If you enter into social media without a plan, you will fail. Period.

All the hours you spent will be wasted, you will receive no traffic bump, there will be no engagement, no one will care and you will learn nothing. Except maybe that you’re an idiot and that you should have listened to me when I told you to create a social media plan. You wouldn’t jump into a raging river without knowing how to swim, don’t create a Twitter account without knowing how to use it.

Grab a pen, I’m about to save your life.

Just because the tools of social media are free doesn’t mean they come without their own barrier to entry. The barrier is the knowledge of how to use them. Before you get started with using social media, you need to understand the tools you’ll be using. When we work with clients on their social media strategy for their business, here’s a bit of what we’re always sure to discuss with them.

Secure Your Brand

The first step of a successful (and long term) social media plan is to grab your brand everywhere you can, regardless of whether or not you plan to use it. It’s important that you have control of your identity all over the Web.  It’s always better to have the username and not use it, then need to wait and kick yourself later when someone else grabs it. Having a unified social media username is very important in establishing trust with other members (and potential press contacts) who may belong to multiple communities with you. You want them to know that you’re the same person.  Appearing as [cameraexpert] on one network and [cameras343] on another may confuse them.

To help ease the mind numbing task of username registration, we suggest using Knowem to search a large listing of social media sites. One search will tell you where your brand is still available on 120 different social media sites. (We also use their premium service to register the profiles for us since we’re too lazy busy to register all those profiles ourselves).

Set Your Metrics

Listen to me. Do NOT enter social media until you know what you want to get out of it. Period. If you don’t know what “success” is for you, then you’re not ready to start yet. It also means you should cut back on your blog reading.

Before you jump in, define success. Is it:

  • Building buzz and conversation around a particular product?
  • Better overall brand awareness?
  • More traffic?
  • Blog subscribers? Increased leads?
  • New knowledge about your customers and how they view your brand?

Once you know that, the next step in your social media planning is to figure out how you’re going to measure success.. You want to identify your challenges, goals and concepts to determine how “buzz” will be quantified. Is it blog comments, conversions, links, Twitter talk, better brand recognition? If you can’t measure whether or not you’re meeting your goals, then you’re going to fail before you even start. It will limit your ability to bench mark results and render you unable to implement changes.

If you don’t take the time to figure out (a) what you want and (b) how you’re going to get it, you will fail in social media. In fact, you’ll fail in life.

Know Who You Are

know who you are in social mediaI tend to believe that for most businesses, marketing is storytelling. It’s about using the tools available to you through social media to pique your customer’s interest and make them invested in who you are. The most successful companies are the ones that have gotten us interested in their story to the point where we want to share it with other people. We want to be associated with them.

Figure out your story in the market. Don’t construct a mythical tale about yourself, but do take the time to become aware of your identity. What does your company believe in? What are you known for and what do you want to be known for? If you’re “the corporate white hat SEO company” or “the blogger with an axe to grind”, you’re going to need to embrace that and bleed it. That knowledge will also be crucial in determining how you’ll talk to people, what your tone will be, how far you’ll go, and what you are (or are not) comfortable doing and sharing.

Determine Where to Build Satellite Communities

You want to plan your social media attack so that it’s as concentrated and as powerful as it can be. You don’t want to waste your time in communities where either no one is talking or they’re simply not interested in your kind. That means understanding two things:

  1. Your customers
  2. The communities you’re walking into

Your Customers: Put a face on them. Who are they and what are they interested in? Are they comfortable enough online to be hanging out in these communities? If so, where are they in the social media landscape? Are they on Twitter? Creating Facebook Fan pages? Answering questions on LinkedIn or Yahoo Answers? Or, God forbid, on MySpace? Wherever they are, find them.

If the bulk of your customers aren’t online, is there an opportunity to capture a secondary audience through social media – folks who may not make up a large percentage of your customer base but sit in parallel industries and could become more important?

If you don’t naturally know where people are hanging out, don’t panic. It just means you’ll need to do some research to start. Head to Twitter and search for your brand name, your competitors’ names, your keywords, industry, etc. Decide if there’s enough conversation to warrant engagement. Head to Facebook and see if there are any Fan pages dedicated to your company or industry. If there aren’t, are there a lot of people who list it as an interest and who may be interested in joining a community on that topic? Go to Yahoo Answers and see if people are asking or answering questions.

