February 2, 2010

You can’t forget strategy when talking about social media.


Applying strategy is critical to social media success.

Applying strategy is critical to social media success.

99 ways to use Twitter?

There are plenty of articles on the Internet that outline the 17 ways to use Twitter or the 32 ways to use Facebook. If your approach to social media has been to start with these types of articles, you may be focusing too quickly on tactics without an appropriate social media strategy. Tactics without a strategy are particularly bad because they often end up being ineffective, hard to measure and mask real opportunities a more strategic version of the tactic may provide.

Because social media tools are so accessible and seemingly easy to use, a planning/strategy phase is often skipped, perhaps also in part because the realm of social media seems so complex. Because there is no clear place to begin, there is a tendency to start with tactics, a fatal mistake.

How to approach the problem

One technique for approaching a problem that seems complex is to break it down into a series of simpler problems. This is a great approach when it comes to the social media landscape. Instead of looking at a list of 50 ways to use Twitter, it makes more sense to look at a smaller list of ways to use social media in general.

Such a list might look like this.

In fact, you’ll find that any social media strategy probably consists of several of the leaf nodes in this diagram being used in various channels. (For the purposes of this discussion, a social media “channel” is Facebook or a blog or Twitter).

Your challenge then is to identify:

  1. the kind of information your organization has or can generate, ideally something conversational
  2. the types of people you’re trying to reach through social media
  3. the items from the diagram above that can be used to put that information from step (1) in front of those audiences in step (2)
  4. the appropriate channel for each item in step (3)

Now, just because we have a plan of attack doesn’t mean this is necessarily an easy or straightforward task. The best social media strategies look easy in hindsight but have usually been cooked up with some outside-the-box thinking. The above map is not a magic wand, but it is a starting point.

Examples, please!

Let’s look at a real-world example. Imagine your real estate agent. There may be a temptation for him to jump straight to tactics and use Twitter to post listings. After all, he has listing information (this is his product) and Twitter is easy to sign up for. Plus, this is on the map under Sales/Marketing –> Product announcement. We’re in good shape, right?

Well, Sales/Marketing on the diagram has a red flag on it. That red flag means if you’re only using something from that category, you may be on the wrong track. In this case, our real estate agent’s listings probably aren’t that useful to most people (who only wants to see the listings from a single real estate agent?), it’s not very conversational (what would people say back to him about a listing?) and he’ll probably find he won’t get a lot of followers.

Even worse would be to have a Facebook page where he is re-posting the exact same listings. Now he has a situation where even if a person were to be interested in those listings, it’s not in their interest to follow him on Twitter and be a fan on Facebook because then they’ll just get the same information twice. As silly as that sounds, we see this all the time.

Lesson learned: Directly promoting your product or service on as many social media channels as possible is not a good strategy because it abuses your potential followers and misses the whole “social” part of social media. You’re not listening, you’re just talking. And you’re saying the same thing in multiple places. And nobody cares.

This can take many forms including using Twitter to post links to your press releases or using Facebook to post links to your blog posts. I’m not suggesting never doing that but only doing that puts you in the PR category on the diagram and it, too, has a red flag. Oops.

Okay, give me a better idea.

This real estate agent has a problem, however… Aren’t the listings the only content he has? Possibly, but remember the first step is to identify the kind of information your organization has or can create. The listings may be the only content he has at hand. Grabbing whatever information you already have and using social media as a one-way channel (outward) is a missed opportunity.

This is where the strategizing comes in. What about creating a tips/tricks list for homeowners? (See the map above under Educational –> Tips/Tricks). This could include reminders to disconnect your plastic hose fittings in the winter so they don’t crack or money-saving tips for efficient energy use. Maybe it’s one tip a week and every once in a while he throws in a property listing (Sales/Marketing –> Product announcement) or an open house announcement (Notifications –> Events/Reminders).

Now this real estate agent has something useful he is providing to his clients. All of his existing clients would potentially be interested and he’d stay top of mind when they’re looking to sell or buy or even just make a referral to somebody else: “You should use my real estate agent. I follow him on twitter and he’s got great homeowner tips.” This takes the form of branding (Topics/Issues –> Brand related) and on top of that, he gets his listings and open houses in the mix. He’s now using five concepts from the diagram!

Plus, followers who have tips of their own can reply to him which means (a) the rest of his followers benefit from the tip (“Comments” from the Social category on the diagram) and (b) he can file it away later to use next year (a form of Research on the diagram). Wow – we’ve got seven nodes covered on the diagram, only a couple are red-flagged and a real social media strategy is taking form!

Hopefully you can see the difference this approach can make. Obviously there are issues like staffing and creative elements and ongoing maintenance and monitoring but try this process with your organization or give us a call and we can walk you through it.