Social Media: Everybody’s Doing It
As McDonald's' recent hashtag fiasco reminds us, even the seasoned social media user can find him or herself in the midst of a public relations nightmare if online marketing is not conducted with plenty of forethought and care. This makes having a set strategy for social media planning and implementation all the more important; the more you know going in, the less likely you are to make a mistake, or simply allow a half-hearted effort to languish, generating little or no return on investment (ROI).
We asked a few experts for their views on what's needed to achieve social media success.
1. Understand your goals, purposes, audiences and communities.
Ask yourself a number of questions before you build a presence on social media—you can't just jump in and expect people to catch you, our experts cautioned. Figure out who you are speaking to, what you hope to engage them with and on which platforms they are active. Bottom line: What do you want to get out of your social media strategy and how do you want people to think of you?
According to Dan Blank, publishing consultant and founder of We Grow Media, an effective social media strategy begins with how you approach your publication's campaign. "How are you going to be someone that is not just talking at people, but truly helping to engage them in a way that's beneficial to them?" he says.
Dave Kerpen, CEO of social media marketing form Likeable, agrees. "The most common mistake is talking at and selling [to] your audience instead of engaging with and providing value to them," he says. "It's not about you, it's about your customers."
Kerpen says the most important first step in any social media strategy is listening: "Mostly to your customers online, to find out what they want and need from you, but also to your competitors and your competitors' customers." Truly knowing what your customers want, he says, is the foundation of other key components: content creation, managing your community, managing your overall presence on each channel, integrating social media with other marketing efforts, and sales. (See sidebar.)
Mark Coatney, director/media evangelist at social media platform Tumblr, suggests thinking first of what you hope to get out of a social media site. For example, Facebook and Twitter reach out to a broad community. Your moms and grandmas might even be on Facebook. Make sure that the people you are targeting are able to receive your message: You have to decide where to best reach your audience. Then, you can tailor your message accordingly.
Next, study your market. According to Blank, "Too many people skip [this] level, and just get on Twitter and hope it'll all work out." You have to choose your community wisely in order to target your message. There are a lot of social media platforms from which to choose—make an educated decision based on your audience and message.
"Understand your business objectives—why am I doing this and what result do I ultimately want for my business," says Natalie Henley, director of results analysis at SEO and social media consultancy Findability Group. "Businesses can get caught in the trap of doing social media for the sake of social media, instead of taking a step back and understanding that social media is a core element of your corporate marketing strategy, and should be planned, measured and evaluated accordingly."
2. Interact with your audience and follow different people.
No one wants to talk to a robot. Incorporate personality into your messages. For example, when using Facebook and Twitter, you can stand out from a sea of other Twitter users by following different users, tweeting, and retweeting their posts. Blank suggests scheduling and organizing your tweets so you target all the people you mean to target. Scheduling tweets prior to posting them allows you to remember to include all the people you mean to touch base with. Social media should be organized and consistent.
Twitter also allows you to segment the people you follow. For example, if you follow 500 people, you may want to follow them on different levels. Creating a list of people you should check in with and retweet is a great way to stay organized and on top of your social media presence.
"The more you get involved with social media websites, you realize that some people are very active, very smart and very connected, and hopefully they'll return the favor," Blank says. "When they are aligned to what you want to do, you want to support them."
Don't be afraid to spend time sharing articles from other people as well as your own. The more you share, the higher the likelihood your name and mission will appear in the cyber-world.
3. Avoid the mundane.
Most people can check on their RSS feeds to get a rundown on the weekend's headlines. Some people think of their social media sites as a medium to inform people. According to Blank, it is a lot more than that: In order to make your posts stand out, you have to add personality.
"People can't engage with a headline," Blank says. "If you're not there as a person trying to engage people, it's going to be treated as another news feed where you'll get some followers, but they won't do much."
Aside from streamlining headlines, many people make the mistake of repeating themselves over and over again; find new and creative ways to get your message out.
A lackluster social media presence usually results from staid content, Henley says. It's important to mix things up.
"If it's lackluster, it's probably boring," she says. "Let's take Facebook as an example. Make Facebook about your customer, not about your business. If the content you have on Facebook reads and feels a lot like the content you have on your website, it's time to shake things up. Try polls, photo contests, asking questions, etc. [as ways] to wake your community up."
Frequency also matters. "Social media was designed to be up-to-date and interesting," Henley notes. "Strive to update daily using productivity tools like Hootsuite.com and strive to have personality."
Henley recommends the candy brand Skittles on Facebook as a stellar example of "what [an] amazing Facebook personality looks like."
If you are a publisher whose social media presence is somewhat lackluster, you can start to encourage people to write for you or have them featured in your news feed, Blank says. If you are an individual trying to tackle social media, he adds, have someone guest post for you.
Coatney says a publication should elect someone interesting to promote the social media strategy. "It's the same process as any good headline writing. ... It's a craft that draws attention," he says.
