Hype is often what kills any effort to incorporate social media into an effective marketing plan, particularly when the hype is huge. Once the initial wave of excitement dies down and serious markets begin to take control, social media will be seen as a resource to communicate with the customers.
There are various articles online about social media, how to begin using it, how it is not a bad marketing strategy and how to convince people that you need it. Regardless of these articles, people have developed opinions about this popular topic and it needs to be seriously evaluated as a resource when beginning a new business venture.
One of the best methods to evaluate social media is to make a business case for using the tool. Utilise your current business plan as your cornerstone and focus your efforts on two key areas: the marketing structure and customer service. By targeting customers and prospects, you will be able to evaluate social media’s potential to have a meaningful effect on the company’s bottom line.
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Step #1: Do Your Research
The first step to take when evaluating social media measures is to gain the facts of the tool, as you would do in any new business venture. This will assist in forming your overall summary to present to others in the organization should you choose to move forward with the resource.
- Have A Working Understanding Of The Tools
It is important to have a strong, working understanding of different social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, SlideShare, YouTube, Foursquare, etc. To monitor the activity, popular tools such as Radian6, Spokesignal and ViralHeat can be used. Each of these tools operates in a unique niche within a user community. It is essential that you understand the pros and cons of all.
- Understanding The Trends
It is important to understand the social media trends according to your customer demographic. This is easy to discover with little research. Nielson publishes quarterly reports on social media to help with researching these trends. Put together a few paragraphs and charts to prove that social media is practical and used by the target market.
- Query Customers
One of the key research methods is to query customers, preferably at least ten customers. Social media, when used correctly, is not about broadcasting advertisements for the company; it is about interacting with the consumer. Speaking with the customer is significant because it helps build communities. A user will not connect to a community if there is no value and social media is the best way to encourage user involvement.
- Check On Competitors
Doing research on competitors is as important as researching customers. By reviewing a rival’s work you will be able to identify what social media tools they are using.
Step #2: Inserting Social Media Into The Business Plan
The second step is crucial to assess the fit of social media within current initiatives and where to place the tool alongside other resources.
- Highlight The Plan
When assessing the plan, it is recommended that you highlight areas touching on communication between the company, prospects and customers. This is where the social media entrance points will be located. For example, customer communications including surveys or newsletters; as well as prospect communications including press releases, trade shows, email campaigns and media spots. While social media is not a replacement for traditional communication tools, it must be presented alongside these resources so that it can be correctly measured and implemented.
- Inserting The Correct Social Media Tool
When reviewing the business initiative it is best to insert social media tools that compliment or extend current communication tools. For example, new blogs can be introduced using a LinkedIn group that is already set up for end users exclusively. It can also be posted as a link from an official website. The value to this social media insertion is that you will have a “circuit” encouraging discussion and interaction instead of a one-way newsletter event.
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Step #3: Creating An Implementation Plan
One of the main questions to ask is how the program will be executed. Key aspects include content, consistency, and measurement in social media.
- Ownership Of The Social Media Program
Deciding on the ownership of the social media program is not an easy task as each individual should social media programs. There are several good articles available online that will passionately argue this point.
- Ownership Of The Monitoring Piece
There are numerous tools available to help businesses tune into what consumers are saying about their services.
- Building The Community
Anurag, a Toronto-based marketing consultant, suggests that “it is important to include a plan for gaining membership for different social media tools, such as LinkedIn groups, Facebook friends, Twitter accounts, etc. Using the data collected from customer queries the customers can become some of your first community members”.
- Providing Content
Content is important but not all people have time to write or develop content. If you do not have any buy in from people who can create quality content, then all your efforts may be worthless. A thinly disguised advertisement in the form of a tweet or blog will be dismissed by customers as poor and pointless content.
- Setting A Preliminary Schedule
Setting a preliminary schedule is dependent on the social media tools being used. Twitter tends to use multiple daily posts while blogs can be updated on a monthly basis, as long as there is a degree of consistency.
- Measuring Impact On The Bottom Line
It is important to take time to fully understand the measurements that are suitable to your company. Many articles are available discussing social media metrics, but for a successful social media implementation it is important that you find one to suit your business model.
Step #4: The Final Assessment
At some point during this process as you learn more about social media tools, which consumers are using them, which tools competitors are using, and what the market trends are, you will develop and educated opinion regarding the feasibility of social media within your company.
Step #5: Presenting The Findings
Irrespective of your personal opinions regarding the use of social media in a business initiative, the work should be in a format that can be easily articulated to others within the organization. Ideally, it should contain the following elements:
- Overview Of Statistics
Your findings should include a short overview of the statistics and metrics pertaining to the markets, consumer input, and the use of social media collected in step #1. It is essential that your colleagues understand what social media is and how it can be used without the hype.
- Breakout Portions Of The Plan
Findings should include the pertinent portions of the company marketing plan. These areas need to indicate where social media tools are suitable regarding goals, objectives and marketing tactics.
The implementation section should include information on who would manage the program, how the program content would be created, the measurement metrics, and the schedules. The methods used to measure social media efforts are key to assessing the resource’s value.
- A Closing Summary
The closing summary indicates the main points of the initiative including the advantages and disadvantages, the value of the program, the measurements of the social media initiative, and the tasks needed for positive implementation. For effective use, social media needs to include high quality content, be consistent, and encourage interaction with prospects and customers.