Fix Your Social Media Strategy by Taking It Back to Basics

A recent CMO Survey indicates that marketers plan to double their spending on social media in the next five years. Yet IBM’s C-Suite Study reports that nearly half of CMOs believe they are not prepared to manage the challenges of social media. This disparity highlights an important, and potentially costly, problem: Marketers continue to increase social media spending, yet many are still uncertain about management, strategies, and integration.

A quick Google search returns 140 million results for “social media marketing tips,” but no matter how many headlines promise it, there really is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy. Some articles indicate that stories are an effective marketing and advertising tool. But what story will you tell? How will you integrate it with your traditional efforts?

Other articles advise using social media networks, such as Pinterest. But what will your brand post? Is your target audience even on Pinterest? Still more articles offer a glimpse into other brands’ social media strategies. But what worked for Comcast or Best Buy or Universal Studios probably will not work for a bank, tech startup, or retail company.

What marketers need is a process that leads to individual solutions. They must use fundamental marketing concepts and modify them for this new two-way, consumer-empowered medium of social media. Here’s a framework for doing that, adapted from my book Social Media Strategy.

Define the status quo. The first step isn’t about social media at all: Identify your business objectives and target market. Also consider your industry, the recent performance of the brand, and the current traditional marketing promotions for the product and its competitors. A startup or new product needs to generate awareness, while an older product may need to be revived. Some brands need a new image, as when Starbucks’s reputation fell to an all-time low and Howard Schultz returned to restore consumer confidence in the brand. One tool Starbucks used was social media, launching “My Starbucks Idea” to crowdsource feedback and reengage customers.

Listen to your target audience. Here’s where social media kicks in. Brands cannot talk to everyone in every social channel, so narrowly define whom you want to listen to and communicate with. Are you targeting Millennials entering the workforce, dads with young children, or senior executives nearing retirement? What are they doing in social media, and where are they doing it? What are consumers saying about your brand, products, services, and competitors? Start with simple Google searches on your brand name, analytics tools within social networks, and look to secondary research, such as the Pew Research Internet Project, Nielsen, or Edison Research, to identify larger trends in social media use. Gather a snapshot of all current social media talk with a social media audit. Follow an audit template to organize what you find and identify actionable insights.

Create social media content that drives engagement. What is your target consumer looking for? Social media is all about producing fresh, relevant content, so create things that your audience will find valuable, whether it’s “how to” articles or simply something entertaining. Where you deliver the content matters too: Some social media channels are best for sharing short, current updates (Twitter), others are better for delivering video content (YouTube), some reach a younger audience with pictures (Instagram), and others have younger audiences with multimedia and high engagement rates (Snapchat). The best social media plans deliver content that’s optimized to each channel. Engage the target audience on the channels they use with material that is unique to the channel. Select social channels that fit brand message, type of content, and target audience.

For long-term consumer monitoring, look into a social media monitoring service, such as Radian6 from Salesforce.com, Hootsuite, or HubSpot. Live dashboards show streams from multiple social accounts, keeping you aware of hashtags and brand mentions. To find the most influential people in your target audience, look to tools such as Klout, which measures an individual’s online impact. Some brands, includingWells Fargo and Johns Hopkins Medicine, have invested in a social media command center. These branded social media monitoring rooms acting as a central visual hub for social data, to speed up marketing and engagement with customers. 

Link marketing goals to social media KPIs. If you are driving sales online, measure digital KPIs with click-throughs from social platforms to the purchase. Google Analytics Social Reports are especially useful in breaking down social traffic and assigning monetary value to website conversions such as sales or lead generation. Measuring in-store sales is harder but can be done with offer codes, surveys, orscanner data. Digital KPIs for awareness include social media likes and shares, or unique website visits referred from social media content.

All these KPIs can be collected and organized in a simple social media metrics table. There may also be larger business goals that social media is affecting. Identify social integration opportunities beyond marketing such as social media interactions that impact the sales force, customer service functions, R&D and HR department recruitment, and employee policies and engagement. Social media strategy may be led by the marketing team, but the company’s social media efforts are too important to be left to marketing alone.

How does this framework look in action? One example is the Mercedes Tweet Race to the Super Bowl. At the ripe old age of 125, Mercedes-Benz was being positioned by its competitors as tired and stodgy. Digital agency Razorfish introduced the automaker to a younger generation of consumers by figuring out who its target audience was and where the audience was active on social media.

Four two-person driving teams were recruited on Facebook to take on the challenge. Powered by online supporters’ tweets, each team created social media engagement to drive real Mercedes-Benz vehicles forward, moving one mile for every four tweets. The contest’s results included a 7% increase in Mercedes scheduled test drives, a 6% increase in first-time owners and leases, and 27,000+ active participants who generated more than 150,000+ tweets, reaching 25 million people.

This four-step social media framework isn’t everything you need, but it is a good start. Don’t base your marketing strategy on 140 million people’s tips about what may work for your business. Having even a basic process in place can help you be more strategic about social media decisions and make your social media spending more effective.

 This article was originally published at HBR.org, by author Keith A. Quesenberry.

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