With companies of all sizes falling over one another to build a strong social presence, it can be tempting to rush into the social space. But just as a serious traveller wouldn't set off for a foreign country without a map and a travel guide, the most influential brands wouldn't dream of composing a tweet or even sharing a Facebook post without a plan.
Before creating your social media strategy, there are three things you must do first to position yourself for maximum social impact.
If multiple people are going to be in charge of representing your business in the social sphere, you will need to ensure they are all on the same page.
Even if your brand is strong in your own mind, you should get everyone together to go over brand values before you let them loose. If your brand seems stale or confused, now would be an ideal time for a brand refresh so that you can enter the social arena with renewed energy and focus.
You will also need to assemble a crack social media team. These will ideally be employees or associates who are social media savvy, with the ability to knit together different departments (e.g. sales and marketing). This will put you in the best position to take advantage of opportunities to increase profits.
Over time, standout members of your social media team could well become powerful influencers in your industry - so it is worth the time investing in getting the right people in place from day one.
Rather than use a scatter-gun approach and set up profiles on every conceivable social media platform, the most effective brands focus their efforts on the platforms most commonly used by their target audience.
Bigger companies often opt for a federated model, setting up a different social media team for each geographic area they operate in. This is an effective strategy because the popular platforms, types of content and messaging methods often vary wildly between countries and even regions. But for SMEs this is likely to be an overcomplication. Stick with one set of accounts and concentrate your efforts on building that one persona.
If you are unsure which channels would be most effective for your business, or how your prospective customers are currently interacting with social media, then the next tip is critical. You need to brush up on your social listening skills.
If you are already collecting data on social media engagements (likes, shares, reach, etc.) you might already think you are taking part in social listening. However, this raw data collection is more accurately referred to as social monitoring.
Comparing social monitoring and social listening is like comparing hearing with listening: you may have an idea about how much noise is being generated around your brand, but without tuning into the conversations themselves you are missing out on most of the important information.
Using social media management tools, it is possible to listen in to industry conversations across a whole range of social media platforms, review sites and blogs. Using features such as keyword searches, filters and content labelling you can focus your attention on the most important conversations relevant to your business. This process is the social media equivalent of deliberately blocking out background noise when you want to devote your undivided attention to an important conversation.
Lucy Hitz, Head of Marketing Communication at Simply Measured recommends starting out with identifying broad conversations around your industry before focusing in on specific brand and product conversations.
For example, if your business is involved with selling shoes, you might want to start with monitoring conversations featuring 'shoes' and perhaps filtering results to more closely match your niche (e.g. 'running,' 'basketball,' etc.).
From this starting point, you can start to understand what your prospects are talking about, which channels they are using and when they are most active.
From here you can then narrow things to a brand level, listening in to what people are saying about both your brand and those of your competitors. You can then start to answer questions such as: What do people like about our brand? What could we be doing better? Which products are performing best? What kind of products are our competitors pushing? What campaigns are they running? What are people saying about them?
Social listening at this level will give you some rich insight into brand sentiment – how people feel about your (and your competitors') brands. Listening to real people talking honestly about your brand (or understanding they aren't talking about it at all!) can help to burst the bubble that's sometimes generated by overenthusiastic internal marketing.
It can also help you from falling into the trap highlighted by a Pegasystems study, which revealed that while 66 per cent of telecommunications companies felt they had a deep knowledge of their customers, fewer than a quarter of their customers agreed!
Zooming in further, you can then start to listen in to the conversations around specific campaigns, taglines and products, fine-tuning your marketing efforts to maximise ROI. This is why it is important to ensure your social media team is well-integrated with your various key departments.
By following the preliminary steps above you can embark on social media conversations based on a deeper understanding of industry trends, customer behaviour and brand sentiment. With your best social media people delivering a strong, consistent brand message, you will soon be in the ideal position to start – not just listening to – but driving the conversations in your industry. Good luck!
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