While a growing number of businesses today are starting to use social media in marketing their business, there is always a risk of putting execution before strategy. This is a real danger with social media because too many businesses realize too late that once you begin a social media initiative (such as a Facebook Fan Page, Twitter account or YouTube channel), you’ve got to refresh it with new content on a regular basis as well as monitor it for comments and spam. Otherwise, you would have been better off not doing anything. If you don’t believe me, check out some Facebook Fan Pages that haven’t been updated for awhile or don’t reply to consumer comments and get back to me. I would like to share ten guiding principles you can apply to use social media to build your business:
1.)Listen and Respond To The Voice of Your Customer - Social media gives your business team unprecedented access to your consumers in terms of what they are saying about your Brand online. That still requires actively making an on-going effort to listen to and understand what they are saying. Your customers are talking about your business right now – the question is are you listening? The good news is (at least for a small business) you don’t need to spend a lot of money to follow this conversation. Examples of free and inexpensive tools for monitoring online conversations include: • Google Alerts (Internet mentions) • Addictomatic (numerous sources) • Hootsuite (Twitter) • Reading Facebook wall posts (for your Brand as well as your competition)
2.) Social Media Isn’t A Marketing Function…It’s A Whole Business Function - It would be a mistake to let marketing handle social media by itself since social media typically involves all aspects of your business (operations, customer support, product development, etc.). You have to ensure your business is able to understand what’s happening online with your consumers as well as working with the appropriate teams and means to respond accordingly. I would recommend your social media function be managed using some form of inter-functional team that represents the entire business (such as key members for each critical function). This multi-talented social media team can still report into a specific business function (such as marketing, customer support, etc) but needs to actively involve the rest of the organization on a continuous basis to make they a.) understand what consumers are currently saying about their business and b.) understand their role in responding where appropriate.
3.) Strategy First, Then Execution – As mentioned earlier in this blog post, social media is very easy to get started for your business - just hire a summer intern! The hard part is making your social media program relevant and impactful over time. That’s why it’s so important to get team alignment, set clear expectations and work on a focused effort with your social media initiatives. Therefore, before beginning a Facebook Fan Page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, corporate blog, etc., you need to answer some fundamental strategic questions: i. Who are you trying to influence and connect with? ii. What is your overall business objective? iii. What are your social media goals (metrics)? iv. What are your key social media platforms/channels you plan to use (rationale)? v. What are your initial plans to get started? Even though there is a strong temptation to “just get on with it”, your business (as well as your customers) will be much better off if you take the time to make sure you have a well considered social media strategy before you begin implementation.
4.) Less Is More - There are hundreds of social media channels, platforms and options available right now with more choices coming online all the time. At Thomvest, we have a front row seat to get an early look at many of the ones being developed here in Silicon Valley. Despite all of these wonderful and tempting choices, now hear this: your business cannot and should not be in all of them! Your team and business do NOT have the time, money or people to be effective on a multitude of social media platforms. Nor is it necessary. Success in social media means you don’t have to outspend your competition: you simply need to outthink them. This starts with understanding your target audience i. Where do they use social media? ii. Where is your message going to be relevant? iii. What type of content is your target audience interested in? iv. What are you willing to invest in for the long term and be “best in class” in providing the right content at the right time with the right social media channel to your target audience? If you spend the time to be selective in what social media channels you want to focus on, this will pay off big time in terms of making sure you get the right message to the right audience at the right time.
5.) The Power of “And”- Social media doesn’t operate in a silo. It’s part of an overall “ecosystem’ of information your consumer uses. There is increasing importance being place on integrated marketing in which you need to determine how you are going to balance your paid, owned and earned media. That means you need to figure out the best way to leverage your social media plans (such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc) with your other key marketing communication channels, such as: • Email campaigns promoting social media • TV commercials using Twitter • Facebook linkage with Brand website Making sure your target consumer gets a unified, consistent message regardless of where is comes from is hard work. Make sure you take advantage of the power of social media “and” all the other paid and owned media channels that are at your command.
6.) Mobile Goes Global- The biggest trend in social media for foreseeable future is going to be continued growth in mobile devices (i.e. smart phones, tablets) that continues to grow even faster than the experts predicted it would. Your business needs to ensure your social media plans take full advantage of this by being there for your customer at the “moment of truth” (i.e. when they need your Brand’s products and services) as well as invest in the right resources and plans to make sure you have what your customers are going to have what they need from your business (i.e. by using your mobile website, apps, content, etc).
7.) Measure What Matters – It’s easy to “drown in the ocean” of social media data as well as trying to decide on which tools to measure this data. It’s important for you to decide early on what are the critical few metrics that you’re going to want your team to focus on and how you’re going to gather, report, and analyze this data. A common mistake many social media teams make is thinking “more is better” which leads to overwhelming their senior management team with way more information than is needed. The social media metrics you should select will depend on who is going to be using this data. For example, while the social media team may be very interested in monitoring the number of Facebook fans a Brand has, senior management might be much more interested in metrics involving how engaged consumers are in the Facebook fan page since that is probably a better predictor on the impact these consumers are going to have on the business over time.
8.) More Sweat On The Training Field, Less Blood On The Battlefield - I cannot overstress the importance of having a social media policy, guidelines and training for your team before your social media efforts get underway. You owe it to your employees and customers to make sure that at a minimum you are prepared for a “social media crisis” (if you want to read about some social media horror stories, check out http://bit.ly/wclROu for a recap of some recent examples from 2011). In addition to being ready to respond to a crisis, you should also have a well thought out social media policy for your employees (and make sure they understand and follow it.) Some key principles for developing your social media policy should include: a. Focusing on what they CAN do (rather than what they can’t) b. Stressing the need for personal accountability c. Focusing on the positive, not the negative (such as never trashing your customers or the competition) By being prepared through the appropriate policy develop and training, your business will be able to assess and respond quickly to anything that happens online where every second counts.
9.) ABT: “Always Be Testing” - Social media is changing every day….what works today might not even be relevant tomorrow (not to mention new platforms and ideas that are being created). That’s why it is so important to “keeping the test pipeline full” in terms of continuous learnings in social media. You can do this in a variety of ways, including: a. New channels b. New ideas c. New content and promotions It’s been my experience most tests fail. That’s perfectly all right and should be expected for two reasons: a.) I would rather fail on a small scale rather than a large one and b.) when you do discover a “winner”, you can put a lot more resources behind it when you roll it out since you’ve got a much better idea on how it will perform in the marketplace.
10.) The “Shadow of the Leader” Is Critical - Most management teams attitude toward social media falls into one of two camps (which I refer to as “the shadow of the leader” since what the leaders of an organization believe typically is what the rest of the team will hold to be true): i. “We’re afraid” – Result: your organization is not going to want to take a chance in doing something that senior management is nervous about (career limiting move) ii. “Let’s take some chances and figure this out together” – Result: encourages your team to do thoughtful planning, disciplined testing and continuous learning on how to achieve strong ROI from your social media endeavors If you or your management is in the first group, what exactly are you waiting for to get started?
Here’s a suggestion: set up a meeting with senior management to review the top reasons your business isn’t doing more with social media. In any case I’ve encountered, none of the concerns holding a business back are enough to persuade a reasonable person that social media shouldn’t be a critical part of their plans to build their business.
Good luck on your journey with social media. It’s a very exciting time to be in business today with all of the new social media options at your disposal. With the right strategy and planning, you will be amazed at what it can do to build your business and strengthen your customer relationships both now and in the long run. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these principles (either agreement or disagreement) as well as any others you’ve developed.