The Hard Questions of Social Media

, ,

While using social media for business purposes has been around for the better part of 5 years now, we’re reaching a place where businesses are starting to ask “what should I be doing with social media?” Its a fair question. After dabbling in Facebook or opening a Twitter account, the next question is often, “what now?” And much of this questioning is driving the conversation for ROI. But before we dig into ROI, its worth asking some of the tough questions about why we’re even talking about social media.

Why Social Media?

Now, you know that I am an advocate for measuring social media, I also think its also time that we ask ourselves what we are really trying to accomplish with social media. What makes social media so special and how can we really achieve business objectives with it? Every single time I meet a new client I ask “Why Social Media?” I purposely ask the question very broadly, but I also usually get the broad answer of “we want to increase sales.” Its an honest answer. But its also the easiest. Without meeting a single client, without a single email, I already know this answer. But its time to dig deeper, I’m suggesting you dig deeper and I’m asking my clients to also. What are some of the questions we should ask ourselves about the social media opportunities before we get started?

What is our impediment to increased sales?

Do we need to create awareness? Do we need to distinguish ourselves from our competition? Do we want to create community? Do we need to drive traffic to a digital or real-life location? Do we have a PR issue to overcome? These are different goals and social media can be used in each case, but its best if we focus on one, at least initially. Depending on the ability for the company to support the objective, we may initially start with one channel. Its best to really narrow this down, because by answering this question as specifically as possible, we also set ourselves on the right track for ROI measurement.

How are we communicating with our audience now?

A strong mailing list is a great start to social media, as is a website  that supports social sharing and perhaps even a blog. If you are a new business, then its all the more important that your website have sharing capabilities and be integrated with social media. And building that email list will probably be one of your social priorities. If you are an existing business, your customers and clients are probably already using social platforms to talk about their experiences with you. Look into those platforms and start building relationships with people who are talking about you-its back to listen first, and then engage.

Who is our online and social audience?

Do we know who influences our audience in social media? There are certain audience segments where people have carved out niches for themselves, particularly in travel, Moms and B2B spaces. Its good to know and follow these people. Social media can help you create a relationship with these people who influence your potential customers. We tread lightly here because we are creating a relationship, not a promotional partnership. We may be choose to partner with influencial people in social media, but let’s start with identifying who they and why our audience is so passionate about them. Listen first. Talk later.

How can we use social media to support existing mediums and marketing channels?

How can we integrate social media into our existing marketing programs: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, social media is the farm not the silo. Don’t let your social media program live in the dark and don’t let your other marketing initiatives live without social media. Integrate! Let it work with the rest of your initiatives. If your using print, let’s find ways to integrate or even measure your print impact. Events and social media go together like two peas in a pod, there are lots of great opportunities for those two to work together. Look for ways to tie in a particular campaign across the board!

Are we ready for social media?

Are we open to a culture shift? Social media is more than a marketing channel, it really is a culture, a different way of looking at communication.

Its more transparent, more human than traditional marketing, its more individualized and very, very much about supporting customers so they can support you. Social media’s transparency requires that you consider how all your departments and staff can benefit from and participate in social media. Incorporating social media throughout the company is a great way to spread the work, and as we move forward, we truly are going to have to embrace the fact that each employee can and should take a role in marketing as so beautifully articulated by this McKinsey Quarterly article. Really ask yourself if there is any reason why your company’s employees shouldn’t be engaging current and potential customers. You hired them because they understand your business, shouldn’t they understand your customers too?

About a year ago I started advising my clients to “Stop Thinking Like a Marketer and Start Thinking Like a Human.” In other words, think about what makes YOU interested in companies and brands. Think about how you would like to be communicated with if you were YOUR customer.  Its hard to get out of our own heads sometimes, but start thinking about what would make you read more. That’s the essence of social media communication.

Are we committed or is this an experiment?

I strongly discourage dropping in and out of social media. Its sort of like not answering your phone…in both cases, it does nothing to create customer trust. If you just aren’t sure that you’re totally ready for social media, grab your handles and domain names on as many social media outlets as you can and leave a post or similar that directs people to the channels that you do monitor (your website for example). Also spend some time monitoring the social web for mentions of your company and products, this may help you understand the places you SHOULD go when you’re ready. BUT-and this is a BOB, big ‘ol but- remember that if you are going to start responding and engaging on social media that you should keep it up and also remember that the time to build community is NOT when you have a crisis, or a new product. You want community in place BEFORE you need them, which means you’ve already created the relationship.

Its really important that we get to the bottom of these hard questions before we leap into social media. You may find that answering these questions is a process of listening, learning and testing. Yes, these questions may unearth other questions, but if we’re to reap the full benefits of social media then we’ve got to plant the right seeds to get there.

QUESTION: What questions would you add to this list? Did you do this when your company started in social media? Please, let me know!