There Is No Social Media Kit

The dreaded “It Depends” answer is the bane of existence for a lot of corporate communicators trying to get involved in social media.

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?

Goal Setting

  • 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?

Resource Planning

  • 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.

photo credit: Elsie Esq.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

  • http://hirenathanjmcintyre.wordpress.com Nathan McIntyre

    Good initial thought about corporate integration of social media. You have asked some valid questions and I completely agree that SM does not have an established history with defined metrics that can be analyze up to this point. Many companies are still trying to define what and where to look for ROI. There are some companies that are ahead of the curve in their approach with relation to many other organizations.

    It would be crazy to say that some sort of SM integration should not play a role in business today. If you do not then as a company your just leaving $ on the table for your competition, and everyone has competition. Lets not kid ourselves to think that we do not.

    Great Job!

    Nathan McIntyres last blog post..My Unrelenting Pursuit

  • http://www.jasonbartholme.com Jason Bartholme

    Wonderful leading questions to ask when a company wants to blindly dive into social media. My company wants to play in the space, but they need to do their research first. We are starting with Twitter. After they get comfortable, I want to expand them into Facebook and LinkedIn for their marketing efforts.

    Jason Bartholmes last blog post..21 Twitter Directories and Follower Finders to Expand Your Twittersphere

  • http://www.jasonbartholme.com Jason Bartholme

    Wonderful leading questions to ask when a company wants to blindly dive into social media. My company wants to play in the space, but they need to do their research first. We are starting with Twitter. After they get comfortable, I want to expand them into Facebook and LinkedIn for their marketing efforts.

    Jason Bartholmes last blog post..21 Twitter Directories and Follower Finders to Expand Your Twittersphere

  • http://marketingexposed.net Steve Gaines

    The funny thing about all of this Amber, and what frustrates business incessantly, is there really isn’t any kit or per-fab answer with ANY sort of marketing. God, it’s all so subjective and hit/miss. As somebody who’s been in the traditional media world for 30 years it’s maddening how every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Estelle, Jane, and Sally) wants the magic bullet. And the accompanying guarantee. Before they want to part with their money!

    And yet, despite all their fears the hellaciously sad irony is how quickly they’ll leap onto any and all manner of marketing the minute they’re ready to close the doors and NEED to sell off the inventory!

    The biggest lesson in all of this is that marketing is a fixed and real expense. It isn’t that “first thing to get cut”… It isn’t based on some magical percentage of sales… It simply is a critical cost of doing business WELL. And that applies to traditional media and to social media.

    The real value comes in finding the source of creation. Finding the agency or company that knows how to twist the elements within the various media options in just such a way that ROI comes flowing.

    It’s a horribly inexact science. But it sure reaps HUGE benefits when it’s done well. And horrible downsides when it’s done poorly. Or not at all.

    Geez, no wonder the business world hates it!

    Steve Gainess last blog post..Cursed by Your Own Knowledge

  • http://marketingexposed.net Steve Gaines

    The funny thing about all of this Amber, and what frustrates business incessantly, is there really isn’t any kit or per-fab answer with ANY sort of marketing. God, it’s all so subjective and hit/miss. As somebody who’s been in the traditional media world for 30 years it’s maddening how every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Estelle, Jane, and Sally) wants the magic bullet. And the accompanying guarantee. Before they want to part with their money!

    And yet, despite all their fears the hellaciously sad irony is how quickly they’ll leap onto any and all manner of marketing the minute they’re ready to close the doors and NEED to sell off the inventory!

    The biggest lesson in all of this is that marketing is a fixed and real expense. It isn’t that “first thing to get cut”… It isn’t based on some magical percentage of sales… It simply is a critical cost of doing business WELL. And that applies to traditional media and to social media.

    The real value comes in finding the source of creation. Finding the agency or company that knows how to twist the elements within the various media options in just such a way that ROI comes flowing.

    It’s a horribly inexact science. But it sure reaps HUGE benefits when it’s done well. And horrible downsides when it’s done poorly. Or not at all.

    Geez, no wonder the business world hates it!

    Steve Gainess last blog post..Cursed by Your Own Knowledge

  • Pingback: links for 2009-05-20 « innovations in higher education

  • http://davidonoue.com David Onoue

    Amber, you shouldn’t have to defend yourself with the whole ebook and title for this post. Your ebook goes over some of the tools that you use for engaging in social media and people want to know what you use. They want to know what are some of the basics and this post is a great compliment to the ebook because people will want to know where to start and with what tool, and like you said it all depends.

    This whole social media trend is so new, and it’s hard for anyone to call themselves a “social media expert” because this area is still evolving. If anyone thinks they know it all, let me know. I would love to sit down and talk to them.

    But great post! Keep them coming. I’m a huge fan!

    David Onoues last blog post..NCAA vs. The Facebook Community

  • http://davidonoue.com David Onoue

    Amber, you shouldn’t have to defend yourself with the whole ebook and title for this post. Your ebook goes over some of the tools that you use for engaging in social media and people want to know what you use. They want to know what are some of the basics and this post is a great compliment to the ebook because people will want to know where to start and with what tool, and like you said it all depends.

    This whole social media trend is so new, and it’s hard for anyone to call themselves a “social media expert” because this area is still evolving. If anyone thinks they know it all, let me know. I would love to sit down and talk to them.

    But great post! Keep them coming. I’m a huge fan!

    David Onoues last blog post..NCAA vs. The Facebook Community

  • Doug McSorley

    Excellent article. I enjoyed this throughly. The photo reminds me of my bookcase :)

    Keep up the great work!

