If 2009 was the year of Twitter, then let 2010 be the year that social media comes of age and takes its rightful place at the centre of business process and communications management.

It’s not enough to slap up a Facebook fanpage and push out website content via Twitter. To gain the true, significant benefit of social media requires thoughtful consideration and a smart strategy driven from the very top of the organisation.

Social media integration is a complex, evolutionary process. It takes a change of culture and mindset, and these are things that cannot be done overnight. A company needs to understand where and how Web 2.0 technologies are impacting the organisation. It needs to understand the risks and benefits, where and when to engage and how this engagement should be evaluated.

This takes time. I use a ten-step framework for social media integration to assist organisations through the transition. It’s a flexible approach that can be implemented swiftly or with a more measured approach. There is no one right way on the path to online social integration; each individual and organisation takes a unique course.

This is usually guided by a focus on stakeholder engagement. Striving to build relationships with these groups and individuals is the ultimate goal, and all strategy and tactical programme elements dovetail under this ambition. In past times, it might have taken a distinct communications strategy to reach each group. Social media means that companies must successfully navigate a complex ecosystem of online communities in which individuals expect transparency and are all empowered to participate equally.

Finding the right mix

The social media aspect is important. But the key to success is the ‘integration’. New technologies must fit with existing software applications, established websites and microsites as well as with traditional communications media such as newsletters, team briefings, mainstream advertising and PR. Finding the right mix to enhance what’s already in use and to amplify those benefits is fundamental.

Social media integration is not simple. It’s a complex process which actually started about ten years ago when the business world went online, but is now at the tipping point. Still it’s a new world for most people. That makes, organisational internalisation of the social internet a particularly lofty ambition, but it is crucial. Now is the time to throw away the idea that messages are to be controlled from the top down and from within.

Already, there is no longer any control over company messages in the real world. As a company’s information moves from person to person, each forms a unique connection to the organisation based on his own reaction, perspective and beliefs. This is the birth of a relationship, hopefully a positive one.

For traditional organisations making the change in thinking takes a significant attitude adjustment. It takes requires the recognition that everyone is equal, as people from across the organisation, every department and division, begin to socialise amongst themselves as well as with customers, shareholders and other outside communities.

This is powerful stuff; but in truth for most organisations, this scenario is already ‘current reality’ to some degree. Keeping heads in the sand will benefit no one.

It’s been said that every great journey begins with a single step and, so it is with the social internet. This ten step process facilitates, supports and eases the way to full integration and into the future.