If your community is Internet-literate, they’re talking somewhere. You don’t have to invent the neighborhood, you just have to track it down and move in.

The Communities: Once you find the communities, study them. Scope them out and identify the elders, the specific caste system, their openness to newbies, how folks communicate, the type of content that is passed around, the rules for engagement, etc. You need to become an expert so that you know how to interact and don’t end up stepping on people’s toes or burning your bridges before you even start. Every community operates differently so you want to know the proper rules for each.

Create Rules for Engagement

social media roadmapWhat are you going to do when someone calls you a moron? How will you react when they tell the world that your company is deceitful and made of nothing but liars? Will you find a way to use the negative press or spaz out Christian Bale-style?

You won’t be able to create an exit strategy for every possible situation, but do get some ground rules down. Last week we all got a peek at the Wall Street Journal’s official conduct rules for employees engaging in social media. The document mentions basic social media tenants like disclosing the company you work for, not discussing confidential information, refraining from disparaging the company, and not “engaging in impolite dialogue” with the wonderful folks of the Internet who will spend 20 minutes telling you you’re ugly. And so is your mother. It’s a lot easier to respond to the crazy when you have a system already documented on paper.

You also need rules for not just what you’ll say but who will be in charge of saying it and what their role is. Create these rules before you start, not after the break up.

Some things you’ll want to address are:

  • How will social media be integrated into the company’s core strategy?
  • Who from the company will engage? Will there be one voice? A team using one branded account? Personal accounts?
  • How much time will be spent on social media?
  • How long will the company “test” the different sites before evaluating their success?
  • If a serious fire breaks out, what is the proper protocol and who needs to become involved?

Engage. Genuinely.

outspoken2Did you notice that “engaging in social media” is Step 6 and not Step 1? Just wanted to point that out. Carry on.

When you finally enter the social space, your job is to listen and begin forming a platform for people to openly talk and engage with you.

  • Listen to what they’re saying.
  • Listen to what they mean.
  • Listen to what’s bothering them.
  • Listen to what makes them happy.

And when you have something to help lighten their load, to be helpful or to make them smile, respond. Respond with links to your resources, to other people’s resources, to your competitors’ resources. Your job in social media is to listen, to help and to get your message out only when appropriate. For every 10-15 messages where you help someone else, you get to include one that promotes yourself. That’s it. Social media isn’t about you. It’s about your customers and connecting with them so that when they have a need for X, they remember they have a friend on Twitter/Facebook/the Web who specializes in that.

If you chose to enter Twitter, use tools like the Advanced Search, Twitter Grader and Twellow to find people you should be following. If you’re on Facebook, join the groups that are relevant to you and become part of the conversation. If you’re answering questions on Flickr or LinkedIn, again, find the groups that are relevant to you and jump in finding ways to be useful and a good community member.

And then get in there. Leave comments on blogs, tweet people, leave Wall comments, etc. Engage new visitors. Go out there and talk to your community and at least pretend to have fun doing it. Be social and friendly and everything you wish you were in real life. The more excited you are about your community, the more excited they’ll be about you.

Also look for ways to take it offline and in the flesh. Organize meetups and tweetups so that people can be passionately vocal about your company together. No one wants to be in love alone. Give your community a way to find one another and to band together. You’ll empower them and empower yourself.

Assess Your Success.

The same way you can’t “set and forget” an SEO campaign, you can’t dive into social media and then never look back either. You’re going to have to take a look at your on-site and off-site metrics to determine whether or not your social media efforts have been successful, and if not, what you can do to fix them. Lucky for you (!), you set your metrics early on and determined what you were looking for and how you were going to quantify it. You know how to measure social media success.

I’d give your social media efforts about 2-3 months to stabilize before you really start trying to decide if things are working for you.  If you start evaluating any earlier than that all you’ll have to go on is your number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans.  Those aren’t really the metrics you want to be looking at. They’re useful to bench mark, but you should really be looking to see if:

  • Rankings have increased based on traffic and links.
  • Social media users are actually engaging with your content and/or converting (hint: Crazy Egg is awesome for this).
  • You’ve had more success on the social voting sites?
  • You increase awareness about a product that led to sales.

