By Chiaki Nishino and Gabriela Henault, consultants, Prophet.
There’s not merely a buzz, but a virtual din surrounding social media and how “everyone’s” using it to win hearts and minds, and maybe even help grow their business. It’s reaching the stage where a false sense of urgency has been created: act now or be choking on everyone else’s dust.
Social media is more than just a community like Facebook or a platform like a blog. It’s emblematic of broad behavioural and cultural changes in the way we engage each other. It’s less about creating marketing opportunities and more about engaging people. It’s less about “buying” a presence through a new advertising channel and more about “earning” consideration as your brand and customers (and influencers) interact. And it’s less about a short-term campaign and more about a sustained capability that’s only going to grow in importance.
We’ve gone from talking at customers with traditional advertising to Internet-enabled one-on-one customer interactions. Now, everyone stands to be connected, which amplifies the power of the individual’s voice. This connected environment has created an explosion of stakeholders and influencers – with dialogue between them the connecting fibre. It puts the impetus on smart marketers to focus on social media strategies that will increase the number of network relationships in the marketplace and, ultimately, the number of people who are talking about your brand.
The time is right to make your move. But take your time to reframe your thinking about social media away from the tactical toward the strategic. Doing so will ensure that instead of adding to the noise, you are positioning your organisation to win.
Step 1: Clarify your stakeholders’ needs
Forward-thinking marketers know that the dialogue you earn—the community’s Facebook and blog posts, Tweets, Yelp reviews—is more important than what’s conducted on your “owned” social media properties such as your Facebook page or Twitter account. An effective social media strategy is one where marketers provide the community with a reason to talk about their brand and gently influence the dialogue from the sidelines. By mining customer data, marketers can better understand what stakeholders want to discuss and how to engage.
Step 2: Understand what role social media can/should play in your business
Tactical decisions on specific social media channels only scratch the surface when it comes to social media’s impact on brands, marketing, and ultimately your business. Based on the understanding of its stakeholders, forward-thinking marketers should be considering questions like: “How does social media affect our brand?”; “What is its influence on business goals?” and “How do we create an appropriate social media strategy?” Addressing these strategy questions first requires marketer to develop their understanding of why social media is appropriate and uses that to guide their strategies and supporting tactics.
Step 3: Determine which social media platforms will a) most effectively reach your stakeholders and b) best help you achieve your business objectives
To be an effective participant, you must first gain an understanding of how your internal and external audiences, and their influencers, use social media. Then, you need to set a goal on what you hope to achieve through social media in the context of your overall customer engagement strategy. The goal might be to acquire new customers or do a better job of retaining existing ones, or both. Or to cut costs. Or to build a brand.
Step 4: Craft a social media presence that’s authentic, engaging, and serves your business goals
Effective users of social media find ways to craft a presence that is authentic, engaging and one that serves their business goals. In the mid-2000s, Dell underwent immense public scrutiny via social media channels, and 50% of the conversations were negative. Bloggers and other social media pundits — not Dell — were controlling perceptions and the standing of its brand. It led Dell to a social media strategy where it developed its own channels like blogs and Twitter as a means of participating in the dialogue and having some influence over its direction. Crowdsourcing initiatives, as well, provided a platform for engaging audiences in positive and authentic conversations about product and service improvements. By 2007, the negative dialogue was halved, and today Dell is one of the best at participating in social media in a way that has allowed it to even develop direct business impact through Twitter.
Step 5: Track results (success metrics)
Success metrics can be social media–oriented (impressions and referring links, for example), business-based (new customers or revenue generated), or brand-based (awareness or consideration). In fact, it is critical to integrate metrics to understand the full impact. This is because lower-level metrics, like impressions, can and do influence higher-level metrics, like revenues or brand awareness which is better explained to the rest of the organisation.
Step 6: Test & Learn
Finally, marketers are well-advised to test their social media initiatives on a small scale. It is one of the easiest mediums to test and learn, given how quickly changes can be made and reactions can be observed. Then, you need to rely on metrics to inform the direction of strategy adjustments and wider rollouts.
For all the hoopla, the social media train has not yet left the station. This world is fast changing, and opens myriad exciting opportunities to connect with customers and build your business and brand.
The trick is to be smart about it: understand the new paradigm and be prepared to step away from tradition to leverage its potential. Listen to who’s talking about your brand and the tenor of the conversation. Understand that social media has implications across silos — it is not just a marketing or PR thing. A cross-functional taskforce that draws on the passions of your employees and understands your business needs will be essential to an effective strategy. And don’t be worried about taking baby steps as you test the waters for larger initiatives.
And that’s how you go from adding to the din to actually leading the dialogue.
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