As businesses continue to adapt and embrace the opportunity to use social media to communicate with their target audiences, marketers are constantly looking for ways to help demystify the medium. Earlier this year, Forrester Research developed a model which defined the five separate stages of social media maturity within an organisation.

Following comprehensive research they concluded that the majority of businesses, regardless of their industry or target audience, passed through five main stages as they progress to what they have defined as ‘Social Maturity’.

In a graphic that is easily likened to the ‘Diffusion of Innovation’ bell curve, the research characterises the businesses which lie at each stage of ‘Social Maturity.
According to Forrester, these are defined as follows;

  • Laggards – the dormant stage – Forrester estimates that one in five companies is currently not using any social media. These companies tend to be highly conservative, heavily regulated, or just not interested. To get beyond this stage, we recommend that interactive marketers help garner “small victories” – focusing on the best opportunities that can be used as case studies within the organization to get the ball rolling.
  • Late majority – the testing stage – While most companies are using social media, it tends to start organically in pockets. This stage can be described as “distributed chaos,” and to move beyond it, we recommend that a senior interactive marketer step up to play the role of “shepherd” to help coordinate efforts across the organization.
  • Early majority – the coordinating stage – At this point, management recognizes the risks and rewards of social media and begins to put the resources and governance in place to create consistency across the organization, from “distributed chaos” to a more centralized approach. To move beyond this stage, we recommend that interactive marketers work with a steering committee made up of key stakeholders to develop a foundation of shared resources, policies, processes, and budget in place for the long term so the focus can shift to optimizing results.
  • Early adopters – the scaling and optimising stage – These leaders (think Starbucks, Best Buy, and Coca Cola) have already coordinated their social organization and are now focusing on optimizing their social media activities – from improved processes to more advanced metrics to integration with other marketing activity. The next big step for this group is to determine who within the organization is best suited for using social applications to solve customer problems and for the shepherd to help lead the creation of a plan for empowering all relevant employees with social media.
  • Innovators – empowering their employees – At this stage, all relevant employees have been trained and empowered to use social media – essentially “organized distribution” – though centres of excellence are still needed. Only a few companies have even just entered this stage but we expect many more to follow over the course of the next year

While my experience suggests that this may not always be the case, it is arguable that different companies may pass through these stages at different speeds.

I tend to find that larger organisations are more likely to have the resources to dedicate to accelerating the company to social maturity. On the contrary, smaller businesses are likely to spend longer in the testing stage as they make decisions about whether to dedicate extensive resources to a social media campaign. Often, they conclude that outsourcing to an agency such as ours is the most cost effective way of accelerating this process.

As I work in both the B2B and B2C space, I would like to see a research brief that differentiates between the two, and the respective pace of social media adoption. For instance, in a number of cases we have seen companies marketing to consumers advance to social maturity at a much greater pace than those marketing to other businesses.

Are you left confused, or enlightened? The value in this tool is that it enables your business to identify their current position on the bell curve, and the steps that it needs to take in order to move towards social maturity. Considering the degree of uncertainty that exists surrounding the use of social media for business purposes, I think that anything which seeks to further clarify what success looks like can only have a positive impact.