• Social Media - What You Need to Know Before You Start

  • By Carmela DeNicola

    Ignoring social media today is like ignoring Google ten years ago!  Be warned however, if you just jump in and enter into social media without a plan and strategy you will surely fail.  All the hours you spent will be wasted, you will receive no traffic increase, there will be no engagement, no one will care and you will learn nothing.

    Pull up a chair, grab a pen and pad, you are about to enter the “social media” zone!

    Just because the tools of social media are free doesn’t mean they come without their own barrier of entry.  The barrier is the knowledge of how to use them.  Before
    you get started with using social media, you need to understand the tools you’ll be using.  When we work with clients on their social media strategy for their business, here are some topics that rise to the top.


    The first step of a successful social media plan is to grab your brand everywhere you can, regardless of whether or not you plan to use it.  It is important that you have control of your identity all over the Web.  It is always better to have the username and not use it, then need to wait and kick yourself later when someone else has grabbed it.  Having a unified social media username is very important in establishing trust with other members (including press contacts) who may belong to multiple communities with you.  you want them to know that you are the same business.


    Do NOT enter social media until you know what you want to get out of it.  If you don’t know what “success” is then you are likely not ready.  Before you start, define success.

    ~  is success building buzz and conversation around a product?

    ~  is success better overall brand awareness?

    ~  is success more traffic?

    ~  is success blog subscribers or increased leads?

    ~  is success new knowledge about how customers view your brand?

    Once you know that, the next step in your social media planning is to figure out how you are going to measure success.  You want to identify your challenges, goals and concepts to determine how “buzz” will be quantified.  Is it blog comments, conversions, links, Twitter talk, better brand recognition?  If you can’t measure whether or not you are meeting your goals, then you are going to fail.  It will limit your ability to benchmark results and render you unable to implement smart changes and adjustments.


    Know who you are in the social media landscape.  I tend to believe that for most businesses, marketing is storytelling.  it is about using the tools available to you through social media to peak the interest of existing, potential, and new clients so that they invest in who you are, your business.  The most successful businesses are those that have sparked interest in their story to the point where we want to share it with other people and we want to be associated with them.  This is brand identity.  What is your brand essence?  What does your company believe in?  What are you known for and what do you want to be known for?


    You want to plan your social media attack so that it is as concentrated and as powerful as possible.  You do not want to spend valuable time in communities where no one is talking and there is no interest.  This means that you have to understand two things:

    1.  Your Customers

    2.  The Communities You Need to Be In

    Put a face on your customers.  Who are they and what are their interests?  Are you customer demographics such they engage in the social media landscape?  Are they on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Yahoo Answers or MySpace?  Wherever they are, you need to find them.  If your target audience is not online, is there an opportunity to capture a secondary audience through social media. (are your prospects in a parallel industry?)  If the answer is that you don’t know where your target population is spending their time, don’t worry.  This simply means that you will need to do some research to start.  Head to Twitter and search your brand name, your competitor’s names, your keywords, industry, etc.  Decide if there is enough conversation to warrant engagement.  Head to Facebook and see if there are any Fan pages dedicated to your company or industry.  If there aren’t, is there a population that list it as an interest, who may be interested in joining a community on that topic?  Go to Yahoo Answers and see if people are asking or answering questions.

    If your community is internet literate, they are talking somewhere.  You do not have to invent the neighborhood, you just have to track it down and move in.  Once you find the communities, study them.  What type of content is passed around, the rules for engagement, etc. so that you know how to interact.  Every community operates differently so you want to know the proper rules of engagement.


    Your social media roadmap.  How will you react when they tell the world that your company is unhelpful ad delivers poor customer service or worse?  You won’t be able to create an exit strategy for every possible situation, but do get some ground rules down.  Establish a social media policy at the beginning.  The Wall Street Journal has an “official rules of conduct for employees engaging in social media.  The document mentions basic social media tenants like disclosing the company you work for, not discussing confidential information, refraining from disparaging the company, and not “engaging in impolite dialogue”.  Another good policy is IBM’s.  There are a lot of these available on the web but you should think about engaging a specialist who can help you devise a sound social media policy based on your specific needs.

    You also need rules for not just what you will say but who will be in charge of saying it and what their role is.  Create these rules before you start, internal staff training on your social media policy is vital to your success.  Some of the things you will want to address are:

    ~ How will social media be integrated into the company’s core strategy?

    ~ Who from the company will engage? Will there be one voice?

    ~ How much time will be spent on social media?

    ~ How long will the company “test” the different sites before evaluating success?

    ~ If a serious issue erupts, what is the proper protocol?

    Your job is social media is to listen, to help and to get your message out only when appropriate.  For every 10-15 messages where you help someone else, you get to include on that promotes yourself.  That’s it.  Social media isn’t about you.  It’s about your customers and connecting with them so that when they have a need for X, they remember they have a friend on Twitter, Facebook, etc. who specializes in that.

    If you chose to enter Twitter, use tools like the Advanced Search, Twitter Grader and Twellow to find people you should be following.  If you are on Facebook, join groups that are relevant to you and become part of the conversation.  If you are answering questions on Flickr or Linkedin, again, find the groups that are relevant to you and jump in finding ways to be useful and a good community member.  Leave comments on blogs, tweet people, leave Wall comments, etc.  Engage new visitors.  Go out there and talk to your community and at least pretend to have fun doing it.  Be social and friendly, the more excited you are about your community, the more excited they’ll be about you.


    You have to look, at your on-site and off-site metrics to determine whether or not your social media efforts have been successful, and if not, what you can do to correct them.  If you set your metrics early on and determined what you were looking for and how you were going to quantify it, you know how to measure social media success.

    Give your social media efforts 2-3 months to stabilize before you attempt to decide if your strategy is working for you.  If you start evaluating any earlier than that all you will to go on is your number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans.  Those aren’t really the metrics you want to be looking at.  They are useful benchmarks, but you should looking at these:

    ~ Rankings have increased based on traffic and links

    ~ Social media users are actually engaging with your content

    ~ You have had greater success on the social voting sites

    ~ You increase awareness about a product that led to sales

    Whatever you had outlined as determining “success”, have you gained momentum toward that goal?  If not, you may need some social media consulting.