How Robust Stakeholder and Workstream Research Can Create Global Opportunities
My firm just completed a global study of social business in ten OECD language markets that may bode well for commercial and nonprofit organizations that are considering global audiences. We found that when you ground your social business strategy on rigorous research into the people you want to engage (stakeholders) and their specific online activities (workstreams), social business strategy can be applicable in several language markets simultaneously, leading to significant leverage and supporting global go-to-market initiatives.
Having personally worked and lived in several language markets, I was surprised by the strong stakeholder/workstream patterns; I had assumed that the markets would differ from each other far more. I’ll offer my reflections here on the research as well as recommendations for using social networks for global initiatives.
I have to admit, if I hadn’t led the research, I would find my statement above a highly dubious proposition. I would immediately think, “Another U.S. based firm ignorant of ‘foreign’ cultures tells us they’re all the same.” However, I believe the findings show another example of how social business is changing relationships between organizations and people. Moreover, the strong stakeholder/ workstream aspect of the study shows how digital social networks are creating global niches with which organizations can form highly engaged relationships. For example, if your organization produces road rallies of MGs around the world, participants’ highly specific interests and conversations will often trump their cultural differences. When you start thinking about it that way, our findings are not surprising at all. But the finding would have been far less true if it had addressed a broader audience of, say, “automotive enthusiasts” or a general workstream like “automotive events.” MG road rallies draw people together. But marketers have to get over their love for large, general audiences because they usually exhibit less persistent engagement and commitment.
Organizations are accustomed to marketing research that is usually long-cycle, structured, costly, and therefore limited.
Conducting real-time analysis of conversations in digital social venues is much more like user experience research, in which very few firms have ever invested. But user experience research is so valuable because it studies people within their “native habitats,” not in conference rooms to which they were attracted by $200 checks. It picks up tacit knowledge that forms the context for what researchers see. And digital social venues make findings actionable immediately. So, in-depth study of certain types of people (stakeholders) is not new, but digital social venues’ immediacy and transparency enable firms to take it to a new level.
When you combine in-depth persona studies with workstreams, you get what we call scenarios, which are analogous to software use cases, models for situations in which people in defined roles are trying to accomplish tasks. Scenarios enable you to understand people and their motivations for online activity, dramatically improving your ability to be relevant because you can help them get things done. Typical marketing persona studies are too coarse-grained for social business: you can’t have authentic interactions with a demographic like “50 year old auto enthusiasts.” You need to get more fine-grained.
Workstreams for the MG rallies might be shipping the car to the rally location, working on the engine, creating the rally team and gadgets to improve teams’ accuracy. Scenarios increase the likelihood of finding patterns across cultures and languages. In addition, scenarios stakeholder/workstream lenses help you to identify and appreciate differences in online behavior that matter.
Putting Strategy into Practice
While it is exciting to find strong patterns of engagement across cultures, it would be risky to assume that you could engage the same way in each market. Following is a general approach to growing the scale and scope of your social business strategy globally:
- Ground the strategy on fine-grained persona studies of stakeholders that matter to your business and couple it with workstream analysis to create several scenarios. Test them against real online interactions. Verify that the stakeholders you want are talking about workstreams that make them relevant to you. If they aren’t, open your aperture enough to pick up related conversations, learn, and tweak your scenarios. You will often discover some stakeholders are having relevant conversations and others aren’t.
- Depending on your business context, you could also find global conversations about your scenarios in common European languages, as we did, because, when people are having conversations in global contexts, they use connector languages. We found relatively high numbers of English conversations in France, Germany, Japan, China, and Nigeria. Using IP addresses, it is fairly simple to determine whence conversations originate. These results are certainly a fraction of those in local languages, but they can be quite indicative of the presence of the scenarios in those language markets.
- Now that you have some indication of the numbers and characteristics of your targeted conversations, look in the mirror. Determine what your organization can add to these conversations that is distinctive and high-value to stakeholders. High-value in their terms, not yours. Organizations are usually too enamored with their own services or products. Stakeholders rarely care; they are motivated by the utility of your services and products that they create while using them. Create your content strategy based on the stakeholders’ interests, not your goals.
- Test your strategy with a pilot in a defined market with which your team has native experience. This can limit variables before you approach different markets. Select optimal venues and begin interacting and measuring your impact. Consistently serve people and prove your commitment to them. Measure results using quantitative metrics that focus on trust (here’s one example). Conduct the pilot for several weeks and use results to refine your content strategy. Focus your analytical intent around the question, “How do people try to get this done in their own language market?” And, “How can we serve them in a unique way that resonates with our core competencies?” The testing period enables you to validate or change your value proposition.
- Now go to another market that is distinct from the first one but whose conversations share similarities with it. Determine the variables that are different. Here, your question is, “How do people in this language market try to get this done? What differences exist on the ground cause people to think about it or approach it differently? The second pilot should last another several weeks.
- Hop to a third market. Compare results and determine crossover among markets. At this point, you have valuable insight into how the scenarios are played out in various language markets, and this can enable you to create global social business initiatives—when you discover crossover. Or you may want to try cross-pollinating groups as a way to add value.
- Watch your IP addresses! Some languages are tightly coupled to geographies while others aren’t. To the extent that location changes the conditions in which the scenarios play out, you may see significant differences within languages. English conversations in India are very different from those in Indiana.
- A note on creating the pilot teams: if you have locations in the geographies you are exploring, invoke their cultural expertise to help select the pilot team but realize that successful teams require sophisticated language, analytical and socialtech skills to understand what they are seeing and to interact appropriately in digital social venues. Pick your partners very carefully, don’t assume that anyone that speaks “x” language and any marketing analyst can do it. Do not pick “localization firms” or translators, who generally have no experience with live interaction. Don’t necessarily pick global marketing agencies unless their personnel have proven track records in digital social venues (99% still fail this test). Go with a local socialtech boutique with a track record for research and interaction in that language market.
What is your experience with glogalizing your social business strategy?