Social media is everywhere. It holds out great promise for marketers. Who wouldn’t want direct access to customers – every day, all of the time? As a result, it is tempting for brand champions to jump right in. Set up a fan page on Facebook. Open a Twitter account. Submit a Wikipedia entry. Develop a mobile app. Now what? Before investing precious resources in specific platforms, technologies or networks, it is important to get grounded in what the social media opportunity is for your brand. It is not the same for everyone.
Following the pack can be dangerous, particularly in an environment where misunderstandings or misperceptions can spread instantly. Learning from early adopters, analyzing your competition’s effectiveness and reach, and understanding how your customers engage in social networks are all valuable inputs before developing your social media strategy.
Having a global social media strategy is not a complete solution. Although social networks are open to the world, leading research reveals that the frequency of interaction among users increases with geographic proximity. Therefore country specific or even regionally focused initiatives will deliver the best return on effort.
At Pilot PMR, working with a broad client base of leading national and international brands has given us the opportunity to learn and develop new social media skills each and every day. As is usually the case, the most valuable lessons are the simplest, and it almost always starts with understanding who is willing to pay attention.
Know your audience
Understanding your audience is a necessity for successful social media engagement. However, it is more than just market research and establishing dialogue. It’s about motivation: your motivations as a brand champion to use social media and the motivations your audience has for engaging with your brand. Who do you seek to engage with? Why would this audience want to engage with you, and what is their reward for paying attention? Ultimately, what you would like to gain with your efforts is just as important as what the audience seeks to gain. This is where research should really start, with the foundation that a social media platform should establish a mutually beneficial relationship between brand and users.
Choose the right social media platform
Using the right platform is just as important as sharing the right kind of content with the right audience. Depending on the tone and goals of your brand, you may choose to focus on Twitter, or Facebook, or even Pinterest. Facebook, for example, is generally regarded as a casual means of interacting with an audience and caters largely towards visual media such as a large gallery of photos. Twitter, meanwhile, can handle a variety of tones in terms of content, with friendly and highly-chatty brands and corporations that keep a professional voice. Twitter is the most effective social media platform to interact with partnering brands on a visible level.
Manage listening and sharing
Often brand champions are excited to use social media because it gives them an opportunity to share new and diverse content, but it is important to remember to listen to your audience. As much as a brand may want to share a message, it is just as common for an audience member to want to share and have their voice heard by the brand. We recommend keeping “active listening” (responding and retweeting) at over 50 per cent, and up to as much as 80 per cent of all content. The remaining 20 to 50 per cent should be spent sharing content and information regarding the brand (this may include blog posts, photos, events, promotions, etc.). Using this strategy, users know that you are not trying to be a megaphone, and that you understand being a good listener is better than being the loudest voice online.
Use the tools available
The cost of social media is time. As a relatively inexpensive way to disseminate information, the amount of time should be weighed against results, and therefore efficiency is key. Some firms shell out thousands of dollars a month for high-end products such as Sysomos or Radian6, but there are also plenty of free tools available to track analytics and plan social media strategically. To track the distance your tweets travel try TweetReach. To measure social influence give Klout a try. Or how about a more holistic Twitter tracking tool such as Tweet Stats? Facebook has its own analytics software built in, and all websites can be tracked using Alexa (they even make a Google Chrome extension built right into your browser).
The use of social media platforms chosen by a given brand may vary greatly, but they should never be isolated. If your brand decides to focus on Twitter and blogging, the strategist should make it as easy as possible for audience members to navigate between the two. Lacking a funnel from your social media to a blog or home site is serverely limiting your traffic, impressions, and your visible know-how of Web 2.0. You’re encouraged to choose platforms carefully, especially because, as mentioned above, they take valuable time to maintain. But each of the platforms you do decide to use should flow information back and forth in a way that encourages transmedia engagement.