Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Devising Your Social Media Strategy

Social media is a buzz word for all web tools that enable user interaction and networking. These include Twitter, Facebook, blogs and multimedia sharing. A social media strategy, when executed properly, can help companies stay relevant, create brand associations and conversations, interact with customers, and reach previously untapped, prospective customers.

A downside of social media is that it's hard to measure marketing efforts but that doesn't mean you shouldn't join the conversation. Whether you're on social networks or not, consumers are already talking about your brand; it's important to moderate and play an active role in those discussions.

For this reason, social media is making its way into more and more marketing plans. But since it's a relatively new concept, many companies are still experimenting with it. Don't let the unknown factor deter you from diving in though. Even at this early stage, you need to set your company up in the right direction and start participating.

Companies that are already well established may find their different departments, such as IT, digital, and sales, currently compete with one another instead of work together. A good social media strategy will effectively harmonize the disparate departments, increasing the overall productivity of the company.

When used properly, social media can increase positive brand interaction within a community of workers and outside customers through feedback, comments and participation. It also keeps a company’s Internet presence under control by monitoring online mentions of the brand.

Companies, then, are able to keep track of both positive and negative feedback. In addition, social media is viral by nature. When links are shared by the community, traffic increases to a company's website, improving the presence of the brand across social channels.

Beware, a poorly executed strategy can have negative effects. If a company tries to hold the reins on social media too tight, they'll end up censoring and dictating their online presence, killing all of the fun and creativity the platforms can offer. On the flip side, if a company allows their social media to get out of hand, their brand can become tainted with fallacies and unproductive interactions.

So, how do you create an effective social media strategy? Try following these guidelines to get started:

1. Be realistic. Don’t set impossible goals.

If the company has been around for a long time, catching up on all the social media hoopla might take a while. So do it step by step, little by little. Start with something basic, yet essential, such as turning the company newsletter into a blog. Or, to go even more basic, make sure the company has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page.

Then, move on to bigger and more ambitious things, such as establishing an official social media policy in the company. Message boards and collaborative forums are just a few tools you should keep in mind.

2. All members of the company should embrace the social media strategy and become an active part of it.

Top management members need to be as up to date with what’s going on as the other members of the community. Social media shouldn’t be excluded to the PR department or outside consultants. Even the community, audience and consumers need to be active participants. In this way, the company will be able to respond and adapt quickly to needs, concerns and questions.

Also, each person who participates in your company's social media conversation is a representative of it. They are an advocate for your company on the web, and their contributions can reflect heavily on your brand.

3. Look at the long-term picture.

A good social media strategy will truly last, even though the nature of social media is ever-changing. Not only does the company need to keep up with these changes, it needs to always be one step ahead.

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