Why Social Media Marketing Starts with Strategy

Let’s say that you want to figure out what people are saying about your company. Why? Why are your customers’ opinions important enough to spend your company’s time and money on listening to them, not to mention take resources away from other tasks that might be revenue-generating?

You might say something like:

  • You’ve heard it’s good to listen to what your customers are saying online
  • You think your competitors could be doing it
  • You don’t want to get left behind

Those are the reasons you’ll probably be tempted to use, but none of them can be related to your business activities, and therefore they can’t be related to anything that helps your company stay in business.

To properly formulate the case for social listening, you have to tie it to a business goal. If you are assigning a resource to this activity (and you will be) it will incur an expense. You should be able to show where that expense will be offset, either by:

  • generating revenue
  • reducing costs
  • positively supporting your brand identity

So change the question.

How can social listening activities support these goals?

To break that down further, you need to look at your company’s overall strategy for each of those items, and determine if social listening is a tool that will help you to be successful.  Will it help you be more successful than the next-best alternative?

It could be that your social listening will, in the end, support more than one — it might reduce the cost of your customer care function while building positive word-of-mouth about your brand.

Would you buy an expensive power-tool and then try to find projects around your home that you’d need to use it for? Or would you figure out that you have a project to complete and then decide if an expensive power-tool is the right tool for the job?

You can’t know if social listening will support your goals if you don’t have goals. The goals come first. Then strategy, then tactics and tools.

Goal: Reduce calls to the call center by 25 percent in the next 12 months.

Strategy: Provide alternative ways for customers to address their issues before they feel the need to call the call center.

Tactics: How-to guides on the Web site; Tip of the Day emails; How-to videos on the Web site; mail information to registered customers; post links to how-to guides on social media Web sites; monitor calls the call center and activity on social networks to determine which issues are the most frustrating for customers.

Some tactics will likely be more successful than others, and you can probably determine whether a specific tactic will be the right one for your company before you spend a lot of money on it. Tip of the Day emails, for example, have a very low open-rate; which is to say that less than about 20 percent of recipients will open the first one, and that number will dwindle with each new email. Unless you’re offering deals, like Groupon, diminishing returns on bulk emails is a fact of life. Mailing information using the Postal Service has an even lower success rate.

How-to videos can be costly, and may involve a re-design of your Web site or content management system, which is also true of text-based tutorials. However, as part of a longer-term strategy, the cost of these activities might represent good value in the long run.

For more immediate results, you might start by assigning someone to monitor Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks, and to provide answers to the questions posed on the company’s Facebook Wall or for any questions directed at your Twitter name or hashtagged with your company name. The significant drawback of this solution is that it means your employee might have to give the same information to dozens, or even hundreds, of customers with the same problem.

So maybe the most effective tactics to achieve the goal would be some hybrid of:

  • standard information that can be referenced quickly and easily distributed, like a Frequently Asked Questions section on your Web site, and
  •  someone monitoring call-types and social media conversations to determine which questions need to be answered by one-to-one interaction, and which can be directed to the FAQs page you’ve created.

You can probably see that, in this example, the social media activity is one of a number of natural solutions to help the company achieve its goal. If you try to reverse-engineer a goal from social media activity you’ll probably be wildly successful. The trouble is, you won’t have achieved very much, you won’t have learned anything about how to create social media marketing to achieve a goal, and so your success will be unrepeatable.

If you want to run social media marketing campaigns, you must learn how to use the various platforms and applications as tools to achieve goals, and not to adapt goals to justify your activities in social space.

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