Whatever you had outlined as determining “success” before, now is the time to see if you’ve gotten any closer to that goal.  If you have, congrats. Keep on doing what you’re doing. If not, figure out what’s broken and fix it. If you can’t do it yourself, you may need some social media consulting (just sayin).


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


78 thoughts on “Creating Your Social Media Plan


  • Roy Morejon on said:

    A really good guide to getting your social media initiatives started. One of the most important factors I have implemented is to figure out how you’re going to measure success, and go from there. Great post!


  • Hannah_Bo_Banna on said:

    I couldn’t agree more with the importance of setting your metrics from the outset – if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, how are you going to know whether or not you’ve achieved it?

    Fantastic post Lisa.


  • Tony on said:

    Spot on tips Lisa! Knowing your measurements for success are so important in marketing strategies, especially Social Media. Also, monitoring conversations, understanding the communities, knowing where to play and where you’ll get greatest engagement is so important, and, this post had all of that.


  • James Gurd on said:

    Great post, engaging reading. I like your approach – too many people are obsessed with social media just because everyone else is. The desperate rush to be seen to embrace it often leads to poor execution and incoherent communication. I’ve lost track of the number of Facebook and Twitter accounts that serve no purpose and deliver zero engagement. The problem is this influences the opinions of senior business people who then think “social is rubbish and won’t work for my business”. I agree that unless you are passionate about what you are doing and understand what you are trying to achieve and the tools you need to use to get there, the tumble weed is going to roll!


  • Michael D on said:

    I love CrazyEgg, it’s been a great tool to help discover what people are doing once on the site. Feel same way about knowem, I think it’s easier to pay for the service and put your focus on your campaigns. Wish I would have gone through that process 2 years ago.


  • iGoMogul on said:

    Thank you for this post, Lisa. iGoMogul just recently put our Social Media plan into place, so we’re still within that initial 2-3 month phase. We knew what our primary goal was going in and have seen some positive results so far, but there is always room for improvement and there are several ideas here that could definitely help us.


  • GA on said:

    Well presented outline, Lisa. “Social media isn’t about you. It’s about your customers and connecting with them so that when they have a need for X, they remember they have a friend….”


  • Tim Danyo on said:

    Social media is so fun and addictive that it is easy to flitter away time and see no real substantial benefit. I really appreciate your wake up call. I’ll need to bookmark this post and refer back to it for sure. You have a loyal follower in me. I’ll contribute best I can. :-)


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    Roy: Total tangent, but you have one of my favorite Gravatars ever. :)

    Thomas Schmitz: w00t!

    Michael: I’d have knowem’s babies if I could get Streko to okay it. I have a feeling he’d try to negotiate licensing for the offspring.

    Hamlton: We try to be big on the actual “advice” part of posts. Glad you liked it. :)


  • David Temple on said:

    Okay without sounding like a major fanboy, this post is frickin’ awesome. Aww, who am I kidding, I am a major fanboy. This is one of those posts that everybody needs to read, nay, needs to study and implement in their best practices. Too many lemmings just jumping off the cliff and I mean many of the big boys. I’m doing a social media piece at SMX Singapore (come on over) and will totally refer to this! Did I mention I was a major fanboy?


  • OMZen on said:

    Brilliant Post Lisa !

    How many social sites, do you feel a person can PRACTICALLY engage in before hitting point of diminishing returns ?


  • Jon Buscall on said:

    My read of the week so far, Lisa. Great post.

    I agree we have to listen first after having decided what we want to achieve.
    Actually tracking the data for leverage is harder than it sounds, though. You’ve got to crack open Excel or Numbers and start storing data, pouring over the figures and looking to learn from this.

    Major corporations can probably handle this but let’s not forget that lots of small businesses are looking to social media because the entry barrier is cost free. I would personally recommend you limit yourself to The Plan each day for a scheduled period of time. Otherwise you will get sucked into endless tinkering, reading, listening and participating – forgetting to do your actual job in the first place.

    I’d be curious to hear how others handle social media participation. A clock? Scheduling time each day?

    It’s not just the theory of getting involved; it’s the practicalities of embracing a social media campaign too.


