My inbox is swamped right now. It’s swamped with endless end-of-the-year statistics all hailing the same thing – businesses are looking to up their investment in social media in 2011. They’re looking to these channels for promotion, lead generation and as alternate forms of customer service. And that’s great. But before you start throwing your money into social media, make sure you’re setting up shop on the right network. Because it doesn’t matter how pretty a house you build if you’re putting it in the wrong neighborhood.
Below you’ll find a series of questions I’d recommend businesses ask themselves before they join any social network. While all the different Twitters, LinkedIns, Facebooks and MySpaces are great, they’re only great if you’re using the right one for your business. Otherwise you’re just working to build a collection of useless accounts.
Why are the strengths of this site?
Whether it’s Twitter, Dailybooth or Flickr, it doesn’t matter. Before you decide to allocate resources to a particular site, know why you’re doing it. How will being on Twitter help your business? What can you do here more efficiently than through a different platform? What is the goal of Twitter for you? And unless you want to get smacked, don’t just recite what you read on Mashable or some other social media blog. Actually evaluate the site and decide how it’s functionality will help you. Just because LinkedIn is great for one business, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a fit for yours. You want to find what is. Decide what you need and how this site can help you get it. If you can’t figure out how this site will help you, find another one.
How much time can you afford to spend there each day/week?
I’m talking realistically, not in your social media dream world. How much time can you realistically spend to maintaining your Facebook page? An hour a day? An hour a week? An hour a month?
The amount of time you can spend will be directly tied to whether you’re successful or not. Scott Stratten often states in presentations that his Twitter followers really start to grew when he began dedicating a significant amount of time to interacting on Twitter (he has 74,768 followers at publishing). Shocking, right? Well, not really. These are social channels. In order to see a return on them, you have to actually be social on them. If you only have half an hour a week to build brand awareness, then it’s probably not going to work for you. Social media, much like SEO and most other parts of your marketing identify, are not one-time investments. You need to actually be there and show people that you’re part of that community. The only thing worse than not having a presence on an important social network is having a crappy one. Because then it’s not ignorance, it’s just that you don’t care. If you don’t have time to raise the baby, don’t have one. Less therapy for everyone.
What are the demands of this site?
When you go and create that social media account – you’re actually going to be expected to do something with it. If it’s a Twitter account you’ll need someone to update, respond to comments and do outreach. If it’s Flickr, you’ll be responsible for creating video, promoting it, and being active in that community. If it’s a Dailybooth account, well, you’ll have to find someone who is vain enough to take a photo of themselves on a regular basis [I can say that, I have a DB account.] All of these sites demand that your brand participate in some way. Make sure you understand what those demands are before you get on the bandwagon. If you have no social skills, don’t join social media. Run like hell from social media.
Does your community use that social network? Do they use social networks at all?
I mean, I’m sure you think they are, but have you checked? Just because the world now spends 110 billion minutes (OMG, go outside!) on social networks and blogs, doesn’t mean your users do. Check your referrals to see where your community is hanging out and where your content already is. Go to the social network you’re courting and do a search for your brand and/or keywords. Are conversations taking place there? Do a search for your competitors? Are people having conversations with or about them? Ask your customers about the social networks they most use (if any) and if they’d like to see you there, as well. But don’t just assume that your audience is on Twitter or Facebook because they’re the biggest dogs. You want to have the numbers in your hand to back up whatever site you choose.
If the service was $500/month, would you still join it?
Really, would you? If the only reason you’re signing up with this social network is because you think it’s free, don’t join. Because while the site, itself, may not charge for membership, you are paying for presence there. You’re paying in your time and the resources that you’re dedicating to it. If this site isn’t important enough to you that you’d pay to be a member, then it’s a sign you’re not taking it seriously enough. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s.
How will this site integrate into everything ELSE you’re doing?
We’ve talked a bit now about the difference between creating a social media campaign and a social media strategy. We’re big believers that the latter is what produces the best results. Doing social media ‘on purpose’ as opposed to just falling into it means integrating one site’s activity with everything else you’re doing. How will your social media presence on this site integrate with what you’re doing offline? How will it become part of your email marketing? How will it work into day-to-day customer interactions? People and departments fail when you restrict them to an island. Every time you set up a new port, you need to create a bridge.
Obviously, you won’t know 100 percent whether or not a site will work for you until you test the waters and start connecting with other people. But by answering the questions above, it will help you hone in on the sites that can give your brand the biggest boost. Social media success begins with picking the right home.