Kick Start your social media marketing plan template

Many organisations now use social media. But not all do so strategically, and some don’t use social media at all. The six steps outlined he...

Many organisations now use social media. But not all do so strategically, and some don’t use social media at all. The six steps outlined here aim to help you overcome any obstacles or inertia and kick-start your social media strategy.






Is your organisation currently using social media? Millions of organisations around the world are publishing their latest news and engaging via Twitter, Facebook or a company blog, perhaps even uploading videos to YouTube, maintaining a company profile on LinkedIn and exploring the possibilities of Google+. For many it’s a journey of discovery as they look to find new ways to engage with customers and other stakeholders. Not everyone is at it though: Econsultancy’s State of Social Media Report 201121 surveyed more than 1000 clients, brands, marketing, digital and PR agencies and noted that around 35% are either still at a very experimental stage or not doing any social media activity at all.

Select Your Squad

In time it will impact every part of an organisation – yet in some businesses social media are not so much seen as a wonderful opportunity but as a worrying threat, and in others just an irrelevant distraction. To date it has tended to be the PR, marketing and customer services functions that have been at the forefront of using social media. Yet there are plenty of commonplace situations which show how different areas of a business might well have to be involved, as the following scenarios illustrate (with sample suggestions of business areas involved shown in brackets):

Customers complaining about urgent problems with products (customer services; PR).
Workers mocking their employers or the company’s customers (corp. comms; HR).
Negative/slanderous content that has been published and shared (legal; PR).
Constructive suggestions about how a company could do things better (R&D; insight).
Competitors promoting offers directly and making direct sales (sales; marketing).

As you can see, being active in social media might require input from and collaboration with many other parts of the business. In a large organisation, this could involve multiple stakeholders, whereas in a smaller organisation, these roles might all be covered by a handful of people. The overarching point is that to overcome any inertia and rise to the opportunities and threats, you will probably need to take a few people with you on your journey – keeping them up to date with your plans and actions, and getting their input along the way. As well as getting the buy-in you need now, you may be able to build the support you may rely on later. As a side note: if you are going to be leading the introduction and integration of social media into your organisation, it will be worth reading Jeremiah Owyang’s insights into alternate frameworks for your social media structure.

Choose a Goal

Remember Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? It noted ‘if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.’ Such is the way with social media. So, before you rush to establish a social media presence without a clear purpose, you must first consider what the point of your social media activity is. What would you like to achieve?
To help kick-start your strategy, consider the following three business drivers and associated PR goals that social media can address.

For PR people, Awareness and Loyalty probably chime the loudest as the most natural fit but, ask yourself, for you and your organisation, does any one of these three goals leap off the page as the single most important? You may want to select them all but, to kick-start your social media manoeuvres, you might wish to choose just one to prioritise and focus on. Pick more than one if you wish, but recognise that it will probably mean a separate strategy for each goal, and more resources to achieve them.

Whatever you decide, whichever you choose, the ideal situation is to firmly align your social media goals with the core drivers of your organisation’s success. In this way, your social media achievements are most likely to be judged – and hopefully as successful – at the most senior levels.

Start Listening

A social media listening exercise will focus on your entire online environment: not just what is being said about you, but your wider product or service ‘keywords’, your senior people, colleagues or employees, your competitors, your industry sector and your wider stakeholder environment. It should – or at least could – uncover all sorts of interesting results, allowing you to discover what others are talking about before you join the conversation.

You might discover comments and observations on Twitter or Facebook, detailed opinions on review sites or queries and answers posted in forums. You might discover relevant bloggers writing about your sector, how competitors or challengers are embracing social media and content from fellow colleagues, suppliers or partners. Against this backdrop, it’s not hard to see why pushing out one-way messages, replicating the advertising or press-release model of communications, fails to embrace the potential to engage with people in social media.

There is a range of listening tools you can use to discover what and where the conversation is. Some, like Google Alerts or Social Mention, are free and will email you when they discover new mentions of your chosen keywords. Others, like TweetDeck and HootSuite, provide an online dashboard with which you can monitor multiple keywords in channels such as Twitter, but also use it to post your own content and links or reply to other users. More advanced platforms, including the likes of Radian6, Sysomos, SM2 and Brandwatch, are available on a paid-for subscription basis: they let you monitor, analyse and drill down into the data to identify the key media, channels, influencers and sentiment and to assign tasks to others in your team to ensure the right response. Tools like these equip you not just to listen but also to participate.

Think Character and Content

Social media are about presenting the human side of your business, engaging with your audience to build trust, understanding and brand loyalty. As Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, one of the biggest social media success stories, noted, ‘people relate to people, not companies.’ Being human is natural to (most) humans but how does an organisation do it?