4. Do a case study before you implement your strategy.
You should try out a strategy before you become an active participant, Coatney says. Once you feel good, you can become more specific. For example, you can start incorporating humor in your tweets or other updates. (Your specific approach will depend on your core values as a company.) Once you highlight your goals and priorities, you can get specific. Allow yourself a few weeks to practice and fine tune a strategy that best works for you.
Blank recommends trying a case study before creating an official social media strategy. Create a safe environment and a small sample to test. Create a report afterward discussing what you did, how it could be done better and the study's outcome. The most important component of this trial process? Communication. Everybody should be on the same page and agree on the social media strategy, says Blank.
5. All for one and one for all.
When it comes to working on social media strategies, Blank suggests that a company should encourage all to help and "not make it feel like it's a horrible chore." Not that everyone needs to be on Twitter, but companies should hire one person as a resource to help everyone else have some basic understanding of it. It's like customer service.
You don't want one person controlling your social media presence, Blank says.
Oftentimes, the person who is in control of the publication's social media presence has responsibility invested in many other parts of the company—they simply are too tired or stressed to generate innovative posts, says Blank. Instead, many companies decide to elect a social media resource team to educate the staff on how to post and what to say.
In this case, two (or more) heads are better than one. The goal of social media is to compile all the creative energy of the staff. Kerpen compares it to phone communications, where there traditionally has not been a wall built between those who primarily handle calling and others. " ... Both existing marketing and communications staff and new/specialized staff should work on social media stuff," he says.
On the other hand, "Don't force your marketers to take on social media if they aren't excited to try it or comfortable using it themselves," Henley says. "It's better to hire for a person who is pumped to be on Facebook and YouTube for a living."
Bringing social media into a marketing department can be a "pretty big shift," and hiring a social media manager can help smooth the transition for marketing departments, she says.
To make sure everyone's on the same page, Kerpen says it helps to promote your strategy internally through internal social tools like Yammer and Facebook groups.
6. Not for the rookies.
According to Coatney, it's important publications choose their website operators wisely, selecting trustworthy people to control social media outlets. A person might not be at a magazine long enough to understand how the publication "talks" (whether, for instance, the voice you want to promote is more professional or informal). Find someone who is capable of learning the logistics of working the social media site, but who can understand the company's quirks. This doesn't necessarily have to be "age" centric, but it typically is; odds are that people who understand Facebook and Twitter best are in their 20s and 30s.
On the other hand, assuming young interns can do the job just because they grew up with social media is not usually a good idea. "There are a lot of horror stories of hiring intern-level positions to actively manage outgoing corporate communications," Henley says. "I recommend a lower-level staff position—but not entry level—of a person who has done corporate social media, not just personal social media."
Usually social media initiatives are handled by a company's public relations team or marketing department, Coatney notes. A staff person needs to be in control of the effort, he says—it doesn't matter if they're 20 or 60, as long as they understand both the voice of the company and are familiar with the publication, they'll be good to go.
7. Have a clear policy.
One of the best ways to ensure consistency and avoid problems is to have in place a policy laying out the ground rules for how to use social media. "Make sure to set up a corporate policy in regards to what can be said online, so that everyone has the 'rules of the road,'" Henley says.
8. Use your social media platform to bring content together.
Don't be afraid to incorporate blogs, other websites and links. Your main social media website should be a showcase of your publication's work. According to Blank, it should be used in conjunction with all other tools—if you have a blog, link the two. This way, both of your websites are promoted at once.
Leverage the power multiple accounts—Twitter and Google+ are great for this. You can start retweeting material from your own account and sharing it on Google+. You should redirect your followers to links to your website or any other articles you've published.
9. Build relationships inside and outside the social media world.
Blank says the real value of social media is extending your relationship outside of it as well. Social media has become the foundation for forming relationships and networking offline. It all begins with how you interact with your audience.
You can retweet someone's post or take the step to shoot them an e-mail about it. "Take social media to the telephone and have conversations," Blank says. "It's very simple to say thank you or great post." The most important factor in all of this is putting yourself out there—the Web is a building block for greater relationships when it comes to business networking.
10. Social media offers special opportunities for b-to-b.
Social media can dovetail with business-to-business strategies in exciting ways, Kerpen and Henley say. "Social media is a terrific way to generate leads for business-to-business companies," Kerpen says. "Just remember that leads don't come right away, just as they don't come right away in the offline world. Instead, they are nurtured over time."
Henley offers the following strategies for business-to-business publishers:
• Select b-to-b-focused keywords—[such as] phrases with "manufacturer," "wholesale," "producer," or "distributor" in them. "This ensures that the traffic you are driving to your social media is your target audience," she says.
• Post information that is interesting to your target audience. "For example, if your target audience is a structural engineer, think about what is interesting to them—pictures of cool structures, jokes about engineers, photo contests getting them to guess how many steel joists a structure has. …"
• Don't panic if you don't have a million fans. "Your target audience is a much smaller size than Skittles'," Henley says. "The key is to keep growing it steadily, and to keep it engaged."
Whatever your approach, following these building blocks will help to ensure your social media efforts are rewarded—with exposure, brand awareness, integrated marketing and, of course, dollars. PE