Developing a Social Media Strategy 101, Part 1

With the growing popularity of social media, many businesses feel they need to integrate it into their marketing mix, but most aren’t sure where to start or how to develop a plan. Social media is useful for many types of organizations, whether it’s a big brand or small business.

Using social media correctly helps companies engage audiences in new ways, be more personable, develop new connections, and maintain the ones they have. This two-part article will cover the elements of a social media strategy and the steps to build one.

Social media has taken the institutional control of marketing and put it in the hands of consumers or the general public. This is important because, with technology being ubiquitous and available to all, we’ve been given the tools to carry on conversations and discuss our views and vote for our favorite content online. We now form many of our opinions and impressions from others we come in contact with online.

Understanding this principle is an important factor in building a social media strategy. Essentially, traditional ways of thinking won’t necessarily work. Instead of studying demographics about your audience, you need to get out there and talk with them. Get involved with the conversations that are already happening online.

Research and Listen

Determine who your audience is and where they are online. Blogs are a great place to start looking. Technorati is a good tool to help you find blogs related to your search queries.

Twitter is another place to gain insight into conversations that are happening right now. Twitscoop is one of many tools that will monitor and search for trending topics on Twitter.

After you’ve identified where your audience is, start listening to what they’re saying. What are their issues, opinions, and needs? How does this information fit with your value proposition? Understanding this information will help you determine how to best contribute to the conversation and how best to make a contribution.

Next, find out who drives the conversations or who has a strong influence. Some call these people “influentials” because they possess the authority, respect, or experience to shape people’s opinions. Look at WeFollow to find influentials on Twitter.

Identify Goals and Objectives

In addition to company goals, you must also consider your audience’s goals. You’ll get much farther with social media marketing if you offer something of value first.

Giving people something of value earns you the right to plug yourself a little. So draw a line on a piece of paper and write down your goals on one side and your audience’s goals on the other. Make sure you give enough before you try to get.

Develop your Plan

Map out your approach to delivering your products or services to satisfy the needs of your audience. Will you reach out and leverage influentials? Will you provide free material or samples? How will it be delivered?

Maybe you have products that are environmentally friendly. Will you moderate and lead a conversation about environmental issues and become a leader? There are many creative ways to approach your audience. Be innovative.

Social Media Tools

There are many social media tools that can help you reach your audience. Will you build a blog or use a forum? How about developing educational material with video and delivering it on YouTube? Will you use Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn as social media tools?

There are many to choose from, and you aren’t limited to just one. Make sure, however, that you have solid, relevant content on your main Web site that you can lead visitors to when they want more detailed information. You can easily negate your social media marketing efforts by leading visitors to a Web site that delivers a poor experience.

Measure, Measure… Did I Mention Measure?

After you’ve done a good job setting goals and defining your objectives, it’s time to see if you’ve met those goals. Defining your metrics for success upfront will make the measuring process go more smoothly.

Maybe you need to provide a regular report to your superiors. Find out what they want and make sure you have a mechanism to measure those variables.

There are many tools to choose from. Paid tools include Scoutlabs, Radian6, Trackur. Free tools include Social Mention, TweetReach, and Google Analytics for seeing where visitors are coming from. These tools can also help with researching and listening.

Measuring can be a challenge, because the medium is conversational in nature. You can measure the number of your followers, or those who are participating in the conversation. You can measure Web traffic increases due to your social media efforts. You might gauge the tone of the conversation, and what percentage of participants was influenced by your involvement.

Whatever your measuring mechanism, be sure you do it often. Pick a regular time and stick with it.

Access and Course Correct

Good metrics will show you what is and isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to abandon a specific tactic or social media tool if it doesn’t work. Try a different one and see if you get better results.

What works for one company might not work for you. Certain tools will emerge as better performers depending on your industry, product, or service. Also, new tools are coming out every day that might be more efficient at getting the job done.

In part two, we’ll go into more detail with some case studies to help illustrate this process.

What are your social media successes? Please share it in the comments below or contact me.

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