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Sink or Swim


There’s a simple reason sharks stay in motion: If they stop swimming, they sink.

Organizations that fail to keep up with social media’s evolution face a similar fate. The benefits of a strong social presence are indisputable, and its use cases have grown well beyond online marketing and customer service.

Gleaning invaluable insights from real-time conversations, identifying new opportunities for brand positioning, proactively preparing for market trends and shifting consumer sentiment—all this and much more is available through social.

But not for everyone.

Within this ocean of potential, only companies with a firm grasp of their social maturity will keep swimming skyward, primed to take advantage of it.

Defining Social Maturity

Your company’s social maturity is defined by how it uses social media, as well as whether its social policies and processes are optimized. In other words: How sophisticated is your social strategy?

Reaching a higher level of social maturity requires identifying and resolving challenges, investing in necessary infrastructure and tools, and educating all stakeholders on how to leverage social in their roles.

Maturity Matters

A disconnect exists between companies’ understanding of social and their ability to develop and execute complex strategies.

According to survey data from Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and The Conference Board, in 2012, 90% of executives and board members said they understood the impact social had on their companies. However, only 32% used social to monitor for risks to business activities and only 14% used social data to evaluate business performance.

Lack of follow-through hasn’t dissipated in intervening years. Survey data from Clutch and Smart Insights showed 26% of respondents said the biggest challenge their company faced on social in 2017 was a lack of human and financial resources. Twenty-four percent cited a lack of formal strategy as their organization’s primary obstacle. More than half of companies had failed to invest in social media management software of any kind.

Inaction is no longer an option. To support success in a rapidly changing social landscape populated by both competitors and target audiences, companies must accurately determine what stage of social maturity they’ve reached and how they can advance to the next level.

Only by doing so can they tap into the true potential at their fingertips.

Stages of Social Maturity

There are three primary stages of social maturity, each with its own unique characteristics and challenges. Once you understand which stage best describes your company, you can begin determining next steps for advancement.


The apprentice stage of social maturity involves individuals or siloed departments using social with little-to-no oversight from management personnel, and without an overarching, holistic strategy in place.

This level encompasses basic content publishing and audience engagement.

Indicators of apprentice social maturity include:

  • Reactive strategy.
  • Restrictive budget.
  • Uncertain objectives.
  • Minimal metric measurement.
  • Use of native applications without software support.
  • Lack of oversight or involvement from management.
  • Absence of long-term planning or cross-departmental collaboration.
  • “We know we need to use social, but we don’t have a specific plan.”
  • Focus on data that doesn’t provide clear connection to business performance.

Companies operating at this level may struggle with the organization and execution of social strategies, as well as demonstrating ROI.

Apprentice Advantage

While further advancement is necessary to amplify results, companies at this stage of social maturity may still benefit from opportunities for increased brand awareness, humanization, customer engagement, reputation management, content distribution, audience growth, information gathering, networking and influencer outreach.

Additionally, investing in social, even at a lower level, provides companies an avenue for reducing marketing costs. Data shows that while traditional marketing channels such as direct mail and broadcast television cost $57 and $28, respectively, to reach 1,000 people, social media only costs $2.50 to achieve the same reach.

In 2017, marketers said social helped them: increase web traffic (78%), generate leads (66%) and improve sales (52%).

Reaching the Next Level

In order to progress to the artisan stage, it’s necessary for companies at the apprentice level to:

  • Appoint a primary stakeholder who can maintain oversight of social efforts and coordinate individuals and teams, as well as act as a liaison between upper management and day-to-day social practitioners.
  • Establish clear business objectives related to social and craft detailed strategies to support specific goals.
  • Create company social policies that establish guidelines for common questions and concerns, such as content publishing responsibilities and reply time expectations.
  • Educate all departments on the company’s social strategy, and include appropriate individuals in efforts to link social to overall marketing and customer care initiatives.
  • Train teams on how to use social platforms in a way that aligns with business objectives, and empower them to achieve goals with necessary budget, staff and tools.
  • Determine which social metrics are relevant to business success and benchmark them against industry standards and competitors to ensure pertinent data is consistently captured and analyzed.


The artisan stage of social maturity is when companies have made progress in synchronizing and supporting social strategy across different departments, and are now focused on scalability, integration and optimization.

This level involves targeted social campaigns, community management and the application of social insights throughout the company.

Indicators of artisan social maturity include:

  • Proactive strategy.
  • Defined objectives.
  • Long-term planning.
  • Refined metric measurement.
  • Committed allocation of resources.
  • Detailed processes and workflows.
  • Dedicated cross-channel presence.
  • Use of social media management tools.
  • Active administration and participation from mid-level management.
  • Detailed KPIs that connect to specific goals and overall business performance.
  • Consistent communication and collaboration between different teams and departments.

Companies at this level typically have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of social strategy and are achieving some return on investment, yet understand they’re not fully exploring all options to maximize results.

