All too often I see businesses that, in their haste to hop aboard the social media bandwagon, dive straight into tactical work without knowing what they hope to accomplish, let alone having a plan to achieve it. Social media, just like any other significant marketing initiative, needs to have a clear and measurable strategy. And while social media can serve many purposes, without clearly defining your primary objectives, you're going to have a hard time giving direction to your team, allocating resources, and evaluating outcomes.
Whether you're just starting out or you're re-evaluating your social media strategy, consider this list of objectives as a map to get started. Once you determine your objectives, you can drill down to tactics. If all the objectives sound appealing, try to limit yourself to no more than two or three at first. You can always build from there.
1. Improve specific brand awareness and positioning. Many companies conduct advertising and marketing campaigns solely for the purpose of branding and raising consumer awareness. This could be your primary social media objective, too. If it is, be sure that your efforts reinforce your brand message and help differentiate you from the market.
2. Improve visibility through search. Search engines factor in social media participation and social sharing into their algorithms. If search weighs heavily as a source of new business leads and sales, focus on a social media strategy that helps increase your company's search visibility.
3. Provide education/how-to. Many companies have built their reputations helping educate their customers. Whole Foods Markets, for example, has developed a healthy living theme around the hashtag "#HealthYeah" which they use throughout their social media efforts.
4. Develop, curate, and share industry or target audience news and information. Some companies do a great job of producing relevant news by conducting and sharing research; others seek out and post case studies. Don't have the resources to produce this kind of content yourself? Become a "curator" instead. The end result can be the same: You become the go-to high quality resource for news and information.
5. Be an expert. This objective works particularly well if your business has a singular focus or you have someone on your team with unique subject matter expertise. By making available expertise the focal point of your social media strategy, you'll attract a wide audience of people seeking answers, but you'll also help generate plenty of useful content that can easily be shared. To execute this objective, you can leverage built-in solutions like Quora or you can create and host ongoing programming like a tweetchat or a Google Hangout.
6. Deliver customer service. The idea of delivering customer service via social media dates back to some of the earliest brand successes on Twitter (@comcastcares, @hertz, @Quicken). Social media helps companies resolve customer issues rapidly--and those speedy responses boost companies' reputations.
7. Recruit new job hires. Many companies find social media to be valuable to their HR teams as a great place to find engaged, interested job candidates. Some companies--like those in regulated industries--may not be comfortable using social media broadly, but a focused area like recruitment is a great place to start.
8. Showcase products/replace print catalogs. Ssocial media can help reduce reliance on expensive print catalogs. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest allow companies to showcase and promote their wares for a fraction of the printing costs.
9. Conduct direct sales/ecommerce. On Facebook, it's called "F-commerce," a full-blown store built into a Facebook page. Companies like Pampers and 1-800-FLOWERS have already begun testing it. Commerce can also be built into blogs, and through applications and extensions, I can envision simple transactions taking place through other social networks in the near future.
10. Listen/conduct market and/or competitive research. No company should overlook the power of using social media to simply listen and learn. Learn about your customers. Learn about your prospects. Learn about your competitors and about trends in your market. Sometimes the most power come from listening well.
Once you have your social media objectives figured out, it's time to build that strategy and put it into action.