It’s very difficult to succeed in social without partners. Not unlike the old adage of it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes a village of partners to make social succeed at the enterprise level. One of the first areas of focus for me when I joined Walgreens to head up social was to define our partner strategy and then select partners to help us succeed.
There’s no shortage of companies out there claiming to have the “best,” “innovative” or “game changing” tool/platform/software/offering. When you’re building a social media strategy for the enterprise, partner selection is critical. Make the wrong choice and you could be set back several months or more importantly hinder momentum and damage internal credibility. But, pick the right set of partners and success becomes easier, you’re able to move quicker, insights are uncovered, credibility created and momentum accelerated.
If partner selection were easy, anyone could do it and we’d all be working with the same set of partners. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t turning to experts in the space. Forrester, Altimeter, Info-Tech, eMarketer and many, many, many, many consultants/agencies all differ on which partners to work with. Also, you can’t simply turn to other organizations, because the partners that work for their organization may not in fact work great for your organization. Culture, aptitude, organizational structure, team size, objectives, industry vertical and other factors all impact which partners make sense. Your organization needs to be able to maximize the relationship with the partner. It’s a strange version of dating
Sounds like quite a downer so far, right? I’m not trying to be negative, but I am trying to be honest. We started with a smart partner strategy. The framework for the strategy was built on understanding what the role of social should be at Walgreens:
With Social There’s A Way For Our 5.9 Million Customers To Stay Connected To Our 250K Employees Every Day
From there, we outlined the types of partners we wanted/needed to deliver on the role of social. Well to transform our organization we need 4 categories of partners:
- Monitor: It all starts here, but it doesn’t end here. Job 1 was finding a partner to help us monitor the social space. The key here and it’s often overlooked is you don’t need a partner with features that duplicate existing initiatives. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of redundancy in this area. Social is a team sport that goes across an organization. Having a monitoring partner that simply duplicates on some level what’s already being done by other tools that are already in place doesn’t make sense. Guarding against this means having a partner that understands what they really bring to the table and doesn’t try to be all things to all people.
- Measure: How I wish there was a platform/partner that nailed social monitoring with measurement, analysis and insights. The reality, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t exist. There’s too much to measure, too much data and often not enough actionable insights. Separating measurement from monitoring was a big decision, but I think it’ll be the right one long term.
- Engage: An over-used term, but an important partner category. We needed partners who were going to help us integrate social behavior into our initiatives and partners who could help us enhance our existing social presence. Lastly, we needed partners who could help us connect with our customers.
- Planning & Strategy: We’re smart enough to know that there are people and companies out there who understand social as good or better than we do. They have battle scars, sharp minds and a willingness to adapt.
With a focus for social in place and a partner strategy defined we started creating a short list of partners we wanted to talk with. The short list was based on:
- Previous direct experience
- Existing partners at Walgreens
- Industry Analyst Data (aka Forrester, Gartner, etc.)
- Feedback from colleagues
- Points of view from analysts – Altimeter Group was a great help here
After the short list was created we started meeting with companies. For all of you out there in a similar role to mine, let me offer 5 pieces of advice on how to do this:
- Remember process is a framework. You might think you’re only going to meet with 4 companies. It’s ok if you meet with only 2 or 6 or 12.
- Identify early and get agreement on how partners will be evaluated.
- Don’t focus on the cost, focus on the pricing model. This is a big one and trust me, in the monitoring space the model is more important than the quoted cost.
- This could be 3A, but after understanding the pricing model, don’t jump to the lowest cost provider. This is about long term relationships, it’s not about treating someone or some company like a commodity. If you simply go with the cheapest provider, you’ll get what you pay for.
- Remember that it’s people who make an organization. If you don’t like the people you’re meeting with or will be working with, it will impact your ability to partner well.
800 words or so in. Thanks for hanging with me. Now we’ll get to what I’m sure you’re most interested in: who are we going to be working with. With many of the contracts still being finalized, I can’t share the full list at this moment. However, as soon as the contracts are done, I will update this post to outline our full list of partners. What I can say is that we ended up with 11 core partners across the 4 categories.
Keep in mind we accomplished all of this inside of 3 months. For a large organization, we move pretty fast at Walgreens. A big part of why we were able to move so quickly was how much support we had across the organization. Teams were focused on removing barriers instead of creating roadblocks. Additionally, there was a clear understanding that we were going to listen to our internal customers, but ultimately the decisions about who to partner with would be made by the social team. Focus and accountability.
One thing to remember is that there is no one size fits all partner, and as nice as it would be to have the uber partner/tool/platform, the reality is you’re going to need more than one partner. Sometimes you’ll even need more than one partner per category. So long as you have clear direction, solid social media guidelines/policies in place and alignment on how to measure your investment (time, dollars, etc.) you can manage multiple partners.
Defining our partners was a major first step. Now we need to leverage these partners and maximize their capabilities to reach our potential.
As promised, now that many of the contracts are done, I can outline the partners we’re working with this year to help us succeed:
Visible Technologies: They’ll serve as the nerve center for our social monitoring. They’ve been flexible and easy to work with throughout the review process. I’ve been impressed with their commitment to innovation; I’m excited to see many of their new features roll out this year. It’s also worth noting, they fundamentally understood how to work with an enterprise as large as Walgreens.
Crimson Hexagon: I was turned on to Crimson Hexagon by the folks at Altimeter. I love their approach to making sense of unstructured data. They’re offering is similar to what Visible Technologies is bringing to the table, but they provide analytics, insights and measurement capabilities that I’ve yet to see anyone (eg Radian6) match. I’m giddy with anticipation of being able to finally provide something more than just sentiment analysis and volume of posts to the organization.
Wildfire: Much like Visible Technologies they made the pricing model simple and something that could scale as we grow. We also looked at Involver and Buddy Media. Both were interesting, but ultimately Wildfire won out.
HootSuite: A serious grudge match was had as we looked for a partner to help us publish content and handle some of the day-to-day interaction. In a perfect world Visible or Crimson Hexagon would have offered a feature that provided the same functionality as HootSuite in the same cross-platform way. Cross-platform was the key here. With HootSuite we can leverage the platform from the web, as a downloaded desktop app, or on a mobile device. The mobile support was second to none. They support iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android. This was huge. We also looked at Sprout, which we liked, but lacked any mobile features.
Page Lever: The Facebook Insights tool is, at best, ok. Page Lever helps us make better sense of our Facebook performance by leveraging the Facebook API to provide reporting. It feels like Google Analytics from the interface to the animations to the ease of use. It’s missing a few features that I’d love to have, but I have a feeling they’ll keep adding to the platform over the next 12 months.
Edge Rank Checker: This is one of the tools I’m most excited about. In essence, Edge Rank Checker helps us understand when we should be posting on Facebook and what we should be posting (based on content that’s generating a response).
Bazaar Voice: We’ve been working with Bazaar Voice for some time and they’ll continue to power our product reviews on our website. I think there’s a lot that their platform offers that we aren’t even fully leveraging.