While social media is a must-have component of the communications mix, its successful and sustained implementation can remain a challenge. This is especially true as the digital environment continues to evolve and change.
Many experts tout the imperative of social networking, while serving up advice such as the ’5 best ways to get started’ or ’10 keys to creating great content’ or ’12 big mistakes you can make’. The proliferation of blog posts, tweets, video clips and articles can help, however they are by no means the whole solution.
Whether you are using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn; are regularly updating your website and blog content; or are employing e-newsletters to reach your communities, you are already building a foundation for effectively engaging within social media. As well, it is your unique experience, knowledge and common sense that are needed to ensure social media becomes successfully integrated into your overall communications efforts.
As has always been the case, an effective communications plan begins with identifying your business and communications objectives, audiences, key messages, brand guidelines, strategies, channels, tactics, budget, timelines and measures of success. In order to initiate, or enhance, your social media involvement, this is still a good place to start. Some considerations specific to social media planning include:
- What are your overall business and communications objectives? How will social media activities support them? While social media can help build awareness by increasing the number of followers, fans, subscribers and visitors engaging with your brand, if you are looking to enhance customer service, Twitter and Facebook can also enable timely response and a positive customer experience. If you are aiming for an increase in online sales, social media referrals can substantially build traffic to transactional pages on your website. It is important to think through how social channels can support customer satisfaction and conversion, as well as enhance engagement.
- Who are your main audiences or communities and what existing or new channels can be used to engage with them? While LinkedIn is a professional network, Facebook reaches users in a social, less formal environment. Twitter connects followers in both personal and professional states of mind within a wide variety of subject areas. Pinterest, the newer and fast growing network, is especially relevant to retail organizations as its users are interested in viewing and sharing themed ideas, products and services. While these and other sites, such as Google+, Tumblr and Foursquare should be considered, the critical thing is to understand your objectives and audiences prior to committing to specific ones. Ideally, you will start with one or two key networks and learn to use them well, versus jumping into a number of sites and spreading your resources too thinly.
- What is your content management plan? Your website and blogs present an ideal option for regularly posting content that can be shared via social media channels. YouTube and Vimeo can also be used to host and share video – a popular format that is growing exponentially. Will you co-create articles, share user-generated posts and/or act as a curator of relevant external content? What subject-matter experts, or writing and design resources, can you allocate to create content on a regular basis?
- What social media activities and channels do you currently use and why? Are they providing opportunities for meaningful engagement with your customers and communities? Are you generating results that support your objectives? It is important to ensure you are measuring results, learning from your existing activities and that your metrics are used to help establish benchmarks in future planning. Analytics is a critical component of any successful campaign or program.
- How will you personify your brand online? How will social media engagement reinforce and enliven your brand? Start by defining your persona, key messages, communication style and voice, as well as design and photographic guidelines – as you would with any other communications application. This should influence decisions about channel selection, content creation and sharing, and the look and feel of pages, profiles and content elements. Of course, your visual identity must be applied according to guidelines, and as appropriate for the wide variety of formats, browsers and devices. This is all important while constantly keeping in mind how best to optimize the user’s experience when engaging within your channels.
- Who will engage in social media on your behalf, and how? A first step is to establish this role, as well as your social media policy and guidelines. Your social team is representing you, your organization and your values and it is critical they have the direction, tools, and empowerment to do so well. While social media is cost-effective to deploy, it is important to ensure you identify human resources to meaningfully engage on a regular (daily) basis. This is true whether conducted by you, an internal team, or external supplier.
- How will you add value to your clients and communities? How best can you engage in a meaningful way? What types of content will you share? How will you ensure timely, appropriate and sustained community engagement?
- How does social media integrate with all of your communications activities and channels? How will you ensure a consistent and seamless user experience across all of your touch points?
These are some of the considerations that should go into your social media planning and there are many resources available to help you create a successful approach.
The key is to balance established communications principles, channels and results with the benefits of evolving social media applications. All will continue to work together to facilitate our human desires to connect, satisfy our needs, and share with one another.
For today’s communications environment, well-integrated social media strategies and innovation are an essential part of your plan.