Friday, December 19, 2008, 10:03 AM

UPS: What can social media do for you?

Still trying to figure out if your company should be monitoring social media? Join the club. Corporate leaders across the country wrestle with this question every day. What are the online masses saying about your company? Should you be monitoring the chatter? Where do you begin? (FYI, if I lost you at the mere mention of the term "social media" just click here.)

To help you with these and other questions, we've posted a recent discussion led by shipping giant UPS' social media manager. (Yes, UPS has a social media manager.) To watch a video of the discussion, click here. For a quick synopsis of lessons learned by UPS' Debbie Curtis Magley, read on:

Define your objectives. The most effective social media monitoring program has a defined set of objectives. Are you going to use the online chatter you pick up to help shape your company's messaging? Will you use it to improve your business operations, such as delivery times or customer service? Or will it serve as an early warning device to detect potential litigation or crises down the road?

Be creative with staffing. UPS gave a set number of employees specific search terms to monitor in online conversations. Be sure to choose terms that are relevent to your company, your industry, or your objectives. UPS empowered the administrative assistants most often at their personal computers to monitor chatter on blogs and elsewhere about the company, analyze the tone and sentiment of the discussions, and forward their findings to the social media team for additional action.

Measure your accomplishments. Social media is a creative way gauge how deep your company's public message is penetrating the public dialogue. As an example, UPS' monitoring program found that the company's environmental and fuel-saving initiatives were getting heightened attention in social media discussions, particularly in the summer of 2008 when gas prices reached record highs.

Monitor the competition. It's one thing to know when your competition issues a press release; It's another to know when that press release sparks a discussion among online communities that could impact your own company's reputation.

We are fond of encouraging organizations to "plan like Noah" - to build their ark before the flood by developing a crisis response plan. As customers, journalists, advocates, and others migrate to social media, chances are good they are taking your company's reputation with them. Including a social media monitoring program in your crisis planning exercises is the next logical step.

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