  • Doug McSorley

    Excellent article. I enjoyed this throughly. The photo reminds me of my bookcase :)

    Keep up the great work!

  • http://plumbbobresearch.com/ Scott Charles

    Amber: I think the 4P’s apply. Or put another way: utility, price and availability. W20 makes it easier to locate communities and talk to them. It’s easier for consumers to research products and compare prices.

    I found your blog post via Twitter (from amandachapel). Point being the dots get connected faster, different tools can be applied, but I think the marketing practices are the same.

    Cheers,
    Scott

    Scott Charless last blog post..A Few of My Favorite Things

  • http://plumbbobresearch.com/ Scott Charles

    Amber: I think the 4P’s apply. Or put another way: utility, price and availability. W20 makes it easier to locate communities and talk to them. It’s easier for consumers to research products and compare prices.

    I found your blog post via Twitter (from amandachapel). Point being the dots get connected faster, different tools can be applied, but I think the marketing practices are the same.

    Cheers,
    Scott

    Scott Charless last blog post..A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Pingback: Daily Digest for May 22nd | Mike Hayes

  • http://ekolsky.wordpress.com Esteban Kolsky

    Amber,

    Are you suggesting (horror face here) that we … plan? (gasps and faints)

    Very well done, I have found that for everything in this world, planning and asking the questions before hand (and having an answer) will work much better than any ROI or CYA case study. I am a firm advocate of making my customers ignore that worked or what went well for others (obviously, best practices and lessons learned are good reading material – but not the answer) and focus instead of how and why it will work for you.

    I have countless examples of companies (like the internet service provider who deployed chat because their competitor did – and then found out that for its customers, not being able to connect was the main problem — take your time and see what the problem is on that one) who did something just because. Few of others than took the time and did it right.

    I am in favor of doing things right and planning before doing anything else. That is why I called what I do strategic consulting. Strategy is key to everything you do. And the reason you succeed.

    Thanks for a well done post.

    Esteban Kolskys last blog post..Funky Friday Grab Bag – 05/22/2009

  • http://ekolsky.wordpress.com Esteban Kolsky

    Amber,

    Are you suggesting (horror face here) that we … plan? (gasps and faints)

    Very well done, I have found that for everything in this world, planning and asking the questions before hand (and having an answer) will work much better than any ROI or CYA case study. I am a firm advocate of making my customers ignore that worked or what went well for others (obviously, best practices and lessons learned are good reading material – but not the answer) and focus instead of how and why it will work for you.

    I have countless examples of companies (like the internet service provider who deployed chat because their competitor did – and then found out that for its customers, not being able to connect was the main problem — take your time and see what the problem is on that one) who did something just because. Few of others than took the time and did it right.

    I am in favor of doing things right and planning before doing anything else. That is why I called what I do strategic consulting. Strategy is key to everything you do. And the reason you succeed.

    Thanks for a well done post.

    Esteban Kolskys last blog post..Funky Friday Grab Bag – 05/22/2009

  • Pingback: links for 2009-05-25 « Notes from the Web

  • Pingback: Box Scores: May 18-24 - Killing Your Website, Eye-Tracking Studies and More | Deep Bench

  • http://www.flashfree.wordpress.com Liz S

    Amber – this post is phenomenal. You’ve managed to cull together the most cogent points about engaging or not in one place. Without creating a larger picture of the what’s and why’s, any plan is doomed for failure. What I like the most about this is that you’ve very clearly pointed out that the roadmap needs to be individualized; in fact, it may never be standardized for the very reason that SM is about evolving the dialogue. And that dialogue will always be fluid. Yet, you’ve provided marketers with key benchmarks to return to over and over. Bravo!

    Liz Ss last blog post..Wednesday Bubble: no glove…

  • http://www.flashfree.wordpress.com Liz S

    Amber – this post is phenomenal. You’ve managed to cull together the most cogent points about engaging or not in one place. Without creating a larger picture of the what’s and why’s, any plan is doomed for failure. What I like the most about this is that you’ve very clearly pointed out that the roadmap needs to be individualized; in fact, it may never be standardized for the very reason that SM is about evolving the dialogue. And that dialogue will always be fluid. Yet, you’ve provided marketers with key benchmarks to return to over and over. Bravo!

    Liz Ss last blog post..Wednesday Bubble: no glove…

  • Pingback: There is no social media toolkit. | Magnolia Web Strategy

  • http://www.aroconsult.com/blog Shannon Aronin

    Wonderful article. Referenced in my blog, url above. Thanks!

  • http://www.aroconsult.com/blog Shannon Aronin

    Wonderful article. Referenced in my blog, url above. Thanks!

  • Pingback: 8 Creative Fundraising Ideas Using Social Media

  • Pingback: 5 Ways Nonprofits Can Increase Social Media Engagement « Entry Level Living

  • http://www.gigglecomputer.com Phaoloo

    Nice article. It should be a checklist for every social media whenever they start a new project.

  • http://www.gigglecomputer.com Phaoloo

    Nice article. It should be a checklist for every social media whenever they start a new project.

  • Pingback: Expensive isn’t (always) better « Low Hanging Fruit

  • Pingback: How much is too much (social media, that is)? « my(PR)palette

  • Pingback: aimClear’s 2009 Daily Training Link Library » aimClear Search Marketing Blog

  • Pingback: aimClear’s 2009 Daily Training Link Library » aimClear Search Marketing Blog

  • Pingback: web20typ_ – Meine Bookmarks vom 1. January bis 3. January

  • http://www.purelydogbeds.com/ Pet Beds

    You have to post here really great Post. I am Know something new. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Pingback: Why There is No Social Media Scorecard | Ari Herzog