  • Lisa Barone on said:

    David: You may be the original Lisa Fanboy. It’s nice to see your face again! Thanks for the kudos. Doubt I’ll be making it to Singapore any time soon but, uh, we’ll see. :)

    OMZen: Personally, I can’t imagine being active on more than 3 social media accounts. I think anymore than that you’re just paying lip service to the community and aren’t really able to engage and talk to anyone. That’s just me, though. It really depends how much time you’re willing to put in.

    Jon: Thanks, dude. :) I think most people assume that stepping into social media and having conversations is this HUGE time committment. Really, once things are set up, if companies could dedicated 30min a day to commenting on new blogs, starting conversations on Twitter, they’d see a huge impact.

    Walter: I think saying it’s about the bottom line and money doesn’t really *say* anything. You can’t say, “I’m in social media to make money”, because what does that really mean? You need to set real metrics. You’re in social media to do X, which leads to more money. I think it’s more important to focus on that X, because that’s the action you’re really looking for. It’s far more measurable.


  • Matt Levenhagen on said:

    Great Article Lisa. Personally, on average, I spend only a few hours a day working on my social media stuff.. and I’m able to do ok with twitter and facebook in that time.. but you are right, it takes time and dedication to really engage and get the most out of social sites. I made a decision early on that I would choose only one or two to focus on most so I could have a bigger presence there. (especially important if you are in more than one niche)

    And I love your emphasis on metrics and deciding on how to “figure out how **you’re** going to measure success..”. One thing I’ve observed is that there isn’t one way to approach social media; there are wrong ways, but there are numerous right ways.. it’s really individual to the business or individual.

    Thanks again!

    -Matt Levenhagen


  • Daniel Sevitt on said:

    OK I knew I was a noob, I just didn’t realize how much of a noob until now. This is simultaneously the most depressing and the most useful post I’ve read all week.
    Thanks, I think.


  • Ian M on said:

    This was really well written. This made me chuckle in particular:

    Did you notice that “engaging in social media” is Step 6 and not Step 1? Just wanted to point that out. Carry on.


  • Tony Brice on said:

    Even though the context for your post is social media for customer engagement, I can tell you the same things apply to secure, private communities. We mostly launch secure, private communities (e.g., employee communities) but defining clear objectives and associated metrics is critical. I won’t go so far as to say these types of communities will fail but, in our experience, success will come slowly and painfully… best case.


  • Nathan Hangen on said:

    I really like how you said you shouldn’t get in to social media unless you know what your goals are. On first read, I didn’t agree, but now that I think about it you make a great point. Time is precious for people like us, and knowing what you want helps you to forge relationships and make your time as well spent as possible.

    I think setting time aside for just having fun is good, but we can’t forget about strategy either.


  • charles on said:

    This is a great article. However, just taking the first step into social media for my company has been delayed by concerns over resource. Would it take a dedicated position to successfully manage three accounts? If the role was assigned to someone, how much time per day would it take to get results as described above? How are other companies dediated resrouces to social media?


  • Derek Bullard on said:

    One of the best articles regarding social media I have read to date. It seems most businesses completely skip the ” setting your metrics ” step and therefore feel they gain nothing from their time put into social media. I love the way you put it ” If you don’t know what “success” is for you, then you’re not ready to start yet ” so true and yet always overlooked.


  • Chris Bonney on said:

    Lisa-
    Most of your points I agree with. It’s a good article. The only challenge I pose is that by saying you’ll fail without a plan is actually setting up organizations to fail in another way: analysis paralysis. It can take months and sometimes over a year for certain organizations to run a plan through the system.

    For this very reason, I’m a fond advocate of the READY/FIRE/AIM approach to social networking.

    Go ahead and dive into the deep end and dog paddle around for a while. You might just naturally evolve into a world-class back stroke. Of course, you could sink to the bottom, too. But that’s kind of the point. Climb out of the pool and dive in again. A lot of major brands have failed miserably the first time they took the plunge, but many have learned from their floundering. A plan does not alleviate a learning curve.

    My concern is that with the speed of technology, to ask someone to have a plan before they engage in social media is risking a vicious cycle of being dreadfully irrelevant and perpetually behind the times.


  • Jeff Hurt on said:

    I do agree with Chris that sometimes, you have to stick your toes in the water, learn how to swim before your chart your course for an across the ocean swim.

