To develop any business strategy — be it marketing, sales, or operational — you must ask yourself what you are doing, what kind of environment you are operating in, and what your goals are. Only by drilling down to the very essence of your organization can you develop a plan for moving forward. Developing a social media strategy follows the same pattern — it’s essential you know what you are doing, how you are doing it, and most importantly, why.
Millions of businesses have jumped on the social media express train over the last 12 months, but many of them do not know why they have a Facebook account or why it is so important that they have a presence on Twitter. Even those companies that have dedicated personnel in-house to work on their social media presence often struggle to justify the investment -– all they know for sure is that they ought to be participating in social media, often as part of their SEO efforts. This mindset means that money and effort is being extended with no means of tracking progress, measuring return, or monitoring conversions.
Social media in 2010 can be much more than ‘ought to be participating’ or ‘no idea why we are on Facebook.’ 2010 can be the year that your organization develops a definitive social media strategy, with a clear what, where, and why. As part of this, specific goals and objectives must be defined and definitive means of tracking progress towards them implemented. This knowledge, if disseminated through the various layers of your organization, could transform something you’re already doing to something that really starts to reap rewards and makes a positive contribution to your business practices.
1. Social media is essentially an extended conversation with your customers – past, present, AND future. The ability to partake in a conversation and listen to its respondents is one of the easiest features of social media to embrace. It’s also one of the hardest, because to have value, your conversations should be between your client base both existing and future. To make that happen, you will first need to determine who your clients are and where they are to be found online. One easy way to do this is to check your website analytics account and see which social media sites are directing traffic to your site. Look for forums, blogs, Facebook groups, Twitter, etc. Initially you may want to go back at least one or two quarters to check historically where traffic comes from. This will help you to develop your understanding of where your clients are, social media wise, but you’ll need to revisit the logs every month when you’re up and running in order to stay on top of visitor trends.
2. Social media is a much cheaper alternative to traditional advertising for brand building opportunities. With everyone struggling to move forwards and power through the economic recession, pricey newspaper and TV ad spots may be out of the budget for 2010. That presents a problem if you’re operating in a competitive market where brand presence and brand penetration is crucial. Think about it – if you can’t afford to keep up your brand placement through offline media, chances are your brand recall will fall. But if you replace your radio spots and local newspaper ads with a comprehensive social media campaign (using the sites already identified as being hotbeds of potential new client wins), your brand will remain on your consumers lips at a fraction of the cost. While using social media for direct sales very rarely brings in results, taking to blogs and keeping your Twitter updated with product-related news, special offers, and exclusive discounts will bring home the bacon. If you plan your presence properly, your brand building will create brand evangelists, which in turn will maintain profile and drive footfall through your virtual or physical store.
3. Social media can help you identify small problems before they become big ones. What is the first thing you know about a problem with your business? Is it when a disgruntled diner sends their food back to the kitchen in your restaurant? Is it when diner numbers fall because of a not very well received new menu? Or is it when your expensive new store fails to resonate with its intended clientele? Used correctly, social media will give you a bird’s eye view of these roadblocks before they happen, allowing you to navigate around them. Make a commitment to solicit feedback from your social media followers and work this into your social media strategy for 2010. It could be something as simple as a once-a-month open invitation for feedback or as complex as polls, test screenings of new products/menus/locations. It may even mean you commit to having one person monitoring activity online full-time for mentions of your products and brands. Organizations like Dell and Coca-Cola do this very successfully – their dedicated social media personnel keep an eye on forums, blog conversations, Twitter streams, and comments online to identify disgruntled clients and address their concerns and grumbles before they become an even bigger, more widespread problem.
Now you know what you should be aiming to do, but how to finalize it into a strategy that can be communicated to all team members? Here’s how to compile your strategy. Once done, don’t forget to pass it out so everyone has a go-to guide of what they are doing, where they are doing it, and why.
1. The Why. Sit down with your team and identify — as a group — your goals for social media. Ask each person in turn what you as an organization should be seeking to achieve from your social media presence. It may be any of the points above or something entirely new. Write them down in order of importance. You now have your goals –- the things you need to be working towards, and you can work backwards from here to develop a route to these objectives.
2. The How. Now that you know what you want to achieve, how can it be done? Again, go around the table and ask for team input. How can the things you need to get out of your social media activity be made a reality? If you want to solicit feedback, for example, how will you do it? If you want to build your brand, how will it be done? Will you use polls and questionnaires or will you ask your marketing team to craft a series of incentives purely for your social media followers?
3. The Where. You know what you want to achieve and you have a plan for achieving it. The final piece of the puzzle is to decide which sites you’re going to unleash your social media strategy on. A good tip is to start small, particularly if you’re new to social media, rather than trying to spread yourself too thinly over every possible blogging site or forum you can find. Use your Analytics data to identify the top 5 or 10 social media sites that are referring traffic to you and use the information to pick your core sites from those referrals.
4. The Results. Finally, don’t forget the most important aspect of your new social media strategy — the measurement of progress. There’s no point having goals if you don’t track how close you are to achieving them, so invest some time in deciding exactly how you will measure the success of your social media activity in 2010.