Last month I discussed three steps for businesses to get started in social media. The most important of those steps in your strategy is setting measurable goals.
Your marketing team has very different ideas of what constitutes measurable success than, say, your operational team, right? Social media is a prime example of how these two worlds can merge successfully, as well as opening up the possibility for incorporating human resources, product development, and customer experience research. Social media reaches across many different departments of your business, so each individual branch or team should be involved in establishing short- and a long-term goals. Polling and collecting thoughts from various business units allows you to gauge your efforts and track key performance indicators (KPIs) over time.
I don't expect you to know how to apply all of your goals at the launch, but aggregating different viewpoints will help you in the selection of your channel in step two of our social media strategy process. For now, I just want you to understand social media isn't just a marketing tool, it's a business tool.
Now that you've collected some thoughts from your team, it's time to weigh them based on financial resources and time. Social media campaigns can be costly, particularly if you're looking at custom gaming applications on Facebook or a scavenger hunt around town using Twitter and foursquare check-ins. Don't start with huge campaigns and expensive ideas until you get your feet wet and are comfortable with the time social media will take. First, here are my short-term goal suggestions:
Goal #1: Fan or follower growth is priority! If you do not have an audience, how will you have a conversation? Fan growth is important, but the quality of fans is the key. Buying ads to gain awareness is not your only option to increase your Facebook "likes." You must fully integrate your social media presence with in-store collateral, TV, radio, and any other media you use to promote your business. Just because you "build it" doesn't mean they will come. You have to tell people that you're open online.
Goal #2: Build consistent conversations. Social isn't advertising, it's about building and nurturing relationships. Facebook has a powerful way of deciding how often your fans should see your page updates. Just because someone "likes" a page doesn't mean they see 100 percent of those updates forever. Don't lose hope, though, it's an easy problem to solve. How? Comment and respond to as many fan interactions as possible. The more you have two-way interactions, the more often Facebook will display your updates. Twitter works a bit differently but the same concept and approach apply. By responding to Twitter's "@" mentions you are actively engaging in two-way conversations. The more tweets made, the more likely your business and dialogue will be discovered among the vast Twitter-verse. You should also consider using a software tool for long-term analysis. These social media management tools (also known as social media management systems, or SMMSs) help manage and monitor conversations. Some well-known ones include Buddy Media, Context Optional, and Expion, my company.
Goal #3: Be a competitive watchdog. What are others in your space doing on social media? Understand your competitive differentiators. You have to know what your competition sells, or what they offer through social media channels. You understand how business is different operationally, so why shouldn't you be aware of their online marketing style? There are many ways to learn about your competition, and this is one instance where I recommend putting in the early financial investment for a social listening tool. The online world is vast and changes too quickly to be accurately monitored and measured by hand. Companies such as Radian6, Sysomos, and yes, Expion, all offer social listening/monitoring tools that will help you gauge and measure online conversations and benchmark against your competition. Web and social media chatter can be very telling of which direction you'll need to take for your efforts to be successful.
Now let's think about a few long-term obtainable goals. I'm sure financial ROI is high on your list of wants (as well as on your CEO's and CFO's). This is possible, if you have the systems in place to track it. For example, Expion had a client who tracked a specific, company-wide monthly event, comparing sales in socially engaged (Facebook) and non-social restaurants over a period of seven months. The sales lift for the active social locations was tremendous: food sales rose more than 38 percent and alcohol sales were up nearly 100 percent from the previous year. Let me reiterate: the only difference in promoting these events was a Facebook page for each restaurant.
Another possibility for linking back to social channels is the use of mobile. One example is a Facebook Loyalty Deal at each location, which is similar to a virtual punch card. Every time a customer checks in using their phone, an update is posted and viewable by their friends on Facebook. Not only is this organic advertising for your business, it also motivates customers to continue to frequent your business and to check in.
How about the objective to lower and streamline advertising costs? Facebook ads are a prime example of an inexpensive way to gain an audience for awareness campaigns or to drive specific events in a targeted area. If advertising is done correctly (by the way there is an art to this), you'll need to buy ads only once to gain the right fans for organic residual sharing, advocacy, and increased visits.
Each business has a different set of needs and a different budget to realize its goals. I hate to break it to you, but there isn't an "out-the-door" solution to social media. If your team is not comfortable with social media, don't expect them to understand it in a few days or assume that using a software partner will solve the mystery. If you are going to bring in a consultant or hire a specific agency to help with social media, make sure you go back to the aforementioned "watchdog" tool. What have they done to help others become successful?
Join me next month, when I'll discuss how to "choose your channel." I'll look into some well-known sites and also give you a few hidden facts about the impact of social media in SEO, customer reviews, and overall reputation management.
Erica McClenny is director of enterprise engagement at Expion, a social media management and application company that helps businesses connect with customers through social media. Her passion lies in educating executives about the functions and nuances of social media channels, while collaborating with marketing and IT departments to build successful strategies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about Expion solutions at www.expion.com.
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