    Strategy is so important and you need to understand why and how to create a great social media plan.


  • BrentBillock on said:

    This is a fantastic article, and I plan on borrowing from it copiously on a proposal I’m putting together. Both in the planning stages and the communicative priorities for ongoing engagement, I think you’ve absolutely nailed it.

    What about that tricky in-between step when the company has finished strategizing and is just getting started on Facebook? For some B-to-B companies, running a promotion isn’t necessarily going to draw the right audience. Is it appropriate to directly contact the administrators of pages in the same industry and invite them to join in?

    If so, do you have to do this individually, or are there tools available to more easily attract a few hundred targeted users?


  • Philip Zelinger on said:

    Your willingness to share real world best practices tied to the wisdom of establishing expectations of time and money invested in social networking vs. old world expectations of more quantifiable and conventional short term R.O.I. was refreshing – to say the least! I am often challenged to contribute to posts such as yours since within my own spheres of influence I am considered an “alpha” networker but in your case it isn’t easy!

    My only thoughts to contribute would be in the form of suggesting that new technologies and applications designed to develop efficiencies in monetizing relationships in the social networking communities from the inside out through C2C comments vs. marketing to them from the outside in through more established B2B channels may provide some solutions to resource challenged would be advertisers to these online communities of potential partners. Note that I did not reference our online targeted social networking audience as customers, but partners! They are the true social networking managers of tomorrow!

    ronsmap.com is a soon to be announced retail automobile industry platform that I have featured in some of my posts on my automotive advertising agency social networking portal – http://adagencyonline.net – that will leverage their presence into the social media via their proprietary applications and I am anxious to share their solutions with you. I will try to reach out to you in the real world to solicit your input and valued advice on some of the social networking based applications that they have built into their applications as well as their unique mobile platform that similarly focuses on the customer’s needs vs. the auto dealers sales quotas.

    After all, what are friends for!


  • Julie Weishaar on said:

    Great post. Your first sentence says it all “If you enter into social media without a plan, you will fail. Period.” Very helpful info. Thanks for sharing.


  • Weber on said:

    Thanks for the tips. You surely were right. You must plan everything before putting it into action. “Do NOT enter social media until you know what you want to get out of it.”-it doesn’t mean that once you enter social media it would make you famous. Your goals must be in your head always, the reasons why you want to enter social media are your basis for your success.


  • Phil McCusker on said:

    Brilliant post.
    Love how you cut the fluff and go for the jugular! I read endless posts and content about SM that reads something like: ‘its all about listening’ or ‘twitter followers bla bla, FB fans blalba’ – frankly pompous / self-obsessed dribble for the most part. You go girl!
    Thanks.


  • Andrew on said:

    Great article Lisa. Lots of valid point discussed here. I find the largest issue with the online social world is the inexperience of novice players spouting useless information about them Our community expands if we share our knowledge and hidden treasures that have helped us grow.


  • SEOBiotics on said:

    The whole social media world is blowing up… I have friends who are all of a sudden “social media experts and consultants” who dont know a thing about websites. They know how to setup a facebook account and all of a sudden they’re taking consulting fees.

    If they read this post… then I’d think twice. lol


  • Prav on said:

    Great post written very inspiring and great to read about making more and more benefits by social media online. Have a great readers hip and nice day..


  • Asif Khan on said:

    Great post Lisa. This is really helpful because we were in the midst of designing our B2B Social Media Strategy. The most confusing part is how many channels should be targetting to, is twitter, facebook, linkedin, youtube enough when it comes to a B2B brand or maybe more multimedia and doc sharing platforms should be used. Also the measurement of these channels should be done separately or there used be a single measurement metric for all. Many thanks (@asifmumtazkhan)


  • Alok Kumar on said:

    Nice article. It really gave us a lot of information. We were trying to get information on some subject which is related to this to an extent for last couple of days and this article really helped us. Good job !


  • Lisa Kupper on said:

    Great work! The guidance you offer here has really helped me to develop a guide for our network of technical assistance projects funded by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Dept. of Education. We’ve cited you all over the place in that guide, so I hope lots of people will come here and read this firsthand—it’ll give me as much guidance as it did me! Thanks for the excellent writing, too. A pleasure to read!


