Questions to Ask Before Starting in Social Media

Questions on social media

So you’re thinking about jumping into social media.

You’ve read a whole slew of blog posts, news stories as well as examples of how social media has helped businesses like yours cut costs and market more effectively. So now it’s your turn.

But have you really thought it through? Have you laid out the groundwork, reasons, measurement and more before you make the leap? Or are you just jumping in, because everyone’s telling you that social media isn’t for toe-dippers?

Whatever your train of thought, here are some things you might want to run through first before jumping in.

Why Are You Doing This?

Okay, this might seem like an obvious question with an even more obvious answer, but have you really asked why you’re about to start using social media?

Is there a bona-fide reason for your business to be on social media? Or is it because you’ve been told you need to be? And if you are on it, does it need to be active or passive? Do you need to take part or simply use social media as a research and listening resource?

Yes, for most business, at least some minimal social media use is better than none – but it may be that you’re about to jump in for the wrong reasons and on the wrong platforms. So you need to know why you’re doing it. How do you define your involvement?

That’s where a social media audit comes in.

Have You Carried Out a Social Media Audit?

One of the most important parts of any initial approach to using social media is a social media audit. This is something we carry out for every one of our clients, new and old, before starting a new campaign with them.

From first steps in social media to garnering intelligence for a new campaign, you need to carry out a social media audit. I won’t fool you into thinking this is a piece of cake, either – a proper social media audit can range from weeks to months to carry out, depending on how in-depth the next steps are going to be.

Some of the bare minimums of an audit include:

  • Targeting the right searches. You’re a restaurant owner and you want new clientele. So you use keywords like “restaurants” and “good food”. But what about “local catering”, “locally-produced food”, “sports nights”, “corporate events”, etc? Think of the activities outside your niche search but that are perfect for your services.

These are three key pointers for your audit. There are many more; but the main thing is you carry out the audit and be sure of the information you’re after, and how to get it properly.

What Are Your Goals?

So many businesses jump into social media with a clear goal – to succeed in social media. Great – but what is that success? There are many ways to define success in social media, just as there are many ways to measure and react. So defining what your goals are is key.

Social media goals

While not limiting yourself, some success barometers could be:

  • More visitors to your online store.
  • More foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar store.
  • New loyalty program sign-ups.
  • Newsletter subscribers.
  • Active social network sharing of your services.
  • Brand awareness on certain niche communities.
  • Hard sales through social media exclusive offers.
  • Coupons downloaded and used from a vanity URL.

Again, these are just some pointers on how you could set up success barometers for your social media activities. You could also look at lowering customer service issues; saving costs on hiring people; saving money on print ads to re-invest in your business.

Decide what would be a successful entry for your needs, and then define what platforms (based on your audit) you need to be on to reach the audience that can make that success happen.

What’s Your Measurement?

When someone tells you that you can’t measure the ROI of social media, look them squarely in the eye and then laugh as you show them out the door. This is one of the biggest crocks that a lot of social media “consultants” will try and tell you. It’s usually to cover for their own lack of business acumen – don’t be suckered by it.

There are many ways to measure social media, and every single campaign, involvement or activity is trackable and measurable. All you need to decide is what you’re going to measure, and how that’s going to align with the time and financial investment on your end.

Questions to ask on your measurement should include:

  • What measurement tools will you use?
  • What’s your cut-off time for evaluation of your activity?
  • What numbers are you measuring – financial, social shares and awareness, or both?
  • What percentage of growth do you want month-on-month?
  • Do news stories count as success?
  • How much can you take a hit on (freebies, coupons, etc) to result in longer-term sales?
  • What are the most active/successful times of day?

Anyone can start a campaign – not everyone actually plans it out to measure, so you can react on the fly. Make sure you know what you’re measuring and what tools you’re going to need to do this with.

Your Starter for Ten

These are just three key questions everyone should be asking before thinking social media is going to be the golden goose for your business. There are many more questions that you should be asking too:

  • What other promotional integration are you using (marketing, PR, advertising, direct mail, etc)?
  • Will you be running a mobile campaign alongside your other activities?
  • How many man hours will you need, and how many can you realistically allocate?
  • Who will be running this for you – internal or external?
  • What’s your strategy for negativity and who will deal with it for you?
  • What’s your social media policy on what can be said and by who?

Again, the amount of questions that need to be asked will vary, depending on your business and your needs/involvement. But every single business needs to acknowledge that jumping into social media involves a little bit more than a Twitter account and someone who knows a bit about computers.

