We want shortcuts. We want a kit of parts, turn-key, that we can plug and play. (We did love the Chia Pet after all. Just add water.)
We’re accustomed to standards and rules of engagement and largely accepted practices that someone has captured in a textbook somewhere. We look to “best practices” and the road that someone has safely paved before us. It’s reassurance for us that we’re “doing it right”.
We want to know that our ideas are going to work before we execute them, because failure is some kind of subtle indication that we’re not very good at our jobs. We ask about ROI because faith isn’t an accepted business practice, and we’d much rather cover our asses with a case study (TM Chris Brogan) as a safety net in case we fall (“but it worked for them!”).
Here’s the thing, folks.
There is no kit of parts in social media. There are some examples of what works. There are examples of what didn’t work. The answer to “will this work for us” or “how should we get started listening” or “what’s the best way to engage our audience online” will always be this: it depends.
It depends on your business. Your goals. Your resources. Your culture, risk tolerance, openness to change, compliance and disclosure issues, industry, product, audience, management. Among other things. (And as a quick aside, there was no guarantee your dumb postcard campaign would work either. It’s just that other people did them lots, so it felt like an easier risk to take. After all, everyone else was doing it.)
What worked for them might not work for you. What failed for someone else might just be a key to your success.
The difficulty in social media is that there is no storied history yet. No decades of proven practices that are ubiquitous and consistent and infallible. And this makes us, as creatures of habit and security, painfully and remarkably uncomfortable.
But if you ask me whether or not you should have a YouTube channel, I’m going to tell you that it depends. If you ask me whether you should be on Twitter or whether you should be blogging or how to monetize this stuff or how it translates into sales, I’m going to tell you the same thing.
The best answer I can give you about your social media endeavors is actually a series of questions. The social media strategy you build will be based on your answers to a pile of smart questions about your business and your tolerance for a new approach.
So answer your own “It Depends” conundrum by trying these on for size:
Research and Groundwork
- How are our customers using our existing online properties (website, email marketing, etc?)
- Do we believe social media will have an impact? If so, in what way?
- Why is social media of interest to us?
- Is our industry ahead of the curve, behind it, or in the middle?
- Is discussion about our brand positive, negative, or neutral? Are we being talked about at all?
- Who in the organization needs this information, and what do they need to see?
- How does what you learn through listening touch each area of the company?
Auditing and Readiness Assessment
- How do we as a company feel about opening up the dialogue with our customers?
- What do we perceive as the biggest obstacles to our adoption of social media practices?
- What approaches can we take that are evolutions of our current practices (vs. complete overhauls)?
- Who on our staff is most enthusiastic and passionate about talking to customers?
- How well do we communicate internally, cross departmentally? Do we need to improve this first?
- What are our measures for success? (qualitative and quantitative)
- Who do we want to reach and why? And beyond customers and prospects, how about suppliers, vendors, partners?
- What do we want from them?
- What are we giving back that has nothing to do with our product/service?
- What data do we want/need to gather during our efforts?
- How much time and money are we expecting to dedicate to this?
- What are we spending for technology, development and tools vs. human resources to activate communications plan?
- Who are the point people, and what are their roles? Who are the “faces” of the organization online, and where?
- Are we ok with not seeing an immediate and direct return on the money we spend, and are we looking at this as a short term or long term investment?
- Can we afford to keep part of our allocated $ budget flexible to respond to evolving needs?
- If we’re successful with social media, can we scale our interactions to continue to meet higher expectations? How?
- Are we flexible enough within roles/responsibilities to shift them as needed to accommodate what we learn from social media?
Internal Education and Training
- Are our employees using social networks in their personal lives? What level of familiarity can/should we expect?
- Does our internal audience understand the business potential of social media, or are they skeptical?
- What are the biggest fears/hesitations that we have as a company about using social media?
- How detailed do we need to be about our communication policies?
- Are we empowering our employees to respond at the point of need, regardless of their role? Is there a “chain of command”?
- How are we going to structure the flow of information so that necessary learnings get back to the right people?
Immersion and Participation
- What practices do we see from our peers/competitors that we’d like to emulate?
- What do we see from them that we’d like to avoid at all costs?
- What unique voice can we contribute to the conversation at large?
- What is it that we want to convey to our community through our participation in social media?
- What content makes sense for us to create on a regular basis, and how/where will we post it? Why?
- Are we going to encourage community generated content? How? Where will it live? Will we moderate/edit?
- How are we ensuring that we’re providing a two-way channel for dialogue (vs. just posting information and walking away?)
- How will we respond to negative feedback/criticism when we discover it?
- Can we solve problems on the fly? Which ones? How are we empowering our team to do that?
Learning and Evaluation
- Do we need to change any of our assumptions about time/resources/workflow required to do this for the long term?
- What sites are we finding the most comfortable, responsive? Are they the ones we anticipated?
- What are we doing with the information we learn? How are we distributing it internally and acting on it?
- What new metrics should we be tracking based on what we learn?
- Were our original assumptions about social media correct? If not, what do we need to adjust as a result?
- Are we moving toward our goals, and to what do we attribute that?
- What have our customers and competitors taught us that we didn’t know before? Now what?
So now. I’ve given you a start to some of the questions you need to be asking yourself in order to build your own, custom social media approach. What other questions are you and should you be asking? What have I missed? And how are you dealing with the idea that there is no insta-grow social media?
The comments I leave to you.