Many companies are using social media, but few have mastered incorporating it into daily business. Engineering software provider Autodesk decided to change its corporate culture and hierarchy to make social media an engrained part of each business unit.

The company uses social media tools for marketing, advertising, product support, and product development ideas, says Dan Zucker, social media manager. Two years ago the firm created Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts to connect and collaborate with customers, and added social media monitoring and analytics tools from Visible Technologies to keep up with what customers are saying online. "We want to humanize the brand," he says. "We have evangelists who want to share who they are, what they know, and connect with others. When we make their lives easier because of our products, we hear about it from them. We also hear about it when we don't make their lives easier. Customers love to post, share, and be recognized for it." The company also benefits by identifying and responding to issues more quickly and gauging the stickiness of messaging and campaigns.

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Autodesk wanted employees to consider its social media efforts a strategic imperative, not just something to do in their spare time. "Companies need to think about it as change management," Zucker says. "You need to organize people and processes to achieve goals that align to specific business objectives."

The company created a hub-and-spoke model where one central person, Zucker, is ultimately responsible for coordinating social efforts of different departments. Yet social media strategy is not just Zucker's responsibility. Each department has an identified social media contact with a mandate to spend 50 percent of their time on social media efforts, and they have regular meetings with Zucker about different programs and ideas. He says it's critical for each department to have a social media point person, someone who understands the department's unique business objectives and can work directly with Zucker to develop social media tools to meet its needs.

In addition, Autodesk has a social Web council made up of 70 volunteers from throughout the organization who regularly discuss ideas, best practices, and areas of improvement. "It's a tight-knit circle," he says. "I know what's happening with the different business units."

Although many building blocks are in place, Zucker has plans to operationalize social media efforts even further. Next steps include formalizing social media policies and giving formal social media responsibility to all relevant employees. "By adding formal responsibility to the positions, it helps officially secure time and resources," he says, while also elevating social media to be a strategic imperative. Other next steps include integrating reporting tools among departments and sharing social media best practices across the organization.

All of these efforts are designed to leverage the power of Autodesk's customers. Says Zucker, "We have a passionate user base, which is our strongest asset."