Is Forrester's Groundswell Missing a Step?

While recently discussing a potential client with Jack, it occurred to me that The Groundswell, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, makes an assumption (in my edition, at least) that might not be as valid as it once was: that an organization is starting from (social) scratch.

The potential client is a national brand with brick-and-mortar retail throughout the United States. While corporate HQ currently considers dipping its toe into the Social pool, some of the individual retail sites have been running Facebook and Twitter accounts for some time. Corporate has no real sense of who is doing what, and you can bet that there are no guidelines regarding the branded content being pushed through these channels. This kind of situation will continue to become more common as the adoption curves of social media continue upwards. I won’t bemoan the potential risks of allowing franchises and employees to communicate in this manner without policies and guidelines – I think most readers will agree that at least basic expectations should be defined by the organization.

In light of this, I think that the Groundwell POST approach to social strategy needs a minor update. As defined by its authors, the “P” stands for “People: Assess your customers’ social activities”. This is generally construed to be the baseline phase of the strategy and usually includes (for me, at least) conducting an assessment of competitors’ social activity as well. My recommendation: Update the “P” in the POST strategy to “People: Assess your customers’ and employees’ social activities.”

Conducting an assessment of employees’ and franchises’ social activity might help to kick-start a centralized Social effort by identifying disparate customer communities and examples of good (or not so good) guidelines and goals. Depending on the depth of the analysis, this first stage might also yield some rough metrics regarding the ROI of Social. Example: We might learn that certain employees are able to resolve customer service issues directly and for far less cost per incident than traditional call centers. Final note: Any new strategy must be aware of the current state. Without this awareness, customers might get confusing or even contradictory information, which in turn will most likely detract from desired goals and metrics.

Thoughts? How central is an initial internal assessment to your Social Media efforts?