Social media is used by people for many things; some tweet about the music they are playing, some post to Facebook about what meal they just ate, bloggers write about the smallest of plot details in an obscure TV series, and Pinterest users post recipes containing beetroot.
What has this got to do with business you ask? Absolutely nothing. And that’s really my point. You can tweet, post, blog and pin about anything under the sun, so what you really need is a plan, a direction – a strategy – to ensure your social media activity serves the business and delivers real return on investment.
It should not be surprising that your social media strategy should fit with your overall marketing strategy.
The best strategies are integrated strategies – almost all the big successful campaigns of recent years have been integrated across many different communication channels. One of the biggest, and most famous is the Compare the Meerkat campaign – wonderfully integrating, TV, radio, posters, social media, PR and sales promotion to great effect.
However, as I’ve written in the past, social media is more than just marketing, so a clever social media strategy will integrate fully with the business objectives and dovetail with various departmental strategies too.
One size does not fit all
I often hear consultants at seminars saying: “You need this social strategy – follow this and you will be successful.” And organisations often seem obsessed with finding the one true strategy. The truth is, unfortunately, more complicated.
Social media is a reflection of an organisation’s character, culture, activities and brand. It also reflects the audience’s needs, interests and desires.
And as you’ve just read, it has to fit with the organisation’s business objectives and overall marketing plan – both of which will vary from organisation to organisation.
It is therefore individual to the business and audience. Any Social Media Guru who tells you what strategy you should be pursuing without talking to you, understanding your business and who it is you are selling to, should be avoided at all costs.
It’s as easy as ABD
But let’s set aside the integration with other departments and the overall marketing plan as that will vary greatly from organisation to organisation and consider what is essential to a standalone social media strategy. Without going into details specific to an organisation’s needs, let’s look at the generic elements that should be present.
Social media marketing only succeeds if you produce content that is interesting to the customer. They have to like it enough to ‘Like’ it.
You have to work on the basis of creating content that appeals to the audience first, and then work your own messages into that, not the other way around.
It follows then, that in order to understand what turns the audience on, what they get inspired by, what they are going to like – you have to understand them.
Before you start writing your social media strategy you should listen to your audience.
Locate where they meet online – what sites do they visit, what communities are they members of, and what channels do they use for communication?
Then listen for a while – what are they saying, who are they saying it to, how are they saying it? Identify positive aspects of the brand and their experience of it, as well as the negative aspects.
Identify the influencers – are there certain bloggers that seem to hold influence over your industry area or relevant topics? Are there certain news or review sites that significant numbers of people are following? Are there Twitter users whose tweets are influential?
Use this intelligence to inform the process of formulating a strategy.
There should be one main aim for the strategy – which should be able to be expressed in a simple sentence or two.
Clear objectives should be set for the strategy and these should, wherever possible, be SMART objectives.
It is particularly important that they be measurable and have a deadline.
Choice of social media
Although there are hundreds of social media channels out there, there are only a few worth considering – many have no marketing possibilities, some have just too few participants to be worthwhile.
We’ll be looking at social media channels in depth in future articles, but for now, here are some considerations.
Take some time to understand the characteristics of each different social media channel. What is it good for? What does it seem bad at? What are the rules?
Are your audience active in the channel? Can you market on that channel or is it just suitable for brand awareness?
How much time will it take to be effective in each channel? For example, at the moment you could spend a huge amount of time on Facebook, and not be particularly effective, on the other hand, a couple of minutes on Pinterest every so often may produce great results (especially for retail businesses).
Get serious about staff resources
Social Media is time intensive; so make sure you have the staff resources to do it justice. Too many organisations just add it to the existing marketing person’s already lengthy list of responsibilities.
Of course, it is about economics too – it is easy to set up a whole department and not have much to show for it at the end of the year, but if you are serious about social media, you have to invest in personnel.
As I’ve written before, creating and maintaining rapid and effective channels of internal communication is essential to getting the most out of social media.
Like any other business function, social media marketing should live and die on its usefulness to your business. Does the effort you put in deliver more value to the business than it costs? Are you getting a good Return On Investment (ROI).
In order to look at ROI, we have to first know how much our social media efforts are costing the business. The biggest factor to cost is time – it’s vital this is accounted for fully.
The second half of the equation is measuring and costing the benefit to the business – both of which are fraught with difficulty. I’ll be writing about this in a future article too, but for now, try and come up with measures that don’t just measure popularity (followers, likes, etc) but look at actions, changes in behaviour and influence on sales.
And don’t forget to look at the sideways benefits too – for example; running a social media campaign often has a positive effect on search rankings – whether or not the campaign itself was successful.
Social media does not stand still. A marketing channel like print or radio, does not change often. The rules and workflows are well understood, along with the best way to use them.
Social Media on the other hand, can change every month. The social media landscape can change in the middle of a campaign – rendering it ineffective or even prohibited. Not only do the major players like Facebook regularly change the rules – seemingly arbitrarily – but new upstarts come along and upset the status quo, providing better alternatives or forcing the major players to change their game.
So it is vitally important to review your strategy regularly in the light of the changing social media environment. And when I say regularly, I would recommend a quick review monthly and a longer review quarterly.
And in conclusion...
I stated that social media strategy is most likely to be unique to each organisation – so there are no hard and fast rules here, just some general principles and guidelines to help you think and structure your social media strategy.
And without a strategy, social media is just a very efficient, wonderful, waste of time.
But with a good strategy – coupled with a regular review – you will bring in solid results.