Social media webinars. Web 2.0 books for beginners. Social business conferences. Blogs on how to build a successful online community. These are all things that people and companies are doing to keep up with the ever-changing world of social; however, many organizations still struggle to understand what exactly social is and how it fits into an organization’s overall business objectives.

To put things into perspective, let’s talk about the “Social Ecosystem.” The Social Ecosystem is a tool we use to help customers understand how they should approach social technology. It is the universe of all the different social connections that are available to organizations -- a network of people who participate in social.

Three different layers make up the social ecosystem. Your organization needs to have a strategy in place for each of these layers.


First Layer: “Participating”

The Participating layer includes the social networking sites that are most familiar to consumers -- sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as standalone social apps like blogs and forums. These are social networks started and managed by individuals or groups of users. As a visitor or guest in these networks, your company’s primary objective is to listen in the Participating layer.

It is important to keep in mind that individuals do not want you to broadcast messages about your business in these social networks -- it could hurt your reputation. Social networks in the Participating layer are typically formed by people to discuss diverse topics, from snowboarding and parenting to best practices for software development and UX design. A great example is the Coca-Cola Facebook fan page that was created by two users who just simply loved Coke.

The reason we call it the Participating layer is because, as a company representative, you have the right to show up, introduce yourself and contribute meaningful discussions; however, you must recognize that you don’t own the site, nor should you heavily market to the site’s participants.

Second Layer: “Managed”

The next layer is what’s called the Managed layer. As you move down into the Managed layer, your company gets more control over the messages, the structure and the type of engagement. This layer includes the same spaces you're accustomed to from the Participating layer (i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), but now these sites are your corporate-sponsored Facebook page, LinkedIn or Twitter account, where you do get to control messaging. These are networks started and managed by your company, but run on consumer-facing social networking sites.