’t Know

A few years ago, I was in a room with knowledgeable cell phone chip engineers and marketers. They were pouring over data that definitively said that consumers would never want their cell phones to do anything other than conduct voice calls. Fast forward to today, and you can see how wrong that thinking and “data” was.

A post today on ReadWriteWeb highlighted recent data that claims the use of mobile social networks will barely go beyond today’s major players.  From the ABI Research study …

According to a recent online survey* conducted by ABI Research, nearly half (46%) of those who use social networks have also visited a social network through a mobile phone. Of these, nearly 70% have visited MySpace and another 67% had visited Facebook. No other social networking site reached 15% adoption mobile adoption.”

While I don’t question the themes and undertones of the findings at this particular point in the mobile social era, to try to determine how receptive consumers will be to other mobile social networks and how they will use them at this stage is like trying to call who will win the World Series from the first pitch on opening day.

To see the bigger picture, you have to look at the way networks form, consider geosocial patterns around the world (which are behind the US market in many respects) and understand that social is still the great experiment.

No one knows what is going to happen. But, with the speed at which the space is moving, we’ll know more soon enough.

How Many People Does it Take to Staff a Social Program?

How many people does it take to support a social networking program?  It depends. It depends on the size of your company, your industry and how committed your company is to ensuring it’s connected in the important areas that are impacting the company’s future.

Certainly more people join the online discussion each day.  And social networking is the approach used to insert you or your company into the discussion in a way that brings value to the conversation.  In return for your participation, your company has an opportunity to strengthen its brand affinity and offers more ways to stay connected to customers’ points of view.

Your company’s participation varies by online community.  Facebook, MySpace and Twitter might have many of the same members carrying on a conversation, but the origin, nature, tone and direction of that conversation are likely different.  It takes a team of people with different skills working together to know how, when and where to insert your company into the discussion, and ensuring that you remain a part of the discussion.

Below I’ve outlined the main areas and provide a potential staffing arrangement to show the various elements that support a social networking program for a large company.  Smaller companies can obviously cut down on the number of people.

Community (1 – 2) – the community specialist(s) are responsible for watching the conversations on an ongoing basis.  They know that the discussions across social platforms change and help account for the interests and perspectives present in the community and help refine the company’s message based on the day-to-day interactions.

Digital Media (1 – 2) – in order to carry on the conversation, you need something to talk about.  Online, pictures and videos are as important as the dialogue when engaging a community.  Having someone who can produce Web-ready visual content is an essential part of the program.

Blogger & Online Customer Relations (2 – 3) – the conversations online don’t happen in a vacuum.  A discussion thread on Twitter can bleed over to Facebook where it’s noticed by a prominent blogger who writes about it.  Having specialists dedicated to interacting with bloggers as well as on customer service issues is a good way to ensure that you are on top of the conversations.

Research & Reporting (2 – 3) – in order to get where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in social media.  Being able to capture themes and sentiments online and then using them to feed back into the social program is a valuable tool when you are moving to keep up with the online world.

Based on these assumptions, I’d say that a solid social program requires 6 – 10 people to sustain the online discussion.  I recently saw numbers for Dells program that put the numbers around 20, and if you look at all they are doing online, that number seems a little low.  How many people work in social networking and the online medium in your company?  Have I missed anyone?