Is your business asking the right questions?

image: Bruno Belcastro
image: brandlyyours

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  1. says

    These are great info’s regarding on how to approach and start utilizing social media sites. Oftentimes, people tend to forget on what’s their main purpose for creating an account at a specific social site. If these steps are followed carefully, it would then be a smooth sailing journey with social media sites.

    Great job! A must read and shared article!

    • says

      It definitely makes it easier if you at least have some idea on what to expect. Missing that part out, and don’t be surprised if you start to struggle.

  2. says

    Hey Mate,

    Very nice post here. I see it all the time and sometimes I feel bad, and sometimes I don’t. For the latter, it’s because you constantly try to help and guide them but because there are so many “experts” out there, they don’t know who to believe or listen too anymore.

    This post highlights (IMO) one of the most important pieces of the confusing puzzle… ask how your campaign and/or project will be measured, that will clear some of the Klout πŸ˜‰

    Cheerio :)

    Troy Claus

    • says

      Troy the problem is Danny’s shifty eyes. I mean anyone from a place with a Monster in a Lake you have to keep an eye on.

      You bring up a good point. There are too many snake oil people and businesses making money promoting false promises and they have the soapbox. I am amazed at how big a readership Mashable has and yet they are often to Social Media what Fox News is in the states to politics. But its like fishing in a barrel for them, why change.

      Then the honest people come along and know one believes us! Sigh.

      • says

        I guess there are good points and bad points about there being crap out there.

        The good point – it makes the better ones stand out more.

        The bad point – we often have to clear up an unholy mess.

        Here’s to the crud falling quicker in future. πŸ˜‰

  3. says

    Thanks Danny, I really enjoyed this. As a newbie in the SM scene I truly enjoyed it. Troy is right everyone is an expert out there these days. BUt you actually walk the talk and as I was discussing on my French Chef post, you are not afraid of giving out the recipes.
    Now all I need is the time and sweat to put it together.
    Btw amazing post you shared at Sarah’s blog. Although I do prefer you with your SM hat on, I have to applaud your candor in sharing this moment of your life.

    • says

      Ins’t everyone a “newbie” to some degree though, mate? How many Quora experts are there? Or Groupon experts? πŸ˜‰

      And thank you – it seemed the perfect place to share the post, and it’s been touching to see all the shared experiences coming out in the comments.

  4. says

    Hi Danny

    At last a post about social media worth reading πŸ˜‰ Read so much rubbish written by the so called “experts” that usually when someone writes yet another post about it I don’t bother.

    Your post is an exception but then I don’t find you talking about things you don’t know anything about. Thanks for sharing Danny. Much for me to take in and action.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • says

      Oh, I’m just as rubbish as the rest, Patricia – I just use more headers and bullets to make it look better. πŸ˜‰

      Glad you enjoyed, and always a pleasure having you over here.

  5. says

    Great post. I tackled this one as well, telling many people that if they’re not ready for it then don’t get into it, no matter what anyone else says. Eventually I believe everyone will need to at least understand parts of it, but that eventuality is probably at least another 10 years or so away.

    • says

      That’s the biggest problem, isn’t it Mitch? So many people saying you need to be here, there and everywhere. Really? Tell me why, exactly, and I might start believing you… πŸ˜‰

      Cheers, sir.

  6. says


    It is an excellent post, great basics that should be followed before jumping into almost any project, especially communications. I must admit that it bums me out a bit that there is still a need to remind people of the basics and common sense.

    I did have to do some searches before commenting on this one because I was struggling with whether it is too basic. The results? Nope, it isn’t and more of this is probably needed.

    Thanks for seeing the need and sharing.


    • says

      Hi Rick,

      To be honest mate, it probably is still fairly “basic”, although I’ve tried to mix it up a bit with some more advanced stuff.

      But I guess that’s the issue – the fact that so much generic stuff is passed around that doesn’t really offer any reasons on the how and after that even the most “obvious” information needs to be refocused on.

      Hey ho… Cheers as always, mate.

  7. says

    Hi, Danny. Slow and steady wins the race, I always say. Makes me glad that I am the turtle in the online race because it allows me to appreciate, learn from and adapt to valuable resources such as yours as they come along. I do not have to lament of all the wrong steps that I have done because so far caution has always been my partner. That way, every time I come upon a resource such as this, I can backtrack and see what I have done right and what I could change. Thanks for the great lessons, mate!

    • says

      For sure, mate. If you can see what others have done well (and bad), then you can really tailor your approach for yourself or your clients. And we can’t ask for much more than that, sir. :)

  8. says

    Great post. We advised clients on the very same: social media audits help them define and clarify their message while finding the proper target market and an effective social strategy.

