There have been a few rumblings lately about the honeymoon being over in social media, and lots of discussion about the right way to frame social media efforts, how to find someone to help you with your social media plan, or some of the expectations you need to have going in .
2009 is going to be the year (or at least the start) of getting our hands dirty with all this stuff. That includes taking a hard look at how prepared you really are to take this on, and what elements of your business might need closer examination before you rush headlong into building the next great Facebook app for your product.
Here are a few questions I think we need to be asking.
Why is social media of interest to us?
I’m not the first one to address this, as many people have rightly stated that implementing social media simply because it’s “what everyone is doing” is the backwards approach. It says nothing about why YOUR business ought to be doing it. And that’s the only reason that matters. Likewise if your answer is something like “our current marketing isn’t working” or “we need to try something different”, you’d better get back to the drawing board.
What obstacles do we see in front of us related to social media?
Be honest. You’re afraid of negative feedback. You’re not sure you can commit the resources to blog. You don’t quite know whether or not your customers are really going to be active in an online community. These are *critical* issues to address, because they aren’t going to magically go away once you start.
Do we communicate well internally?
When social media works, it touches a lot of different aspects of business. It crosses over from communications to sales to customer service to product development and R&D to the executive suites. If you can’t communicate clearly inside your own company about what you learn and absorb through social media, your ability to follow through and complete the entire cycle of communication (to customer, back to company, and out again) will inevitably break down.
Who is leading the charge?
Someone has to manage your social media efforts, ideally a cross-disciplinary team that represents diverse areas of the business. Who is that? Are they passionate, or just getting assigned? Will this be a priority for them or a nuisance?
What are our expectations as the social media advocates? Are those expectations the same with our peers, colleagues, and mangement?
You’d better all be on the same page about what you want from your social media exploits. If management is only focused on sales but you’re concentrating on loyalty or brand awareness, you need to get in a room and discuss all of this. Not every business endeavor can do everything well. What are you expecting social media to do?
Are we willing to spend money on this?
Social media is not free. You need time and money. 2-5% of your marketing budget on average, more if you need to develop specific tools or applications to accomplish your goals.
What happens if we stumble?
Before you start, you must understand how you’ll deal with adversity when it happens. If risk tolerance is low, an important discussion to have is how social media is as much a mechanism for education and insight as it is hardline numbers. Is that an acceptable risk?
What happens if we succeed?
If your customers love what you’re doing, do you have a plan in place to meet their increased standards of customer service? Is what you’re planning sustainable with the resources you have, and if not, how are you going to scale them? Are you prepared for the spotlight?
What will we do with what we learn?
It’s not just about putting it out there. It’s about absorbing what you learn, turning around, and using that information to better your business somehow (even if it’s in small, incremental ways). Don’t ignore this step. Your customers are expecting that if they’re going to talk to you, you’re going to listen.
This is the start to my list, and I’m going to take a harder look at some of these areas in turn through the Social Media Blueprint project.
But what questions are you asking? Which ones are you particularly struggling with?