First steps a brand should take before going social

Picture this familiar scene: A marketing or communications manager, convinced that his company needs to leverage social media, discusses the opportunity with his colleagues. The debate that ensues is too-often controversial and confused. Some question whether the effort and expense of a social media program will result in any quantifiable return; others worry about the risk that comes with playing in a largely uncontrolled arena of discourse.

Across the table, there’s a passionate retort about the power of social media in creating engagement and boosting awareness — some may even make an effort to show how some social media channels can aid in increasing consideration for the brand and its products.

And here’s the best part: both sides are right. The ROI of social is seldom accurately measured, and there’s considerable legal and product liability risk to companies when they play in the “Twitbook Jungle.” Yet not to engage is to walk away from the channel on which people are talking about your company. It’s on social where people form opinions, share insights and ultimately make decisions — about you. Being a part of that starts with understanding these five basic tips:

Build your strategy on the basics of sound marketing and communication tenets
At the risk of oversimplifying, a company’s strategy must be focused on the these three basics: engaging prospects, amplifying advocates and mitigating detractors. Your company has a story to tell about its brand, its product and its service. Social is where you tell the story and where you help others tell it for you. Different areas of the channel are better at telling different chapters and verses so know the difference and plan it into your strategy.

Integrate, integrate, integrate
Your PR pros are excellent at spinning a story about a product. Your marketing experts are second-to-none at making the brand all shiny and pretty. As good as they are, they should never be tasked with answering complex questions about product capabilities, resolving customer service issues or handling a legal issue. You have experts in these areas as well, so build your social group as a center of excellence and open the doors to those experts with a relevant reason to engage, listen and create content. It’s about facilitating the best possible communication with your consumers and sharing knowledge. As a center of excellence, your social media team will create content that drives conversation and optimize your properties so that all the experts inside your building have the appropriate platform on which to do their best work.

Integrate, integrate, integrate part two
If you don’t see the value of tagging your TV spot with the company’s Facebook URL, go back to your sell sheets and banners. Really. If you’re into social, be into social and cross promote your properties with all of your advertising. Social media is obviously a great way to amplify your existing marcom efforts, and, in the process, drive a considerable amount of brand awareness. What’s more, start thinking about how social media impacts the awareness of your entire business from brand to products and services, and integrate with those groups accordingly.

Take time and build your foundation
The only thing worse than not engaging with consumers is doing so poorly and inconsistently. Build your internal organization first and develop your approach. Start a steering committee, and have workshops. Drive your agenda internally through a collaborative approach that includes key priorities from across the company. Create items like editorial calendars, engagement maps and an escalation process in order to properly train your associates. Social is real-time dialogue, so they need to know how to respond and what to do when the train jumps the track. Once you start, make social media an always-on, every day channel. Once people know you’re engaging with them consistently they will begin to talk back.

Analyze like a serious marketer
Smart girls and boys have already figured out that perhaps the most powerful – but largely unrealized – potential of social media is in its ability to reveal consumer preference, opinion and reaction. Common reporting like volume and sentiment is like Basket Weaving 101 — you should demand that social media metrics tie more closely to key objectives. Think about it: on social, consumers get to talk back. Don’t you want to know what they’re really trying to tell you?

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