What does this mean and how does your company need to plan for social radioactivity?

Why Radioactive?

First, consider what radioactivity truly is. From a chemical perspective, radioactivity literally means that an unstable substance is emitting energy and particles. This spontaneous emission of energy can be explosive if the radioactive substance is in a nuclear bomb. It can be helpful when it is controlled in a nuclear reactor to power the world. And it can have long lasting consequences if released in an unmanaged and unplanned fashion.

In this context, social networking suddenly makes more sense. We have seen the viral power of funny topics such as Mckayla Maroney or Grumpy Cat as social water cooler topics. We've also seen the potential harm of poorly conceptualized social media in 2013 when Epicurious had a tone deaf response to the Boston marathon bombing and HMV social media employees live-tweeted their own firing. But there are also companies that have used their own social standing to improve their branding and business processes.

So the value of social media has to be seen both in light of the inherent radioactive risks of social media and the ubiquitous availability of social both through the use of cloud and convenience of mobile technologies. How do companies develop social capabilities and socially-enabled processes to improve their organizations? I would suggest an inverted process.

To Start with Social, Start at the End

Initially, social networking should not start with simply creating a social account and posting or tweeting. This is the biggest mistake that we have seen in the corporate community, whether it is to simply create a social account and start posting into the ether or to purchase an internal social collaboration tool and release it to the masses. Social networking requires work and guidance or, much like a radioactive material, it will not help your organization and simply exists as a possible risk. Chances are that if your organization currently has a social media or social networking initiative that has either been abandoned or isn't providing value, this is the issue. Instead of starting at the beginning, enterprise social efforts should start at the end.

Companies should start by determining a goal for online social interaction. This goal does not have to be corporate wide and does not need to be fully formed, but it should align to a key strategic corporate goal such as talent acquisition, sales, competitive intelligence, product development or service. Figure out which areas of your company could be best served by collecting information and feedback from hundreds or thousands of individuals.

After identifying your key goal, look at your existing processes. In sales, this may be your lead generation and lead identification processes. For marketing, this may also include branding, primary education and key product announcements. From a product development perspective, this may include collecting product requirements and creating focus groups. But regardless of the goals, focus in on an existing process that can be quantified and specified. And if these processes have a compliance or governance aspect associated with them in the "real" world, then those same failsafes and controls need to be included in your social outreach and interactions.

Next, identify your key terms and influencers. Do your homework and identify the key terms that are currently identified with your interests. See if your company is actually associated with your brand identity online or if your company needs to focus on owning these keywords and the individual influencers associated with these keywords through social media monitoring. Find out where your key audience is, whether that is Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

Now that you have identified your social need, you can build your social network with the appropriate focus to get value. If your social network is external, this preparation will allow you to appropriately structure your efforts so that social processes directly translate into real value. This allows you to filter the radioactive nature of social networking through your reactor of business processes to create value rather than simply hoping for a positive reaction. It's only when you get to this step that the best practices for social media outreach and interaction begin to be relevant such as providing top-quality content, relevant interactions, appropriate messaging traffic, and key insights.

For internal social networks, there is a final step necessary: internal evangelism. This evangelism is needed to create the core network of users and requires finding the people in your organization who both have institutional knowledge and talk across departments. (If you don't know who these people are, spend more time at your water cooler.). Make sure that you include the skills and geographies associated with your initial goals and processes as you identify your test case.

In addition, find an internal executive who believes in increasing collaboration and innovation. Without this executive, your internal social network will lack the corporate guidance needed to focus the power of social on good rather than harmless or ineffective blathering. This executive needs to be someone who understands that good ideas don't just come from other top executives, wants a competitive advantage, and is willing to lead by example as a participant.

Radioactivity can be difficult to discover and control. When radioactivity results in an uncontrolled display of power and visibility, this demonstrates the potential of radioactivity, but doesn't mean that anyone has necessarily benefited from the results. It is only through focus and the appropriate filtering of the power of social media and social networking that companies can fully harness the power and innovation associated with being a social business.

Title image by Amy Walters (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from Hyoun in The 4 Orders of Benefits for Calculating Social ROI