If you Google the question, “Where do I start on social media?” you’ll be greeted with approximately 1.4 billion results. 1.4 billion.

While many of these results will be duplicate versions, it’s clear that getting started on social media is a question many people are looking for an answer to. Add the word “business,” and run a similar search, and you’ll find around 1.2 billion results.

Blog posts, news articles, corporate videos and more—again, everyone is looking to find out the right way to do social media.

The secret, if it can be called that, is simple: You need to start out right and, much like everything else you do in business, have a plan with measurable milestones and results.

Step One: “Why Do We Want to Be Here?”

From monitoring conversations online to discussing with clients, the overarching theme that prevents successful business use of social media is a lack of understanding of why they want to be on social media.

Typical responses include, “Our competitors are on there,” “Because everyone’s doing it,” and “We don’t want to be left behind.” The problem with these answers is they don’t dig deep enough into the bigger questions that you need to answer:

  • What are your competitors doing on social media, and are they doing it well?
  • Are you able to identify your competitor’s brand impact—share of voice, awareness, leads, etc.—from their participation on social media?
  • Does your core demographic match the core demographic of those social media users your competitor’s are trying to connect with?

These are the three basic questions that need to be asked if you’re using the competitor comparison as a reason to be on social media. Having the answers to those questions will allow you to move to the next stage.

Step Two: “Where Do We Need to Be?”

Once you’ve analyzed and answered the “why” behind the decision to be on social media, the next stage is the one that will more often than not determine how successful you are—where you need to be.

There are literally hundreds of social networks online, and these are the platforms that are actually recognized as bonafide social networks, along the lines of power hitters Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. Add in forums, niche networks, community blog networks and more, and it’s no wonder so many businesses have trouble finding the right path.

This is where smart passive use of social media is needed.

  • Prior to becoming actively involved in social media, use a passive approach with tools, keywords and data mining.
  • Use simple searches with the likes of Social SearcherSocial Mention or Trackur to find out if your target audience is actually using social media and, if they are, on what platforms they’re on.
  • Compare the amount of chatter and, more importantly, the level of opportunity for your brand to be active on each channel.
  • Identify two or three channels that have active participation, with a good level of questions your brand can answer, and use them as your starting point for actual social media participation.

By starting out slowly, based on analytical evidence on why you should be on your chosen platforms, you set yourself up for a far better chance of success than jumping in blindly. This allows you to create the third stage.

Step Three: Map Out Goals and Success Metrics

Of course, this entire preliminary work means nothing if you’re not going to set goals and success metrics to measure your social media use. Every brand has different needs and requirements. Here are a few to consider:

  • Brand awareness;
  • Share of voice;
  • Market perception;
  • Customer experience;
  • Lead generation and customer acquisition;
  • Loyalty and advocacy.

Social media is a fantastic resource for truly connecting your brand to your customers, both existing and potential. But it also takes a lot of time, experimentation and investment to pay off—so you need to make sure you have certain metrics in place to measure how you’re doing.

  • Set up a calendar and break it down into your usual results pattern—monthly, quarterly, biannually, annually, etc.
  • Highlight goals for each milestone—percentage shift in brand awareness, impact on competitors, website traffic, social network growth, inquiries to your sales team, customer satisfaction, etc.
  • Determine acceptable growth vs. ideal growth, and compare how the former is trending to the latter.
  • Analyze the cost of implementation (manpower, hours, technical resources) to the investment return (market share, brand perception, increased customer loyalty, word of mouth marketing, sales and reduced churn).

The ability to measure how you’re doing is crucial when it comes to buy-in across the company. Having a clearly structured plan to measure success will help pave the way for further investment.

To compare milestones, technologies like Pulse Analytics can help you identify your successes, your weaker areas, and which customers/advocates are driving the most interaction and profit.

As you can see, it’s not a quick or simple jump to make, contrary to popular advice. But by being smart when it comes to why you should be on social media and, more importantly, how you measure your effectiveness, you’re setting yourself up for success rather than failure.

image: Steve Garfield

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