Recent surveys have shown that while businesses are embracing social media in droves, many are doing so without any real strategy in place. Without a strategy, there may be no clear ownership, or definition of success, or measurement, or integration with other marketing and PR efforts—all of which can lead eventually to wasted time and effort, abandoned blogs and Facebook pages, and even the erroneous conclusion that social media doesn’t work for us.
Yet developing such a strategy can be challenging; where does one start? Most of us have, through the classroom, TV shows or somewhere in life, learned about the reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where and why. Just as these questions are critical to solid journalism, so they can be invaluable to social media strategy development.
Who: the first who question is who will be in charge of social media efforts? Responsibility should be placed as high as possible—with the CEO ideally (think Tony Hsieh, or Jonathan Schwartz before the sale to Oracle). If not possible, then responsibility should rest with an executive in marketing, PR, product management or customer service. If absolutely necessary, this leadership can be outsourced, but only as part of a close long-term relationship. Who else will be involved? In all but the smallest companies, there are often multiple individuals tweeting, networking and even contributing to the company blog. In these situations, it’s imperative to have a social media policy in place, encourage subject matter experts (SME’s) to share their unique knowledge, and remember that everyone who participates is acting as a public face for the company—social media isn’t a job for an intern.
What: what type of information will you use to attract a social media following? In b2c, contests, games, apps and coupons are popular content. In the b2b world, thought leadership content is key, but this can take different forms depending on your resources and style: blogs are the most common media, but video, podcasting, online presentations and articles are other ways to share information and education with prospects. What also refers to subject matter—in b2b, that usually means reporting on research, offering a unique perspective on industry developments, solving problems, providing how-to guides, or presenting other information that is of value to your audience and positions your people as the experts.
When: how often will you write new blog posts? Tweet? Update your company’s Facebook page? The answers will be different depending on your company’s resources, the amount of content you have to work with, the number of employees involved in your social media efforts, the specific social media tool and other factors. In general, more is better, and most companies could probably benefit from greater social media activity, not less. There is a risk of over-doing things, particularly on Twitter, but as long as your focus is on adding value rather than self-promotion, few followers are likely to complain. Most companies find that the amount of time they need to devote to social media, particularly to engagement, starts out modestly and increases over time as their blog readership, Twitter following, Facebook fan base and other groups grow.
Where: which social media sites and tools will you use? There’s no question that blogs (which usually mean WordPress), Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have emerged as the “big four” social media venues. According to recent research, these are used by 70% or more of those active in social media (no other single tool was used by more than half of respondents). Twitter is probably the closest thing to a universal social media tool for business, while Facebook is huge in b2c, and LinkedIn is indispensable on the b2b side. These are the tools to start with, but by no means should a social media strategy be limited to these: depending again on talent, resources, corporate personality etc., other tools to take into account include YouTube and Vimeo (video sharing); SlideShare (presentations); social bookmarking sites like Digg, delicious and Propeller; online forums (there are specific forums for almost any industry); Ning (for creating your own community or finding others to engage with); PitchEngine (social PR); and social profile sites like VisualCV and PeoplePond, just to name a few.
Why: possibly the most important question of all. What is your company aiming to accomplish through social media? What are your goals? How will you measure them? There are at least a hundred ways to measure social media success and more than a hundred tools for monitoring them. While measuring social media ROI is difficult to do with any precision, it’s important to use what measures you can to help gauge the impact and continually improve your efforts.
Crafting a social media strategy is vital to achieving success and avoiding wasted efforts. It’s a challenging exercise, but one that can made easier by thinking differently—such as like a reporter.