Social Media Strategy 101

By Lauren Sleeper Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Twitter chat with @PRWeb.  The topic we covered was social media strategy for small business – the why, how, and some (hopefully!) helpful tips.  I thought the questions posed were smart, and things that every business should be thinking about when they’re planning a social media strategy.   Below are the questions that were asked, as well as an extended version of my answers.

Question 1: My small business doesn’t have a social media strategy. What’s the worst that could happen?

As a business with any sort of Marketing plan in place, social media should always be included in your efforts.  If you are a company or brand new to the space, you may be unaware of both the incredible potential social media presents, and also the current conversations that are already happening about you and your competitors.  First and foremost, if you do not have a strategy in place you would miss out on the huge opportunity to build a community of both your current, and potential future customers – all on a platform that they are already active and conversing on.  Those customers have the potential to be powerful brand advocates for you, if you so choose, and are just waiting to be activated.

It’s likely that many of your customers are online, and there’s also a very good chance that they are already talking about you (or will at some point in the future).  Without a presence, you won’t be there to engage with them, which often will lead to customer retention and loyalty.    If someone is publicly praising, or conversely criticizing your brand, there will not be a voice to either thank them for sharing, or fix a potentially escalating problem.  Overall, you’re taking a large gamble by not making the effort to strategize around social media—you won’t be listening to customers, you won’t be aware of competitors’ activity, and you won’t be capitalizing on the potential that social media has to offer.

Question 2: What are the biggest mistakes businesses make when formulating a social media strategy? 

Like all Marketing strategies, you need to understand the medium that the strategy is being built on in order to maximize your efforts.  Many of the mistakes below come from a lack of understanding in the space.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that you can launch, or sustain, your entire business exclusively with social media.  Of course, this is not the case. Social media should be a part of your brand’s overall Marketing plans, and also should be integrated across the company to see the best success.  In addition, many have the mindset that their fans and followers will immediately equate to sales, and the ROI of your social program will be seen overnight.   With social media, you should first be focused on building a strong, engaged community.  The sales and ROI will eventually follow!

Another huge mistake when formulating a strategy is not having clear goals in mind (i.e., the mentality that you need to be on Facebook because, well, everyone is on Facebook!).  If you don’t know what you’re working towards with your social media strategy, you’ll never be able to measure your success.

Lastly, many mistakes are also apparent on the execution of the strategy.  Brands may often think of social media as simply another channel for their marketing messages to be broadcast, which they are in a sense, but not in the same form as traditional media.  Social media should never be a one-way conversation from the brand down to the fans/followers. You should not be acting as a salesperson for you company on social network, but rather a resource – even a friend.  Pay attention to the social, in social media – it is a conversational platform, not a megaphone.  In addition to the conversations you are having with fans, the content that you are proactively posting is also incredibly important.  Many companies starting out do not realize the importance of quality content, and how much the content you post ultimately will affect the success of your social media program.

Question 3:  Who should own the social media strategy in my business? Marketing? Public Relations? Why?

At first glance, this question is simple.  Everyone in your business should have some level of ownership!  The execution can be done my one department, but all members of the company should play a role in the sharing of information.  At the very least, everyone should have a high level understanding of the strategy and goals that are being worked towards. The strongest examples of companies utilizing social media are doing so across the departments, from the top to the bottom and side-to-side. 

The community managers that are responsible for the day-to-day execution should be in open communication with all departments.  The more insights that can be provided by the brand in real-time to their fans, the stronger the social media presence of the brand will be.  This is best achieved by collaboration across a company to receive the best information, in the shortest amount of time.

 Question 4: What are the 3 biggest benefits of using social media for my business?

1)    The ability to connect with current and potential customers through a two-way conversation, at a scale that has never before been possible.

2)    The gain of incredible insight into what you customers like and/or want to see from your brand.  Think of social media as a daily, virtual focus group.

3)    The opportunity to build a positive brand image and also build relationships with loyal fans.  Loyal fans are frequent, purchasing customers.

 Question 5: Do you {Likeable Media} have any resources for building a social media strategy from scratch?

Yes, we do! This blog, our newsletters, and our webinars are all good resources for information, news, and best practices in the social media space.  The entire staff contributes to the blog, so you are able to get over thirty different point of views, which I think is very important.  Also, our CEO Dave Kerpen recently published the NY Times Best Seller, Likeable Social Media.

Beyond Likeable Media, there are also many resources and websites that you can take advantage of as well.  Top sites include: Mashabale, All Facebook, Social Media Examiner, and also the blogs of the various social networks themselves.

Question 6: How do I measure the success of my social media strategy?

This is one of the biggest questions of all when building a social media strategy.  Unless you can measure your success, how will you ever be able to determine social media as a viable option to help build and maintain your business?   As I mentioned earlier, you first need to identify your goals when getting started in the space.  When you have identified what you are striving to reach, you will be able to measure whether or not you have been successful.  Once you know what your goals are, a metric should ne assigned to the goal to make it easily measurable.  Metrics can include: fans, followers, engagement and interaction levels, revenue/sales, identification of brand advocates, sentiment and social mentions.  I also recommend taking advantage of social measurement tools, such as Radian 6 and also Facebook Insights.  They are both an invaluable resources to determining success, and quantifying the results of your social media program.  UPDATE: This post from Jenna Lebel is a good reference to help you define the metrics that matter most in your space/in comparison to your competitors, and therefore what you should be measuring.

What questions do you have about starting a social media strategy for your business? Leave them in the comments, or even better give us a call!