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Building a Social Strategy: a Better Way to Market

One of the first lessons I learned about Twitter is that what you get out of it wholly depends on whom you follow. Sure following @britneyspears and @charliesheen is entertaining, but are you really getting the most out of Twitter? As a consumer, wouldn’t you want to be able to follow businesses that you use, whether for news or deals? Twitter offers many opportunities for businesses to use social media as a strategic tool in customer service and retention.

Last week, we had two speakers talk to our class about using Twitter as a strategic business tool. Mike Beauchamp of the Golf Warehouse (@TWG_Mike) and Will Stoggin of Cox Communications (@Cox_Will) talked to us about how they use Twitter as a way to connect with consumers for the companies that they worked for.

Whether it is to promote sales, or to respond to customers, Twitter is a great way for the Golf Warehouse and Cox Communications to connect. And they seem to be having plenty of success with this more social business model.

According to Mike and Will, there are seven steps to developing a social strategy. A social strategy aims to harness the momentum in Twitter and other social media networks to reach out to potential clients and current customers. In other words, it is one of many ways to create communication between the brand and consumers.

The first step is to define the key target market. The answer might be as broad reaching to include everyone on Twitter, but social media enthusiasts know that this does not work well. After all, who wants to read about promos all day? Businesses should focus on key groups that might include influencers, employees, and other businesses. It’s important to know these markets’ social trends including when, how and where they most actively engage.

Secondly, examine your businesses existing efforts. Understanding how customers respond now can increase opportunities within that system, or create new ones for social media. That way, you have all your bases covered. Figuring out how social media fits into your current strategic plans is also important because giving a unified message is key to retention in any business.

The third step takes a more in-depth look. Defining the strategy and implications of social media throughout your organization lets you determine and keep your goals in mind. Mike and Will gave examples of questions that one might ask during this stage including the purpose of using social media? What departments will be involved? What’s the budget? How often will you post? How do you establish a voice for the company?

Brian Solis mentions this in Chapter 12 of his book Engage! He mentions that the challenge is really to define and reinforce “the brand personality as it either existed prior to social media and/or how it should display and present to those across the Social Web.”

In other words, understanding the reasoning behind using social media is so much more important than actually being on it. If you’re key clients do not use Twitter, then there’s no need for a business to be on Twitter. Solis also mentions how the personalities who are on display should embody and personify the brand so as not to dilute the messages.

Of course, Mike and Will advocated for having human voices and real people behind Twitter accounts. And this has worked well for the companies that they represent. For example, Will has used his account (@Cox_Will) to communicate and address customers’ questions and comments about Cox Communications. He uses Twitter for a customer service and support role.

The fourth step is to gather resources for the social strategy. Mike gave us a clever handout of his ABC’s to Social Media Strategy. This includes having a crisis plan, justification for every post, and support from the organization (especially those at the top). While reading through this list I found that nearly all of the ABC’s requires some thought or strategy to implement. This makes sense because while social media may be a low-resource marketing strategy, the impact and implications of it are just as relevant as television ads, or print campaigns. A complete list of these strategies can be found here.

The fifth step to developing a social strategy is to prioritize rollout objectives. This helps determine when and how initiatives should be launched.

The sixth step is project management. It’s easy to get things going, but the real task comes in keeping up with the goals and management of everyday posting. Project management programs including Basecamp or Apollo are great resources to use when keeping track of timelines, roles, responsibilities, and initiatives. Mike and Will also discussed how communication between departments is key so there are not several conflicting voices, but a unified social media presence.

The final step is to expand and invest accordingly. Measuring the growth and results of social media outreach is key in the continued progress and advancement of your initiatives. Tracking the results can also help you to determine what types of social media messages work well with audiences.

Perhaps one of the key takeaways that I got from the speakers was that developing a social media strategy is an important way to communicate and learn about your customers. It provides another venue for two-way conversations to happen in an easy, low impact and inexpensive way. More importantly, it has the possibility of turning a brand into a person, and more customers are likely to respond to that.

Social media is an effective, and certainly relevant way to reach customers, and while I agree that social media does have a place in marketing strategy; it certainly should not be the only piece. Social media should simply be an extension of other marketing initiatives because it is current and insightful.

And isn’t that what marketing should be about? Until next time…

Posted by Katie Le on September 20, 2011