On the Net Without a Net: The Perils of Not Having a Social Media Strategy

10.6.2010 »
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Most of us have at least dipped a toe in the social media waters—a Facebook profile, a LinkedIn account, maybe Twitter. You probably didn’t have a strategy for your personal presence, which for the most part is okay: your Facebook page has a built-in focus—you—and your LinkedIn profile represents your professional brand online.

You can have an unfocused personal presence on Twitter, but unless you’re Sockington or Ashton Kutcher, it’s unlikely many people will care. This is all fine for personal use, but what about your business? How should it behave in the social mediasphere?

There’s little question about the need for companies to participate in social media at this point, as it’s fundamentally changed the conversation. We all know that people are talking about our companies and brands online whether we like it or not, and that if we’re not owning or at least influencing the conversation, someone else is—and we may not like the results. Add to that the fact search engines are indexing Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles, driving increased search engine visibility for companies using social media, and it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t be part of the conversation. The question now is how and when to participate, on what platforms, and in what voice: in other words, your social media strategy.

So how do you go about creating a strategy? The first thing to understand is what your organization wants to accomplish through social media. Do you want to attract more customers and increase sales? Raise awareness about a product or service? Promote your expertise on a specific topic? Recruit potential employees? Enhance customer service? Clearly state your objectives and use them as the foundation for your strategy. 

Macy’s is an excellent example of using social media to recruit effectively; for its executive recruiting team, they have a rich, well-rounded presence on LinkedIn, including an active LinkedIn group and extensive connections. To target the college market, they’re leveraging Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to great advantage. There’s not a huge amount of crossover between the two targets, and so the strategies and approaches are very different, though equally effective for their purpose.

Once you’ve figured out the objectives, you’ll need to determine which social media platforms make the most sense for helping you meet these goals; for example, if you’re recruiting new employees, LinkedIn is a natural platform. For customer service enhancement, Twitter might be the right way to go (Zappo’s is an excellent example of this). If you’re selling a product directly to consumers, a Facebook presence with an e-commerce component might make the most sense. The point is, the platforms you’ll utilize need to fit with your objectives. 

What will your messaging be? And in what voice? Social media is a conversation, not a lecture, so the voice is different—and it’s important to ensure it’s strategic, and on target with the platform. If you’re a conservative financial institution, you don’t want your “voice” to include things like “LOL” and “OMG.” Oscar de la Renta has decided to designate a carefully chosen employee and let her be the voice of the company, interjecting personality, energy, and fun into the mix and making the company seem smarter, edgier, and more engaging. That’s not the right approach for every company, but for Oscar de la Renta, it’s strategic. And smart.

Determining how you’ll measure your success is critical. While many companies use quantity of fans as a success metric, in reality, merely attracting fans is not enough. Your success metrics must be based on your objectives, and they must be measurable, showing how they’re contributing directly to achievement of the stated objectives. This is what builds the business case and lays the groundwork for maintaining and extending your social media presence in a way that truly builds your business.

I recently read a blog post arguing that you don’t need a social media strategy, and that strategy can in fact stifle your participation in social media.  The writer makes some salient points, and just as with anything else, it’s important to find the balance in how you interact in this arena. But frankly, some potential interactions SHOULD be stifled, and having a strategy helps you know which ones to pursue and which ones to leave alone. A long time ago, Laurence J. Peter said “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” That’s more true today than it ever was. And it perfectly captures why you need a social media strategy to guide your online presence.

So, what’s your take on having a social media strategy? And what’s your organization doing? Do you need a social media strategy, or not?

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