The surest way to fail at social media marketing is to rush into it without a plan or strategy. Unfortunately we see it happen all too often. Maybe you’ve done it yourself; set up a Twitter account or Facebook page without really knowing why, what you’re going to do with it or how to measure whether it’s successful or not.
The best place to start is to understand what social media is, and what it isn’t. Social media is not like traditional marketing or advertising. Social media is the integration of technology, with social interaction and the sharing of words, images, video and audio. In a word it’s “conversations” made richer and more convenient.
Social media conversations are consumer-driven, transparent, inclusive and often very engaging and sincere. They are not controlled, exclusive, formal or one-sided. The same can’t be said about traditional advertising.
The challenge, and a key reason for having a strategy, is that there are so many conversations, so many channels to have them on, and not enough time to effectively participate in all of them.
Developing a strategy will enable you to think through questions like:
- Why are we doing this?
- What do we want to achieve?
- Who are we talking to?
- What are the best channels to use?
- Which conversations should we join, or start ourselves?
Like all conversations the key to social media is listening. Start by listening to yourself. What have you been saying to customers and prospects in your current marketing channels?
- Who are you talking to?
- What channels are you using (website, email, newsletters, phone)?
- What is the tone of the message?
- Do those channels reflect your company’s mission?
- What does your messaging say about your brand?
Then listen to your customers, prospects, competitors and others in your category. What are they talking about and with whom? There are a number of tools available to automate the process of gathering and analyzing conversations, from the high-end and very expensive; Radian6 and Lithium to the basic and free; SocialMention and GoogleAlerts.
Because social media is about conversations, you can look at messaging on a much deeper level. What attitudes define your company and brand? What social networks are the most activity related to your business? What kinds of people do most of the posting? What other organizations are these people connected to? The answers to these questions will help you determine which networks to focus your energy on, who you should engage, which values you should promote and attitudes you should change.
Define Your Audience
A great way to ensure you hit your target, and focus communications on the right people is to create personas. These are short descriptions of fictional individuals that represent your target. They’re not real people, but rather they are archetypes that represent real people. They will help you identify the potential character traits, personalities, habits and attitudes of your customers
Create rich personas that are representative of your audience by listening both online (as discussed above) and offline by conducting one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders and finding out:
- Which networks they use and how much time they spend there
- If they initiate conversations, or comment on them
- If they would be comfortable engaging with your company online
Map Your Assets
A common myth about social media is that it’s free, or at least very cheap. While it may be free to set-up a Twitter or Facebook account, it requires time, and usually lots of it, to effectively manage how those accounts are used. How many people, and how much time, are you able to devote to your social media plan? What technical experience do they need? What tools do they need? What content do you already have or create on a regular basis that can be used? For example you may produce a monthly newsletter in print form that could be used to create four or five blog posts.
Define Your Goals
At this point you’re ready to set your goals. The best goals are quantifiable, so everyone is clear on what you want your social media plan to achieve. It is also important to identify what metrics you are going to track, and how you’re going to measure them. Potential goals include:
- Sales: using social media to create first-time customers, or introduce them to the brand.
- Leads: incoming calls, contact from submission forms, email subscribers.
- Marketing: You may simply want to improve your relationship with existing customers and prospects.
- Loyalty/Brand Enthusiasm: increase retention and/or improve customer service.
- HR: attract and retain quality employees. Define Your Message
How do you define your company in a single, simple phrase. Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”
What’s your message? Ensure your social media team is intimately familiar with that message and have all of your social media content reflect it. Doing so will help you and your staff stay focused with a cohesive unifying theme.
Segments of your customers and prospects have different relationships with the brand. Some have never heard of you. Others are raving fans. Which are you trying to reach with social media? What your target audience already knows about you, will dictate what you can credibly have a conversation about in social media.
- Awareness. They may have heard of you, vaguely.
- Interest. They’ve heard of you and may have visited the website, but are not customers.
- Action. They’ve made a single purchase.
- Advocacy. They are fans of the brand. Frequent purchasers, they tell their friends.
Choose Your Channels
There are thousands of channels to choose from. Which ones are the best fit with your brand, customers, resources, and goals? Do you need to create regular blog posts to demonstrate your expertise? Perhaps your target audience is women who might be found on Pinterest, which is a pinboard-styled social photo sharing website allowing users to create and manage theme-based image collections (see www.pinterest.com). Maybe you’re a professional with lots of contacts on LinkedIn. Do you have the resources to monitor and update more than one platform?
Prioritize your channels, start slow, and get comfortable even if it means starting with just one platform. Spend time getting accustomed to posting content, answering questions and comments, and the overall level of engagement required. Once you’re comfortable, add another platform and slowly build your network.
Join the Conversation
Start tweeting, pinning, posting and liking. There are no hard and fast rules, but there are some best practices you should follow:
- Mind your etiquette. Each of the various social networks has its own unique nuances. For example #hashtags are popular on Twitter and can be used on Google+, but mean nothing to Facebook or LinkedIn users.
- Be transparent. Let people know who they are talking to. Use a name and where appropriate a picture. People like to talk to people, not brands, icons or logos.
- Keep it conversational. Lose the corporate speak. Write like you’re talking to a friend or a customer in the store. Ask questions and look for feedback.
- Stick to your knitting. Talk about what you know and what’s relevant to your brand and company. Don’t get pulled into conversations about politics, religion or other potentially controversial issues.
- Admit mistakes as they happen. Be the first to admit when you make a mistake and do your best to make it right. It’s better than being called out on Twitter and having thousands of people retweet something before you see it and ‘react’.
Test, Track and Tweak
Once you’re up and running for a while you’ll start to gain an understanding of what works, what resonates with customers, how and when they prefer to engage. It’s a process. One of the advantages of digital media is your ability to track and measure results in near real-time. This enables you to test various tactics, offers, headlines, calls-to-action or messages, and tweak them based on fairly immediate results.
With a solid, well thought out strategy in place, you’re on the right track to successfully leveraging social media to grow your business.