What’s the plan?
Social media is no different to any other business endeavour in that it should always begin with a clear strategy. First of all, your business should set its objectives: what do you need to achieve, and how does that translate in real business terms, such as increased sales or better brand recognition in new markets? Establish clear targets that are measurable – not only does this give you a roadmap to refer to, but it also proves to other stakeholders that the investment is worth it.
Know your audience
Before your business even thinks about creating content, it’s essential that you establish who you are targeting. Segment your audience into relevant chunks and conduct a ‘buyer persona’ exercise for each, outlining the issues and challenges they face and how you can address these online. Bringing the segments to life by giving them names, jobs, interests and preferred social media will help focus your efforts.
Commit time and energy
Online marketing requires a considerable investment of time. If this is the route you are taking, your business needs to make a sustained commitment to creating content and ensure that any platforms on which you operate are frequently updated. A blog looks terrible if the writer hasn’t posted in months, and the same applies to neglected Twitter accounts.
The blog is the engine of the social media strategy, and it’s a great place to start because it allows you to plan ahead. You can start by simply saying ‘we commit to writing two blog posts a week’ and then assign the responsibility and deadlines accordingly. For large organisations or those dealing with sensitive subjects, blogging also has the advantage of allowing plenty of time for people to review and approve any draft posts prior to them being made public.
Once you have the content in place, platforms such as Twitter can be used to direct traffic to the blog. Twitter is probably the most effective option for driving traffic, but businesses may also benefit from having a presence on LinkedIn, and Facebook is well suited to speaking directly to consumers. Which platform, or mix of platforms, that your organisation chooses really depends on your business, audience and objectives.
The blog is the engine of the social media strategy, and it’s a great place to start because it allows you to plan ahead.
Never, ever sell
This is one of the biggest mistakes made by businesses using online platforms, and it’s a big turn-off. The key is to create content that educates and entertains; www.equiniti.com > 27 content that’s relevant to your target market and addresses their sources of pain. Talk about what the audience needs, not what you need, and provide answers and solutions wherever possible.
Tone of voice is another aspect of communications that it’s important to get right. Your organisation should speak to your audience as you would if you shook their hand in the street, instead of attempting to adopt a ‘brand’ in your communications. Authenticity is always the best approach.
Harness the skills of your colleagues
Many businesses are naturally concerned about protecting the integrity of their brand from rogue tweeters. The most important safeguard is to create a clear policy of what’s acceptable to say online, and what’s not. Put those guidelines in writing and make sure they’re visible to everyone involved. You will probably want to reserve blogging and tweeting for a small, tight group of employees, but don’t assume that this has to be executives only.
Conduct an audit of your staff and find the ‘digital citizens’ – people who can write, film or take great photos and are comfortable online. Make the most of their skills by getting them involved early on, and encourage them to work within the guidelines you have set.
Be ready to respond
Use monitoring tools to keep an eye on what people are saying about you online, so that if the worst happens and you’re facing a PR crisis, you’re not caught on the back foot. Take for example the disagreement this spring between Scottish brewer BrewDog and its larger drinks rivals Diageo. BrewDog created an online storm when it accused Diageo of having abused its position as corporate sponsor to the British Institute of Innkeeping awards. Thankfully, Diageo was quick to react, releasing an official apology without being provoked into an online debate. On the rare occasion when you find your business in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, you need to react quickly and appropriately. Ignoring the situation will only cause it to escalate.
David Cumings is a digital expert who helps businesses build their profile online. Find out more at www.forthmetrics.com