  • Pedro Pinto on said:

    I am starting to develop a social media strategy offer for some clients and your post really had great insights. Thank you for that, Lisa !

    Do you have any recent articles that you think I should read to offer a better service?

    Thanks again, I will start following you from now on :-)


  • Rubela Shome on said:

    One should not get overwhemled and spend all his efforts to create a social media plan. Social media is a mean to an end that is your website. Of course, people would like to visit your website before they make a decision that they are going to buy something from you. So, it is equally important to have your website ready for the challenge that your aggresive social media plan can throw on you. Otherwise, you played well but could not kick the ball through the goal.


  • Samreen Soomro on said:

    Great post Lisa! I was looking around for some tips to roll out an effective social media plan and I found your post. I’m glad I did. It’s packed with valuable nuggets of information that have definitely pointed me in the right direction. Thanks a lot!


  • Lara Scott on said:

    Thanks Lisa for confirming my belief that businesses and marketers need to become more like social anthropologists when they engage in social media channels.


  • Heather on said:

    Lisa, wonderful article. I’m just starting out and creating my first proposal, and this is invaluable information. You’re going on my website as a recommended resource for social media, chica!


  • patty wendorf on said:

    this was very helpful,esp. for those of us who have entered the world of social media with little background in tech,


  • Kristin Larsen on said:

    Great article post. Not only well written but extensive knowledge shared. It seems that as Social Media becomes more important and widely used, these are key steps that must be taken before beginning. Knowing why you are using the application and what application your target audience is using I thought were key points among many that you covered.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise Lisa.


  • David on said:

    Very good article. I agree that most people give no thought to any type of planning when they start using social media. Many also think that social media is Facebook!

    My biggest issue with social media is that people seem to think they can replace a website (or never get one in the first place) with a Facebook page. It’s just not true. Marketing (no matter what kind) should be made up of multiple streams. Social media is just one of them.

    If people are going to use social media, your post here is a great resource and will help, if they listen…

    Thanks!


  • Heather Scott on said:

    This post answered everyone question I’ve been asked about social media. Something in this post for everyone – considering almost everyone is engaged in social media these days! I found the embedded links especially helpful. Thanks a lot!


  • Tommy on said:

    Great article Lisa. I’m an SEO and 2011 has already proven to be a big year for the “marriage” between social and orgranic search. A guide like yours really helps an SEO like me understand more of your (SMO) process, as I continue to build strategies around the effect that social signals are having on organic search results.


  • Nerissa Nadia on said:

    Lisa,

    Thank you so very much for your words of wisdom. This article is full of great tips and information, and I really do appreciate you sharing your wealth of knowledge (and links). I love how this applies not only to social media for organizations, but to one’s own individual / personal social media plan as well. I have been searching for gems online for corporate & personal branding, so again I appreciate the post. Thanks!


  • Bill Schweigart on said:

    Fantastic article – I’m a planner by nature and this was right up my alley. Thank you!


  • Stephen Brayton on said:

    Good post. I’d add one more thing to this which is: review your status every so often. Social networks change, sometimes subtley, and what you originaly got into, isn’t anymore, or isn’t quite like it was when you started.


  • Robin Hodson on said:

    More useful stuff in this article than in the local Waterstones! But how seriously are @apple on twitter and flickr.co.uk taking the brandname ownership concept?


  • sushilver on said:

    Hi Lisa,

    this was my first visit on this website and i found your post awesome because SMO is term where your effective planning always does matter.

    Thanks
    sushilver


  • Blake Dukes on said:

    Informative and entertaining! As much as I’ve been trying to avoid jumping on the social media wagon…its going to happen. It’s such a big part of SEO anymore I won’t stand a chance unless I incorporate it as a part of my strategy. (knuckle crack) Guess its time to get started! Thanks for the tips Lisa!


  • Yewande on said:

    The task of increasing my department’s social media presence is in my lap and while we have gained a few new “likes” on Facebook and I have started a Twitter account, I can’t say that I’m anywhere near where I had hoped to be. Your blog has really given me food for thought regarding my approach. When I get in on Tuesday (yes, this is my task as a part-time employee) I’ll be assessing our identity, our current social media status, and our communities. Hope to check in with you in a few months with good news regarding growth in our online presence!


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