Right now, there’s a lot of talk about social media. How great it is and how much it’s changing everything from how we interact to how we do business. It’s true, social media is impacting everything from the way we communicate to the way we do business. But, this doesn’t mean it’s the right strategic choice for every business. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a shiny new toy, but before your company jumps into using social media (assuming it hasn’t already), here are some things to think about.
What are your goals? What do want to get out of it?
This is the first area you should really spend some time on. After all, how can you expect to see results or benefits from using social media if you really don’t know why you’re using it in the first place? Knowing what you want to achieve from using social media will not only impact how you use social media, it will also help drive your selection of social media platforms. Your goals can be revenue based such as increasing sales by 2%, or more general such as increasing brand awareness or interact with your customers in a more personal way. The how and why you want to use social media will impact on all of your decisions regarding your social media strategy.
What social media platforms do you want to use?
Once you’ve determined why you want social media in your marketing strategy, you need to consider what social media platforms you want to use. Just because Facebook and Twitter are getting a lot of press right now doesn’t mean they’ll always be top dog nor that those are automatically the platforms you should choose. This is a very important area to consider simply because of the economics of time. If you choose too many social networks, not only are you spreading yourself too thin, you’re going to be spending too much of your time just trying to manage them all. This will result in plenty of frustration because you won’t see as much benefit from your efforts and therein you’re unlikely to reach your goals whereas a targeted approach across a few platforms is more likely to be successful.
Do not just give this step just a cursory approach. Take the time to really analyze the benefits and challenges you might face with each platform. For example, Twitter is useful because it allows for real time results, but you’re limited to 140 characters per post, and because it’s a very active environment, there’s a lot of noise which increases the likelihood that your message may not be seen.
Take into consideration how you want to use social media, and what you hope to accomplish by using it. Do you want to share videos or pictures? Do you want to promote limited time offers? The platform you choose will dictate what you can or can’t do with it. Look at the tools available for the various social networks to make it easier for you. For example, Ping.fm allows you to update several social networks all at the same time. If you only want to link Twitter and Facebook/MySpace it’s possible. However, anytime you consider using tools that either automate your posts or post the same information across several platforms, you will want to consider your audience. The same message might not work on every platform, and depending on what your goals are, automation may not be the best choice.
Are your customers there?
While this might seem like an obvious question, you’d be surprised at how many people don’t bother to ask it. While some consumers have embraced social media with open arms, others have been very resistant. Some platforms attract an older demographic, some a younger, others are male or female dominant. Although this is a necessary question to answer, it’s also one of the most difficult. How much do you know about your customers? You might be surprised at how little many companies know.
Analyzing your database may provide you with enough information to make educated guesses but it might not provide you with all the answers. Some information can be gleaned by analyzing your customer database against data appends, however, this can be costly and still may not provide you with the information you need to make a decision in your social media strategy or choice of platforms. Don’t let lack of customer information discourage you though because there are other methods you can use if your database isn’t as useful as you would like.
For example, if a large portion of your customers are in China, you would want to consider Qzone, a very large Chinese social media site. Many social networks can provide you with information on their user base, so be sure to look at it to help with your decisions. Another great way to find out if your customers are using a social network is to search the site for mentions of your company or products. If people are talking about you on the site, then you probably have current/potential/former customers there. It’s not infallible nor the only site that does what it does, but socialmention.com can be useful for searching out mentions of your company and products across the internet. It’s kind of like a Google for the social web.
Is your competition there?
Probably the easiest way to figure this out is by searching the sites for your competition and their products. Your results won’t necessarily give you black and white answers but they will provide you with plenty to consider. Just because your competition has a presence on a site doesn’t mean they’re using the site effectively, nor that you should have a presence there. If you discover your competition is on a social network, look at how active they are and how they use the site. If your competition isn’t there, try and determine if maybe they should be. Your results may show you plenty of opportunity or obstacles. Either way, what you find will aid you in your strategy and platform decisions.
Can you let go?
Letting go is the biggest obstacle most companies face in regards to social media. Although it was written before social media and Web 2.0 were common terms, Alex Wipperfurth’s book Brand Hijack is still very applicable. (It’s one of my favorite marketing books too so I tend to mention it a lot.) Wipperfurth talks a lot about sub-culture and customers impacting a brand’s perception. Essentially, your customers are your biggest advocates for your brand and you have to decide whether you can let them run with it. Truthfully, this is rhetorical because as many companies are discovering, it doesn’t matter how close you fight to keep your brand within your company, customers are going to impact it either positively or negatively. Only time will tell, but from my experience, the most successful brands using social media are those that let their customers run with it and have some fun.