7 Inputs to a Social Media Strategy

seedsBuilding a social media strategy is not something that can be whipped together overnight.  For context, any company that is looking to develop a strategy for leveraging social media should first check out the POST methodology from Forrester Research.  The “People” part of the approach (followed by Objectives, Stategy and Technology) has a short description:

Don’t start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you’re targeting college students, use social networks. If you’re reaching out business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don’t start without thinking about it.

This is smart, practical advice.  Yet it doesn’t go deep enough.  Here are seven inputs that need to be considered before defining objectives and developing a strategy to leverage social media tactics.

  1. Social Media Monitoring. There are many self-service tools out there beyond Twitter search and Google blog search.  Two that work well are Radian6 and SM2.  No software is perfect, especially when it comes to analyzing sentiment of what customers are saying, but “hunting and pecking” using point-in-time search tools isn’t going to give you the broad array you need.  These tools also can review data back in time to compare tone and conversations year over year or before and after a key event like a product launch.  It takes time to sift through the chatter, but there are gems in there that constitute unfiltered customer feedback worth paying attention to.
  2. Market research. Survey your customers and ask them what tools they use.  If you are a large company, consider leveraging a segmentation that addresses the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of your customers.  This can be a significant source of insight to drive marketing strategies – not just social marketing ones.
  3. Forrester’s Social Technographics. Forrester has a great tool to stratify how your customers are actually using social media.  Do your customers heavily index against the average for Creators or Critics?  Perhaps a user-generated content idea or approach would be more suitable.  While the tool doesn’t give you the answer of what to do, it does provide some data points that help justify approaches down the road.  If you know some basic info about your customers, you can get useful data easily using this tool:

  4. Competitive Analysis. What are your competitors doing? Are you behind the pack or leading by deciding to engage in social technologies to drive your business?  It’s important to know where you stand – better yet to know where you want to be.
  5. Stakeholder Interviews. Some tactics in social media will require different departments to work together – perhaps some that aren’t used to collaborating.  Talk to the following groups: Marketing, Market Research, Innovation, Product Management, IT, Legal, Customer Service, PR and HR.  Chances are they will all have something to say about social media and what they would hope to get from it.
  6. Corporate Objectives.  What is your company’s marketing objectives in 2010?  Are you undertaking a brand refresh?  Have some major product launches teed up in Q2?  Any seasonal or cyclical impact to plan around?  Don’t think you can develop social tactics without considering what is going on in the company.
  7. Corporate Culture. Does your company thrive on innovation or on chopping down new initiatives?  Social media tactics can be measured, effective and game-changing – yet the industry is not as mature of a marketing tactic like pay-per-click search marketing.  “Making the leap” requires top down executive support and a bottoms up desire to make initiatives successful from the teams that will own the strategy going forward.  (Or fail quickly and learn from it, as I’ve heard Todd Defren say – this space is still new).

Frankly, I don’t see how the rest of the POST methodology – Objectives, Strategy and Technology – can be developed without these inputs.  Do you agree? What did I miss?

Photo credit: h-d-k via Flickr

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  • Brandi Neloms

    This was an informative article. Thank you. Many people want to “ride the wave” of SM but as PR professionals we have to complete analysis such as this to help assess practicality. In my company a major stakeholder is our investor relations department. Everything comes back to the bottom line.

  • seanbohan

    Good stuff.

    “Rinse and Repeat” would be my #8

    These are all smart moves, but they have to be part of a committed, long term process. There is no “end” to a listening program, Corp Objectives need to be reevaluated against the principles you are putting into the program, doing serious outreach inside the company (#7 Culture) isn't a one-time thing.

    I love the fact that #1 is Listening. Even if 2-7 take a year to implement the listening will only improve the work of the rest.

  • Adam,
    Great post. I agree completely. You need clear goals. A clearly identified audience with a focus on understanding their digital universe and you need a content strategy that will actually engage them.
    Of course, you have to listen and monitor what they're doing on the platforms your participating in but you must add value to their community – otherwise your hijacking their conversation instead of enhancing it.
    Thanks for the great stuff!
    – Drew

  • KSL

    I share these sentiments completely. I preach Four P's and ABC's …they help reach into these areas. The biggest hurdle I find is that most business people haven't understood how we evolved to demand these new communication platforms, and without that understanding it's very difficult to appreciate their impact or predict where we'll go from here. Your #6 is almost always my #1 but not just in the marketing stove pipe. Social Media is a way to accomplish some business goals, from reducing cost to increasing sales or building client retention, the goal has to start with the business and social media considered as a means to achieve the goal. It's not (in my experience) been as worth while or reached its full potential when businesses decide to use social media and develop goals around it (unless social media is the business). Great stuff thanks for keeping the beat.

  • Thanks Drew – I agree, an engaging content strategy is going to be the central pillar across tactics, and it needs to be based on thoroughly understanding the needs and wants of customers' “digital universe” – great way to articulate it.

  • I'd say these aren't in order and depending on the brand, some will outweigh others as contributors to the strategy. I agree completely about jumping into tactics and then building goals around it. Thanks for the feedback.

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  • clavoie

    I agree with your approach, assuming we're talking about a large corporate effort. We work with smaller companies, though, and POST can be a more digestible set of concepts to this audience and still add plenty of value.

  • Thanks – Yes, this was for a larger corporate effort, but some of this still helps define smaller company efforts for the “P” in POST. Company culture, marketing objectives/research, and listening to customers still apply.

  • Agreed! These inputs definitely establish a road map for a social media strategy that will successfully integrate and align with overall business goals. Also, thank you for the shout out.

    Lauren Vargas
    Community Manager at Radian6
    @VargasL

  • I believe #2 (market research) and #5 (stakeholder interviews) are two critical components in particular. In advertising and in new product development situations, I've witnessed respected brands gloss over – or at best take a shallow dive – into these areas before moving on, relying more on collaborative best guess (Suzy's worked there forever, you know) or letting a panic-stricken competitive response drive them.

    I'd also suggest potentially another area involving reflection or history analysis of some sort. Before moving forward, I think brands really have to come to terms with their failures and near-misses, understanding the characteristics of those scenarios and root cause.

    Great post!

  • Adam – This is one of your best posts IMO. I've referred this to many others and keep coming back to it as a reference. The practical application of what you recommend is what makes it such an effective method for informing strategy. Bravo buddy!

  • Heather – I love the “collaborative best guess” analogy. So often it's easy to default to individual perceptions and opinions rather than factual or more broadly researched input. I like your suggestion of learning from past failures and near-misses (or near-hits!) as well. Thanks!

  • Thanks so much for that feedback Ken, that means a lot coming from your background and experience. I really appreciate it and glad to hear it's been helpful!

  • Adam – This is one of your best posts IMO. I've referred this to many others and keep coming back to it as a reference. The practical application of what you recommend is what makes it such an effective method for informing strategy. Bravo buddy!

  • Heather – I love the “collaborative best guess” analogy. So often it's easy to default to individual perceptions and opinions rather than factual or more broadly researched input. I like your suggestion of learning from past failures and near-misses (or near-hits!) as well. Thanks!

  • Thanks so much for that feedback Ken, that means a lot coming from your background and experience. I really appreciate it and glad to hear it's been helpful!

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