Artisan Advantage

Increased coordination and optimization provide companies at this stage of social maturity a number of benefits. Stronger leadership and detailed guidelines minimize confusion and productivity loss while employee familiarity with social and expanded focus on collaboration open the door to more efficient, effective operations. The value of a more streamlined approach is clear when you consider social possesses a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing.

Improvements in content distribution and customer service via social also align nicely with online audiences’ expectations. Modern consumers, regardless of age, crave an engaging and responsive social presence. Thirty percent of Millennials engage with brands on social at least once a month, 7 out of 10 Gen Xers are likely to purchase from a brand they follow on social, and 60% of Baby Boomers use social to look for promotions.

Additionally, 71% of social users are more likely to buy from a company that provides them with a positive interaction, and customers spend 20% to 40% more with companies that engage with them and respond to service requests on social.

Reaching the Next Level

In order to progress to the master stage, it’s necessary for companies at the artisan level to:

  • Increase focus on social intelligence, moving beyond standard social metrics and demographics data to include online trends, conversations and sentiment.
  • Use social data insights to inform larger marketing initiatives, as well as product, service and brand enhancement efforts.
  • Cultivate relationships with social influencers through detailed programs to drive organic interest, trust and loyalty.
  • Encourage consumer advocacy through the use of user-generated content.
  • Invest in necessary tools to determine the impact of social on bottom-line KPIs, such as sales leads and purchases, as well as the financial outcomes of social advertising.
  • Empower experienced social users to share knowledge, advice and best practices through consistent training sessions and cross-team collaboration.
  • Elevate brand awareness and social selling by leveraging employees with social advocacy programs and tools.
  • Ensure social processes and workflows are properly integrated with existing systems and technologies.
  • Boost performance of social systems through automated features, such as chatbots.


The master stage of social maturity occurs when social is integrated at every level of a company, playing a primary role in sales, marketing, customer experience, communications, collaboration, research and data analysis.

This level incorporates both employee and customer advocacy, centralized, organization-wide governance and a focus on innovation and thought leadership.

Indicators of master social maturity include:

  • Fully integrated digital marketing program.
  • Command of social media management tools.
  • Commitment to ongoing education and training.
  • Socially educated, trained and empowered workforce.
  • Dedicated investment in social monitoring and listening.
  • Active oversight and contribution from executive leadership.
  • Long-term roadmap that includes both high-level vision and bottom-line benchmarks.
  • Consistent services and experiences across different social channels and touchpoints.
  • Transference of analytics data into actionable business insights and company development.

Companies functioning at this level possess a comfort with social and its application at every level of the organization. Competitors and target audiences alike recognize the sophistication and integrated nature of the company’s social strategy, which is a part of day-to-day operations from the top down.

Master Advantage

The benefits associated with this stage of social maturity go beyond standard marketing and customer service enhancements. Social listening provides qualitative, scalable information that can inform business operations across an entire company without the prohibitive cost and unreliability associated with market research and focus groups. Advocacy programs exponentially increase brand reach with minimal effort required on the part of the company and automated processes further drive efficiency and reduce costs while empowering employees to focus on industry innovation and company stewardship.

Capturing feedback to improve products was cited as the top benefit of social listening by 25% of survey respondents, according to Clutch. Reaching new customers and improving customer service were singled out by 24% and 21% of respondents, respectively. Eighty-six percent of organizations engaged in social listening are able to use it to track customer requests, questions and concerns, as well as competitors (77%), industry terms and trends (61%) and industry influencers (60%).

Advocacy programs featuring both employees and customers tap into the 70% of U.S. adults online who trust each other significantly more than brands. Studies show brand message reach is increased by 561% when shared by employees, and messages are 24 times more frequently shared than those distributed by brands themselves. Additionally, employee-driven leads are seven times more likely to convert. Meanwhile, businesses recoup $6.50 for every dollar spent on influencer marketing.

Finally, social automation features such as chatbots can streamline straightforward tasks and save companies substantial amounts money in the process. Juniper Research forecasts chatbots alone will be responsible for cost savings of more than $8 billion each year in the banking and healthcare sectors by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017.

Reaching the Next Level

While the master stage represents the highest commonly achievable level of social maturity, it’s possible to progress further. There is an elite group of companies that represent the true pinnacle of digital transformation, pioneering new products and processes while establishing industry norms, all through social innovation. To reach this echelon, companies must:

  • Prioritize social innovation and employee contribution to processes, workflows and strategies.
  • Remain up to date on emerging social technologies, channels, capabilities and use cases.
  • Leverage social business intelligence strategically and continue improving performance measurement models through testing.
  • Capture and analyze advanced metrics beyond bottom-line concerns, such as social discussion, market movement and user attitudes.
  • Take calculated risks on new social applications and use cases.
  • Utilize social media management tools to their full capacity.
  • Make continued education and training a company cornerstone.
  • Proactively anticipate changes in social usage to stay on the cutting edge, drive efficiency and maximize benefits.
  • Understand that social optimization is an ongoing process that will continue indefinitely but must always be relentlessly pursued.