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Question #1: What are your goals in using social media?
Classic mistake: Starting a social media program (or any program for that matter) without any goals. What do you wish to accomplish using social media? More awareness? Establish your credibility and expertise? Generate sales leads?
The type of content you publish, where you publish it, how often you publish it, and the resources used will vary depending on your goals.
Have a look at your current marketing efforts. What do they do for you now and what is the gap between that and what you'd like to see? If you're already doing a lot of advertising, great--you may have the brand awareness base covered already. If you exhibit at 30 trade shows every year you may be swimming in sales leads. The idea is to find an area where you're weak (or at least want to be better) and use social media to fill that gap.
Question #2: Which social media platforms should you use?
You have a choice between the “big four” social media platforms--Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn--plus any number of smaller, new, and emerging social networks trying to gain traction. And the statistics on usage can be bewildering too--nearly every day I can find an article saying Google+ is dead, invariably followed the next day by an article saying Google+ is growing faster than any other social network.
What should you do? Easy. Just ask your customers. If you find they spend all their time in LinkedIn groups you should be there too. Ask your customers where they go and what they wish to accomplish there. This will clue you in as to where you should be and what you should be doing there.
Question #3: What type of content will you offer and how often?
Based on your conversations with customers you should have an idea of what they're looking for in their use of social media and, thus, what you should be doing. Your prospective customers are looking for confirmation as to which vendors are credible. How about writing a few case studies on how your company helped a customer with a specific problem? Your prospective customers are looking for how to solve a technical issue. Two words: White paper. The idea here is to make sure what you are offering and how often you offer it is a good match for that which your prospective readers or followers are looking.
Question #4: What resources are you willing to put into it?
Two areas should be considered here: Setting up the social network presence and managing it on a day-to-day basis is one. Many companies hire people or outside agencies to do this. The second area is the actual creation of the content: Who is going to write those case studies, those blog posts, those white papers? And this is where many social media programs hit a brick wall. This can be a lot of work.
I tend to write two to three pieces of content a week (this column is one of them). Between them, they take three to five hours of my time every week. I've made the commitment of putting this time aside every week for writing my content. Many companies balk when they hit this point in the conversation. They say, “I can’t afford to have one of my engineers spend two hours every week to write a blog post or a case study.” Actually, you can if you decide the returns are worthwhile. But you do need to make that commitment.
Question #5: How are you going to measure your results?
Ah yes, the bottom line. Unless you are going to measure your results don’t bother starting in the first place. Go back to your goals for getting into this social media in the first place and measure what’s going on in a way you figure out if you're achieving your aims.
There are two reasons for doing this: You want an idea of what kind of return you are getting for your dollars invested. Got 40 sales leads from that white paper you wrote last month? Outstanding. Got one lead? Different story. The other reason is that if you have a benchmark you can start experimenting to see how you can get better results. Four hundred readers for your monthly blog post? What if you went to twice a month?
Did you notice how I called it a “social media program” in the headline? That’s because a program is ongoing. I find the idea of a campaign odious. It suggests that you will do something for a while and then stop. Social media programs don’t stop. They get adjusted, modified, tweaked, recalibrated, fixed, and fine tuned. In other words, they just get better.