  9. says

    Danny, you are a generous practitioner. Sharing the recipe, as mentioned above, is proof of that. many helpful points for me to consider as I slowly build my own brand in this space. Thanks!

    • says

      Cheers, Will – I always look at it from the point that there’s enough to go round for everyone. So do we really need to keep all our “tricks” secret? I don’t think so, so always happy to share.

      Cheers, mate. And yes – URL’s are always nice… πŸ˜‰

  10. says

    Can’t someone just get into Social Media for the simple reason ‘Well everyone was doing it’. See Pot is a gateway drug. First pot then Social Media. Sigh.

    Did I make up for yesterday?

    This is a very well written post and I think some College Marketing Professors can use it as much as Marketers and Brands/Business etc.

    I agree there needs to be a clear thought out strategy that balances time/resources with results, benefits. I think the listening/intelligence and even some light customer service are things Brands/Business should definitely investigate.

    As for active I say it very simply: Why would a consumer or customer want to use precious time to talk/engage with you on a regular basis. Perfect example. I LIKED American Airlines Advantage Facebook Page to get miles yesterday. As soon as I have the miles I am unliking. No need for me to talk with American in my daily life.

    • says

      Funnily enough, Howie, we do a couple of teaching courses for business at Bonsai, and this post includes some of the pointers we use in those. :)

      That’s a great point about engagement levels. So many say we have to “engage or die”, but if there’s no reason for the engagement, then is that really the best approach?

      Cheers, bud, and yes, you made up for yesterday. :)

  11. says

    Great stuff as usual Danny.
    All of these are great questions that every company should be asking themselves (and their associates and peers) before getting into social media.
    Thanks for the great advice that I will be passing along to others.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • says

      Cheers, bud, and now I want to jump over and read your post – very intriguing title. :)

      And still looking to slot time in for that demo – crazy few weeks, let’s try aim for first week in March? And see you at Podcamp!

  12. says

    Hi Danny:

    Again, this post shows why you are the success that you are. I know this is geared at businesses, but what would you say for a blogger….is a reasonable amount of time to track/test a strategy?


    • says

      Hey there Lisa,

      Great question, and one that’s given me an idea for a blog post, so thank you. :)

      I guess it depends on the goals. Is it for monetization? Subscriptions? Awards? Unique visitors? Ad programs?

      I’d definitely look at what you want to achieve, and a realistic schedule for how long that might take. Ask other bloggers you respect and wish to emulate how long they took to achieve their goals.

      Then look at what you can put in (regularity of posts, communities you’re going to be a part of, blogs you want to guest on, etc) and break down sections of how long you’ll allocate to each goal.

      Then you need to decide what your course of action will be should you not meet them.

      All good fun – good luck! :)

  13. says

    Danny, great post! I am working with my church to add new social media tools and tactics. Reviewing your 3 key points to a social media audit will be crucial for me, as I evaluate who we are trying to reach with our social media, what will in fact engage our audience and what needs to be in place for our social media tools to be effective with this audience.

    Thank you!!

    • says

      Danny – way to drive home the importance of planning and developing a strategic plan before diving in head-first. As marketers, there’s still some headway in general to be made on squaring traditional marketing achievements (acquiring, sales, loyalty) with the social media world. That being said, I think you’ve outlined a great road map to thinking out the who/what/when/where/why/how of a social media plan.

      • says

        Hey there Rohan,

        Cheers, mate, appreciated sir. Agreed – it’s definitely one of the things we always try encourage at every juncture (the integrated traditional and social approach).

        Like you say, there’s still some headway to be made – but I’d like to think we (as marketers) are getting there. :)

        Cheers, bud!

  14. says

    Well set out post Danny and great questions to ask before jumping in.

    First question is just the same when writing a speech… what is the purpose of your speech, what are you trying to achieve.
    If you can’t answer that, you can’t write your speech.

    BTW – love the red squirrel.
    Don’t see many in the UK.

    • says

      It’s funny how speeches are often looked at as being fairly easy by a lot of people, huh Keith? After all, we all talk, so talking a little bit more can’t be that difficult, can it?

      But of course, it’s much more difficult than that (and I know I don’t need to say that to you). :)

      These red squirrels are ten-a-penny over here mate – big change from the grey buggers we used to see in Edinburgh all the time!

      • says

        Spent some time in Edinburgh – great place.
        Used to go up to the huge artificial ski slope there, the one at Hillend.
        Drive up the M6, stop off at Kendal in the lakes and then over the border.
        Always kept my mouth shut if I was in a bar and England were playing Scotland!

        But… I thought that you were from Glasgow, or have a said a terrible thing?

