Many reputable marketing firms and agencies have dubbed 2011 as "the year of social"... and with good reason. The phrase "social media" is everywhere these days, and it's not just coming from the mouths of marketers. From the CEO down to the HR department, everyone is concerned with how to effectively and successfully use social media to connect with customers and increase brand awareness. The question is no longer "Should we have a social media presence?" but rather, "What's our social media strategy?"
Social media isn't something that you can just "check off" on the marketing to-do list, expecting it will run itself. It's more than just creating a brand page or a Twitter handle. It's a tool used to directly connect with your customers, helping you consistently measure how your customers are interacting with your brand. It can and does serve as a very effective HR and recruiting tool. It can serve as a research and product development engine, helping source feedback on new launches and initiatives.
Over the next several articles I'm going to discuss some key strategies for social success. Just jumping in head first won't support you for the long haul, you must have a strategy.
Before looking at social media channel selection, start by establishing your goals. It will eliminate the guesswork down the road and give you a measurable resource to add to your operational reporting. Starting with short-term goals and then establishing long-term goals will give you a focus point.
If your instinct is to look for goals with a financial ROI in the immediate future, you'll be let down. Social media is not an advertising engine, it's a relationship-builder. You're looking to improve existing relationships and create new ones to increase frequency and build sales. Long-term goals may include things that are less tangible, like shifting customer perception of your brand or improving attrition rates. Or they can be more specific, like increasing Tuesday lunch sales by 15 percent if you're a popular chain restaurant with slow weekday sales. These types of goals take time and consistent participation.
Establishing clear, firm goals up front will allow you to decide which social media channel(s) will help you best achieve them.
The next step is to choose your channels. What do I mean by that? Social media is a communications tool like no other, putting unprecedented control in the hands of previously voiceless consumers. It can be your best resource, or it can quickly become your nemesis.
Are you really ready for "real time" conversations? Facebook is becoming the must-do since it's so heavily integrated with mobile and because the everyday consumer gravitates there, but you'll need to understand how it functions. The quality of your content can really drive conversation or turn people off. We've all experienced the shall-remain-nameless company that constantly clutters your Facebook newsfeed with seemingly senseless or purely promotional spam.
Twitter is high-speed, high-attention and takes a certain amount of finesse and understanding to use it correctly for meaningful dialogue. There are hashtags, and @ mentions, along with trending topics... it's a lot of things to keep up with! Unless you're heavily trying to point people to other online resources or willing to have someone responding 24/7, it might not be the best spot to start.
YouTube is a powerful place to participate if you're willing to loosen the collar and create some personality in your business. Walkthroughs, product demos, and presentations are all ways you can use YouTube to interact with customers.
The point? Each of these channels is very different. Your style of engagement with consumers must be attuned to each channel, or your business may not reach the goals you're aiming for. Consumers have a powerful voice that allows them to quickly spread information with peers. You'll need to be ready for a response, not a reaction. If you cannot actively participate in conversations, don't join in.
Our last step is preparing your "panic" plan (in reality, a response plan). No one likes a bad review, and executives are particularly fearful of negative comments or tweets. Instead of focusing on the potential negatives, treat all responses as ways to engage your customers, glean real-time operational feedback, request customer service insights, and then have the ability to respond in an accessible, public way.
A response plan is as critical to success as establishing your goals. Commenting back to positive or negative customers establishes a two-way interaction and builds a top-of-mind awareness on any social media channel. Establishing a response plan will alleviate internal fears and allow for agile action and activation of other resources if the situation arises where there is a panicked situation.
Social media is a powerful tool, but it takes time to develop skills and reach consumers. Establishing goals, selecting the best channels, and preparing for anything will help you start out on the right foot. It's never too late to assess your social health and make some adjustments. Once your foundation is established, the next steps are fine-tuning your strategy with the use of tools to maximize your efforts for long-term success.
Erica McClenny is director of enterprise engagement at Expion, a social media management system that helps businesses get closer to customers to create online engagement where it matters most. Contact her at email@example.com.
A targeted, quarterly magazine that takes CEO's, VPs and Sales Executives to the cutting edge of franchise development.