Have you been avoiding social media because you don't know where to start? Here are five steps for a strategy in social.
How can a social media novice start thinking about implementing a social strategy? Perhaps you're from a small or mid-sized business, which still hasn't gotten on the social media bandwagon. Or you've tried a few things, like creating a Facebook page, but the magic didn't happen. Here's a set of questions to go through before you dive into social media.
1. Why are you going into social media?
What's your company's purpose in getting into social media? If you're looking to just advertise, sending out messages in a one way fashion, think again. Social media is a conversation, and you're in for a surprise. Customers will want to talk back, make suggestions or even complain about your product or service.
So before you start your efforts, be clear about your intent in social media. Are you there to retain and talk with existing customers? Protect your brand's reputation online? Find new customers and improve sales? Each of these intents has implications for how your company will act online, and affects the networks where you'll participate.
Task: Create a list of the key reasons why you're joining a social media site. Be specific about the outcomes you hope to achieve.
2. How does your social plan support your overall marketing plan?
As you are thinking about your intent for social, think of your other marketing efforts. How will your social media outreach affect your marketing? Think about adding your brand's social media urls to your ads. Don't put "Find us on Facebook" because they might not take the time to do so. List "Facebook.com/yourbusiness" instead.
Will you be selling via your social presence? Tweeting deals on a regular basis? How will you be tracking these efforts, and comparing them to other marketing and sales efforts?
Task: If your customer service group or sales organization will be affected by your new social tools, take the time to talk with them and ensure everyone is on the same page. Write down specifics on how your social plan supports your marketing.
3. How are you going to represent your brand online?
Will your company's presence contain an icon, or the picture of a person? Who will be the voice of the business? Will a principal of the firm be both the owner of the business and the main social contact, or will you create accounts that represent your brand? Having a principal do the outreach has worked for Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Hshieh. But many companies keep a corporate presence so that multiple employees can share the responsibilities.
Task: Brainstorm with your marketing advisors about how your company will represent itself, before you launch.
4. Who is your audience? Where do they live online?
You might know your customers from your physical store or business, but online, where do they spend time? Finding your customers involves doing some research and listening online. If you are a local business, Yelp may have more of an impact than LinkedIn, for example.
Social media is global. Are you going to talk with everyone, gather a large following, or are you going to focus on just your local customer base? Will you "follow back" or "Friend" everyone online who connects to you, or just some of them. Who? Spend time creating a policy and stick to it.
Task: Research your audience and write up your policy. There are many online resources for creating a social media policy.
5. How will you measure success?
For some, success is making the cash register ring and that's it. Those firms will have to track metrics and watch to see if posts in social media bring customers in and help them convert. For others, social is about building up a brand name, satisfying customers, or generating inquiries or names on an email list.
All of these outcomes are valid ones. Be sure you know what you want to accomplish before you start, so you can plan to measure your efforts. If your boss wanted sales, and you only deliver fans, it may be a very hard conversation at the end of the quarter.
Task: Pick a few measurements and set up a way to track your progress, even if it is a simple spreadsheet that shows growth of fans over time. Track time spent on social and make sure the metrics are proving out the investment.
If you find your social strategy plan isn't working after a few months, there are many qualified marketing consultants, agencies, and even nonprofit groups like Social Media Club (disclosure, I run the club in New York City) with resources to help you.
HOWARD GREENSTEIN is a social media strategist and evangelist, and president of the Harbrooke Group, which specializes in helping companies communicate with their customers using the latest Web technologies. @HowardGr