        Cheers Danny

  15. says

    Hey Danny. How’s tricks? I’d add “don’t spread yourself too thin” to the list of things to consider. It ties into the point you make about how much time you can actually spend on social media. The less time, the more focused you need to be on ensuring good quality over the various mechanisms that you choose.


    • says

      Definitely, mate, and one of the reasons an audit is so important. Find out where you’re needed and just keep an eye on the rest.

      Cheers, fella. :)

  16. says

    WOW, thank you for this article. I always enjoy reading your posts and as a new social media consultant (been in PR for 15 years) it gave me lots to think about and to use with my clients.

    Thank you again!

  17. says

    Thanks for the great advice. It is so important to maintain focus when doing anything. I will go and write our social media goals and then look for ways I can measure our progress. I know you referred to a few tools to measure your progress. Do you have a favorite that is fairly inexpensive for small businesses?

    • says

      Hi Amber,

      Google Analytics is free, as is Compete and Quantcast (to a degree).

      Beevolve is a very cost-effective alternative to the more expensive monitoring systems. has great analytics for measuring URL’s, and Hootsuite’s premium service is also worth looking into.

      Hope that helps. :)

  18. says

    Hi Danny! Thanks for another great post and providing a structured approach. We also always first pose the question – “are your customers online?” ..- “if so, what are they doing there?” – “which platforms are they using” ..You’ve extended this (amongst many other things) to the ‘when’ also ..which is great.

    Hope you are well.

    Congrat’s again on your #1 Hubspot Blog ranking’re a star (with a great heart!) :) Take care – 2011 looks as though it’s going to be fantastic for you.

    Best wishes from your aussie mates.

    • says

      Hey there Anne,

      It’s funny how many miss the essentials that you’ve just mentioned. So many businesses jump on when there isn’t an audience their for them to start with – and then they wonder why they’re getting no return… πŸ˜‰

      And thanks on the congrats – that was a nice surprise, though I still think they have the results all mixed up (though I’ll still take them, hehe).

      Cheers, miss, as always! :)

  19. says

    This was an excellent and thoughtful piece. Just wanted to stop by and say hello and thank you for your reply at Ari Herzog’s. All the best to you!

  20. says

    I agree with most of what you are saying I would disagree with your premise that most companies would benefit from some social media activity. Most of my SME clients (remember that’s 90% of UK companies) when they ask me about getting in to social media they are doing so because they think it’s a good idea no other reason than that. These are the same companies who are so stretched they don’t have the resource to keep a website updated or engage in any effective customer relationship management activity apart from a postcard or a calender once a year. Get the basics right before even thinking about social media. As you say if it’s not done properly better not do it at all.

    • says

      Hi Craig,

      I hear you – though I guess it comes down to what’s being determined as activity. As I mention in the post, you don’t have to be proactive – but silently participating can save you a ton of money on focus groups and research, as well as help you plan where to spend marketing budgets.

      Even if you just use social media as a listening platform and nothing else, it becomes a pretty rewarding platform.

      Cheers, mate.

  21. says

    Bookmarking this list Danny, wonderful plan of attack for someone considering social media. When asking why, developing that initial plan I think you need to ask “are you social”? Everyone talks about their business, has a story to tell but the decision to be “social” about it, strategically put it out there is another step. You mentioned dealing with negativity, listening .. which are some reasons companies hide from social, along with not understanding measurement and ROI. So glad you mentioned integration with other marketing, promotional efforts and your conclusion rocks, that is all. πŸ˜‰

    • says

      Hey there miss,

      Thanks, and glad you enjoyed it. :)

      Agree 100% with your “are you social” question. I see so many companies and business owners that do themselves a disservice by the way they act and use these platforms.

      Sometimes staying off social can be even better for you than going on – or at least get someone to help you that actually understands what they’re doing and how that’s going to help you. πŸ˜‰

  22. says

    Hi Danny,

    Thanks for the great post. I think one of the great starting points for businesses setting out their social media policies and strategy for handling negativity is to remember what their brand stands for outside of the social media fishbowl.

    It’s always surprising to me what people are willing to say when they sitting behind their computers instead of talking to someone in person! Also, it’s just important that people have a consistent experience with the brand, whether they are interacting in a store or on Twitter.


    • says

      Hey there Andy,

      Great point – if you don’t understand what your company stands for (and, more importantly, if your employees don’t), then what chance do you have in front of millions of people? πŸ˜‰

      Cheers, sir.

  23. Eman Sayed Fathy says

    Amazing insights as always, Danny! Whenever I have a question about Social Media, I always find a blog from you about it on Google Search and on the 1st page itself, great job!