You’ve gone online, found a blog, read some articles, and you’ve even joined Facebook…yet, you’re still lost as to how this matters for your business. Well, what has worked for others in Social Media, will most likely not work for you, unless you take the time to research and develop a strategy that is suited for your business needs.
First off, if you’re hesitant about social media, you may not be ready to experiment yet. You need to do your research. If you are in a particular vertical or industry, you must research what has already worked for others, as well as what went wrong. Doing the research will allow you to become comfortable with what you feel your business can realistically achieve in the social community online.
With a better understanding of what each network and social medium is, as well as how people are using them…you will be better able to determine what you’d like to achieve if you were engaged in the community. So, after doing your research…your next step is to set your objectives. If you are launching a new campaign with key objectives of branding and awareness, you may set social media objectives such as developing deeper brand engagement and higher brand recognition among a targeted audience. If you are building an overall marketing strategy of which the objective is direct response or sales, your social media objectives might include driving more traffic to an e-commerce website. The objectives should be specific both to your audience and your goals. But remember, that they should be realistically achievable.
So, you’ve done the research and have specific objectives, what’s next? Well, this is where most people get stuck. Several people even skip the next step, which I believe is the most critical: Develop a detailed strategy that determines how you will achieve your objectives. The strategy must outline which networks you will engage in, timelines for setting up and engaging in the network, the type of people you will target, the overall tone of social media communications, and outline how you will get your target audience to take a desired action. These are just some of the things that would need to be considered before trying to engage online in a social media campaign.
What several people starting off in social media do is skip the first three steps and get right into it. While an enthusiastic attitude for social media is always a plus, you have to consider what you want to achieve before beginning. So, after research, objectives and strategy…you must experiment. Be prepared to test activity on one social network, and have a plan to test on another if things don’t work out. Taking risks are sometimes necessary in the social community online, but if a strategy is in place, the risk is minimised. Having alternative options means you don’t give up on social media after a failed attempt.
Now, you’ve experimented in the networks…maybe it was Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn; and you’ve decided that two out of three are working better for you. What next? Now’s the time to really get socialising in social media. You have to participate in the conversations. Your strategy should address the fact that you are planning on engaging with your consumers, and it is at this stage that you put words into action. Comment on other people’s blogs, write on people’s Facebook walls, or join a group of a related interest. Keep your conversation casual so that you appear like a member of the group, rather than someone who’s just trying to market within it.
So now you’re a social media pro, or so you think. How do you determine if anything’s working? Well, this is where you have to measure the outcome of your engagement from start to finish. There a number of debated ways in which to measure a social media campaign, and it’s worth mentioning again, that what works for some people may not work for others. Return to your objectives. Use tools that monitor social media like Blog searches, Microblog searches, or Google Alerts to monitor what people are saying about you. Use web analytics (such as Google Analytics) to determine increase in traffic, changes in behaviour, or referring sites which may include your social media profiles. While the measurement of the campaign is ongoing, it should be incorporated into the strategy you develop early on.
Research, set your objectives, develop a strategy, experiment, participate, and measure the results all the way through.
Now this social media “how-to” outlines general steps and processes that are crucial to a successful campaign. But always consider what will work for you, specifically. Give yourself enough time to understand a network before participating in it, as well as allowing enough time to become a pro at interacting within it. Most importantly, remember that when it comes to social media, you learn by doing…not reading…so what are you waiting for?
This article was written for Search Marketing World, April 2009.