Step 1: Evaluate Your Social Media LandscapeAt its simplest, social media can be thought of as a set of applications and technologies that allow individuals to interact in online communities, directly exchange information with one another and create their own online content. As shown in Figure 1 (click to enlarge the image), the social media landscape and range of applications available to companies is extremely broad and diverse – too wide for any organization to consider all of the applications available.
The starting point in developing a social media engagement strategy is to monitor and evaluate the social media landscape for your business. Social media landscaping will help you decide the best generic strategy for your business (see Step 2 to follow) and should be undertaken at five main levels:
• Applications – what social media applications are most relevant to your business?
• Impact – what impact is social media having on your industry, how important has it become?
• Customers – how are your customers using social media? What impact is it having on customer behaviour?
• Conversations – what online conversations are taking place relevant to your business; who is saying what about your brand where on the Internet and how should you respond?
• Features and characteristics – what are the key features and characteristics of social media that you need to understand i.e. social media culture?
To avoid the ‘we must use it because it’s available’ trap, you should identify the social media applications and channels most relevant to your business. These are likely to include the applications shown in Figure 2 below. It is important for all organizations to target limited resources on high impact applications. You should consider the potential business benefits of using each listed channel; then prioritise channel choice based on ease of use and expected ROI.
Figure 2 Social Media Applications
Three of the most important questions to address in deciding the generic social media (SM) strategy most appropriate for your business, are:
1. What impact is Web 2.0/Social Media having on your industry?
2. How important is SM to achieving your overall strategic goals and objectives?
3. What are the specific SM opportunities and threats for our business?
In terms of the first two questions, you should strategically position your business/organisation on the matrix shown in Figure 3. The vertical axis shows the industry impact of social media; the horizontal axis the strategic importance of social media to achieving your core business objectives.
There is a clear generic strategy recommendation emerging from each cell:
• Strategic priority
• High engagement strategy
• Passive approach
• Industry leader
A passive approach to SM strategy development may be acceptable in industries where social media is having only limited impact and is not strategically important to achieving your overall business goals and objectives. A more proactive approach will be required in all other situations. A high engagement strategy will be required in sectors where social media has had a major impact and is considered ‘mission critical’ to achieving strategic objectives. Your organisation has an opportunity for emerging as an industry leader in cases where social media is considered to be strategically important but the overall industry impact, to date, has been quite limited. As social media begins to have a more important industry impact, your business should be strategically positioned to capitalise on this. In industries where social media is already having a major impact, but your business has only made limited progress, the development and implementation of an effective social media response should be considered a strategic priority.
Your customers will already be using social media in some capacity. Understanding the why and where of how they use it and the influence of social media on customer behaviour is a cornerstone of SM success.
Being customer and network led is critical to social media success. It boils down to three very simple questions:
1. Who are our customers, who do we wish to engage with?
2. Where do we find them ‘hanging out’ on social media?
3. How can we best engage and energise them?
Figure 4 shows a useful model for thinking about your SM presence. Consider the very centre of the diagram as your company, organisation or web site. Each of the surrounding nodes represents online communities that your customers may already be engaging with i.e. the Social Media Channels where your customers ‘hang out’. These may include Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, forums or other social media channels. Your generic SM strategy will be determined by where your customers ‘hang out’; how you can best engage with and energise them.
One of the major trends on the social web has been the emergence of Social Media Monitoring Tools – applications which allow companies to monitor the conversations taking place about their brand across different social media platforms; who is saying what, where on the social web. We have identified over 100 companies operating in this space ranging from no or low cost tools such as Google Alerts, Trackur, Social Mention and ViralHeat to more expensive and sophisticated tools such as Scoutlabs, Radian6, SM2 and SocialRadar.
The more expensive tools allow businesses to monitor and evaluate the following:
• ‘River of news’: all the information pertaining to your business
• The volume of relevant mentions
• The topic trends (peaks and troughs over a period), tying in with events or other initiatives
• What is being said at an aggregate level
• The mention medium: tweet, blog post, forum post, news item, media upload
• The importance of individual mentions
• Overall sentiment or tone and reputation issues
• The importance of channels, sources or individuals (influencers)
• Updates and changes as they happen
• Actionable insights based on the above
You should explore the potential of the above tools for monitoring the online conversations taking place relevant to your business.
Features and Characteristics
Before discussing specific applications and how you can use these in your business, this section presents the key features and characteristics of social media. An understanding of the ‘Ten Key Principles’ is critical to your future success in this area.
The Ten Key Principles of Social Media
1. The social aspect: Web 2.0 is first and foremost a social phenomenon. A key feature is online democracy and user generated content. You cannot control what people say about your brand online.
2. Power shift: Web 2.0 and social media empower your customers, empower your network. There has been a major ‘power shift’ from companies and organizations to customers.
3. Declining effectiveness of traditional approaches: Traditional sales and marketing approaches are becoming less effective. Customers no longer listen to broadcast brand messages.
4. Pull versus Push: It has become more difficult to push information/sales messages at customers. In an SM environment, the customer decides what information feeds they wish to subscribe to.
5. New ‘mindsets’ are required: Social media is business as a conversation with your customers, a conversation with your network. New organizational mindsets are required. Most organizations are not good at talking with their customers.
6. Engage and Energise: Effective use of social media is about engaging with and energising your network (customers, employees, stakeholders) to become brand advocates.
7. New performance measures: New performance measures are required. Measures that evaluate the quality of your customer base, the quality of your online network and the strength of the relationship you have with them. In a social media era, the 4I’s (Involvement, Interaction, Intimacy and Influence) become the main drivers of future business success.
8. Social media monitoring tools: Monitoring the online conversations taking place about your brand has become ‘mission critical’.
9. Redefines online marketing: SM redefines the concept of a web site and online marketing. It is no longer about driving traffic to your site. It about online engagement with your network and delivering rich online customer experiences.
10. New approaches to your business: New approaches based on communities, networks, openness, customer empowerment, engaging with and energising your network.
Jim and Alan