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
I 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:
- Your customers
- 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
What 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?
Did 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).