According to the Center for Media Research’s 2010 Media Planning Intelligence Study, increasing social media presence is a top priority for 56% of respondents. Sean Carton offers a social media strategy checklist that should be required reading for businesses contemplating a push into social media. As Carton notes, most businesses lack an actual strategy behind their social media efforts, and this strategic lacuna may ultimately result in a frustration, disappointment, and a large chunk of ad dollars being flushed down the drain.
While I agree wholeheartedly with the 10 points on Carton’s checklist, I’d add 3 important caveats for businesses to consider.
1. Social media is not just another advertising channel. Many businesses view social media as a novel way to deliver marketing messages to consumers – and it is. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unlike traditional advertising channels, social media is a participatory medium. Social media users generate and share content, form relationships and communities, engage in conversations and exchange ideas and information, create semantic pathways for navigating the Web, and utilize an array of online tools to augment and enhance their personal and social experiences offline. Most importantly, social media is a forum for engaged consumers. Social media users rate and review products, share stories of positive and negative customer service experiences, comparison shop based on word-of-mouth recommendations, evangelize for the brands they love, and skewer the ones they hate. As tempting as it may be to interject your voice into this consumer conversation, it is even more important that you first learn to listen. Accurately gauging the pulse of your customers – and potential customers – can reveal hidden markets, pathways to innovation and product enhancements, comparative advantages, customer service deficiencies, and other information critical to refining your products and business. Social media is a tool for market discovery, product innovation, business improvement, and crisis management. If your social media push doesn’t capitalize on these opportunities, you’re not taking full advantage of social media.
2. Social media is a different kind of advertising channel. To the extent that social media is an advertising channel, it’s one that requires an approach to marketing that differs markedly from ads delivered on traditional media channels. If your social media marketing doesn’t engage users and provide an opportunity for genuine interaction, it’s not really social media marketing. The form and content of your social marketing efforts should reflect your ultimate goal, whether it’s to interject your brand message into the social conversation, to capture the “viral” effect of social media, or to provide opportunities for brand engagement.
3. Social media users aren’t passive message recipients. When you interject a marketing message into an online social environment, it becomes part of the social conversation. Social media users talk back. They comment, rate, share, and otherwise extend the reach and meaning of your message beyond what you might have strictly intended. Successful advertising – that which engages users and elicits a positive reaction – is amplified immeasurably by “viral” effect of social media. Unfortunately, the same is true for unsuccessful efforts. As Carton suggests, you have to be prepared to give up control of the conversation when you engage in social media marketing, and you’ll need new metrics with which to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts. More than this, social media marketing requires a sustained presence, a willingness to follow the paths your message takes once it’s in the hands of social media users, and an ability to react and respond to the unexpected and unintended results of social interaction.