Consider the difference between image and character. Image is about the ‘for show’ veneer we might use to portray ourselves or else might judge others by from afar. By contrast, character is about the ‘real’ person that we or others get to know from a more close-at-hand perspective. For your organisation, then, becoming more human might be about reducing the distance between you and your audience – perhaps showing yourself to be open, reliable, responsive, friendly or engaging. These character traits could be very different to how your organisation talks in other, more formal marketing communications which are more reliant on image – and this more human side need not mean you can’t still be inspiring or authoritative.

In practical terms, then, you might reveal your human side through customer service teams responding to queries on Twitter; through blog or video posts featuring your CEO or other people in the business that people might like to hear from; through relationship building with potential influencers or bloggers. Of course, the focus needn’t solely be on your people: you could choose to feature your audience. How could collecting and reflecting stories about how your customers are using your products help humanise you? Could telling their story, help you tell your story? Would using their actual words or voices, showing their faces, places or spaces help you create deeper, more memorable or meaningful content which could help earn you attention, create an affinity, drive loyalty or attract new customers?

Within your overall strategy you will need to plan out a content strategy. This will map out the mix of different types of content you should be creating and sharing with your audience, and a schedule for the months, weeks and individual days. It will pay to bear in mind the ‘Technographics’ studies from Forrester Research24 or the 9Cs of Social Media User Types25 research by this author for Lansons Communications, which built on this by understanding whether your audience is, for example, likely to comprise creators of content or, say, simply critics, conversationalists or just passive consumers; knowing this, you can better judge the type of content that will produce the best engagement.

Integrate Your Outposts

With social media strategy, the platforms you choose to use should be decided last. The big four are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, but it really will depend on you, your audience and how they use social media. Whichever you use, the way to think about these platforms is as outposts or embassies that support your main website.

The aim is two-fold: firstly, you want to direct traffic from the inside  outward so that casual visitors to your website can opt to stay connected to you through one of your social media outposts. In this way, they might continue to hear from you and consume your content without having had to deliberately visit your website again. Secondly, you will want to direct traffic from the outside  inward so that those engaging with your content at your outposts might be tempted to visit the website. In this way, you can deliver users right to the specific landing pages on your website where they can ‘convert’ or perform some other desirable action.

Of course, the potential of social media is that as well as being in contact with your immediate audience, you can also reach others via the ‘Likes’, ‘+1s’, comments, favourites and so on, that act as votes and recommendations for your content. By creating content that engages people, they will actively or passively share it with their network.

You should also look to integrate social media with other channel activity, such as your email, and even offline events where you can still capture new fans and followers. Further technical integration should also be sought, in particular with your Web Analytics and if possible your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. These steps will really help you track and prove your success.

Measure What You Treasure

Whatever your strategy, you need to know if you are getting results. Much of the talk in social media, digital and PR circles has been about the ROI (return on investment) that social media can offer. To sum up the story so far, critics query investment in social media without any clear metrics for success. Advocates of social media point out that the ROI of other marketing activities (e.g. TV advertising) is no more clear-cut and that other aspects of PR aren’t always held to such direct account (e.g. how did a mention in a magazine article translate to more retail sales?)

A great deal of heat and light has been expended on potential metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators) that could be used to measure success. A list created by Chris Lake for Econsultancy considers more than 30 different micro-measures such as number of new fans or followers, comments to a blog, views of a video and so on.

It is worth remembering a quote attributed to Einstein, namely that ‘not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted’. The most important thing to focus on will be simply whatever shows you have achieved your goal(s).

If Awareness was the key goal, you might look to show increased brand mentions in social media. You might show how you have earned a greater share of online voice or positive recommendations in your niche. Using external services like Google Insights for Search,27 you might detect an increase in searches for your brand keywords.

Where your goal is Sales focused, your website traffic data (e.g. via Google Analytics28) might help you attribute a rise in visits, page views and conversions to links shared in social media. You might even be able to show how you have achieved a reduction in paid search costs (e.g. via Google AdWords29) as a result of more direct visits to your site without the need to buy traffic via keyword bidding. There also remains the potential for F-commerce solutions whereby brands transact with customers from within Facebook. This has already been done by, for example, ASOS clothing and again offers up potential as something to be measured.

For Loyalty goals connected with reputation and retention, success could be measured by looking at, say, a reduction in complaints in social media or perhaps an increase in completed customer service queries. Other considerations could be increased advocacy on forums or blogs or increased reach or engagement with Twitter users or on Facebook.

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