For companies trying to make sense of social media and online marketing, it’s important to take a step back from all the “TwitFaceBlogTubeIn” mania for a second and look at the nature of how these things are going to work for the overall business.
There are many questions that need answers: “Should we develop a strategy first before engaging?”, “Should we experiment and develop a strategy as we go?”, “Will it ever be OK to ask customers if they want to buy directly within social channels or will we always have to tiptoe around the subject?”
Here are a few considerations to help answer those questions and establish the framework for a sustainable and successful social media marketing program.
Social Media Strategy: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pond of cure”. Having some idea of what measurable goals and business outcomes you’re after is essential for planning resources and forecasting outcomes. This is true with any kind of marketing and is certainly the case with social media.
I polled a number of industry smarties on social media strategy vs. tactics and while there was some distance between the approach Guy Kawasaki preferred and that of people like Chris Brogan, the consensus was that developing an approach is essential for planning, implementation, accountability and measurement of success.
The formation of a social media strategy is a ripe opportunity for creativity and certainly shouldn’t get in the way of getting started. Gaining consensus about social strategy within a corporation could easily create a bottleneck. A strategy that calls for experimentation with iterative improvement in the context of overall goals, approach, tactics, audience and an effort to measure success is more likely to be implemented and gain support.
Social Media Marketing Tactics: The best mix of tactics needs to tie into the plan for reaching business goals. Whether it’s “Better engage with our customers” to “Filling the top of the sales funnel”, an understanding of audience preferences and behaviors will lead to the right tactical mix.
A lot of companies take the path of least resistance and go for what I like to call, “The Social 5-Pack” of: Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, YouTube and LinkedIn without thinking through tactics. For example, one common question often I hear is, “Is a LinkedIn group a better use of time and resources or a Facebook Fan Page?”
What the marketer might want to ask is, “Where do social networking vs. blogging vs. microcontent vs. media sharing fit in the context of our social media goals?” Then do the research and implement a listening program to discover which social networks, media sharing sites or blogging communities the target audience is present and participating in. That homework will answer the question about Facebook vs. LinkedIn and any other social communities where customers spend time.
Social Media Process: “Companies who start with implementation are at risk”, is a great quote from Jeremiah Owyang in his recent post, “A Pragmatic Approach to Social Business”. There he lists a checklist of 8 steps that form a process for approaching social media. Jumping into tactics can send a company in a very unproductive direction. Working through a strategy, tactics and developing processes leads to efficiencies, scalability and social engagement that is true to the business goals.
We’ve published a social media checklist that can serve as a prompt for companies to gather the information necessary to make smarter decisions about how their organizations can incorporate social media in their marketing and communications mix.
Process with social media marketing is important for a variety of reasons ranging from quality assurance to accountability. How can an organization scale its social media efforts without some kind of processes in place? Redundant processes can often be automated by software. Processes also outlive internal social media subject matter experts who move on to other opportunities.
From a personal process perspective, take a look at Tac Anderson’s daily routine as a social media strategist, which he calls a “workout”. In addition to planned activities and tactics, there’s room for putting out fires or handing spontaneous situations. In the end, a routine or process helps keep social media marketing tactics on track over time.
Social Commerce: Social Media that Leads to Sales: Question – What’s the ROI of Social Media? Answer – What’s the ROI of having a phone system in your office? That phone systems facilitates communications for a wide variety of reasons that are important to the functioning of the business from product/service inquiries to hiring new employees to customer service.
Social media in a business sense, is technology that facilitates communications, sharing and connecting brands with customers. For the most part, people buy from those they like and social media helps build, maintain and improve those relationships.
So how does social media influence or result in sales? A helpful post on BarnRaisers summarizes several studies that show exactly that. Click on the link to see the post (). I’ll also summarize them here:
Facebook – “The top reasons people press the “Like” button on Facebook is to have a sales relationship with a brand – either to receive promotions & coupons (40%), get updates on upcoming sales (30%) and show their support for companies (39%).” – ExactTarget 2010.
Twitter – “For over 40% of the time people are on Twitter, we spend it learning about products and services, listening to what others have to say and giving opinions. That explains why over 20% of the time we’re on Twitter, we’re ready and willing to buy directly off Twitter.” – Edison Research 2010.
Social Networks – “For every hour we spend on online, we spend the most amount of time on social networks, almost 15 minutes of every hour. Roughly half of the time (approx 6+ mins), we are seeking out products and services and looking to have a sales relationship with brands.” Nielsen 2010.
As more brands include commercial offers in the social experience they provide for customers, those customers will become increasingly comfortable with the notion of social commerce. At the same time, more social features are being added to ecommerce websites. In the way that blogs and Twitter accounts are expected features of brand websites, so will social commerce functionality.
Building a flexible strategy that considers business goals and the people to engage will help marketers identify the best mix of tactics for their social media marketing program. Developing processes from a corporate and an individual standpoint will help sustain, not stifle, social engagement activities in the long run. Start by building community and relationships. Listen, respond and create value. Monitor and analyze for opportunities to implement social commerce features, but don’t rush it.
How have you incorporated social media into your business processes? What are you doing to create more sustainable social participation within your organization?
About the author: Lee Odden is CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing and public relations firm in Minnesota that specializes in search, social and online PR consulting and training for companies worldwide. Odden has been cited for his internet marketing expertise over the past 10 years by the Economist, Forbes and U.S. News and contributed a chapter to the book, “Online Marketing Heroes” published by Wiley. For the past 5 years he has also been the editor of TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog, a Technorati 100 favorite blog and one of the top marketing blogs according to Advertising Age.