This is an exciting time for social media, with a broad mix of channels at various stages of maturity. However, this diversity and dynamism brings a certain level of risk, as it’s entirely possible to invest large amounts of time and resource into activities and channels that offer very little contribution to your core business objectives.
When we speak to brands about their social activity, they often gravitate to the tactical: asking what can they do to get more likes, retweets, +1s?
While pursuing tactical excellence and following best practice are undoubtedly good habits, we often find that the biggest business impacts can be delivered by taking a step back.
Looking at the broader strategic framework, within which the social activity is taking place, can allow you to course correct at a higher level and helps to ensure that your social activity is making a meaningful contribution to your business.
Whether you're building a social strategy from scratch or reviewing the activity of an organisation that's already socially active, the considerations below will help to ensure that you're focussed on delivering business transformation and not just chasing likes.
1. Understand where social sits in the hierarchy
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
In the same way that the wheels of a car are connected to the roof racks (eventually), the social activity of any business is connected to - and has an impact on - all of the other activities taking place in both the on and offline environments.
This means that when you're deciding what social is going to do for your organisation, it needs to be considered, not by itself, or just within your digital activity, but within the scope of all your business activities.
Since your social media activity needs to support the broader strategic objectives of the business, if you haven't nailed the business objectives down, at least you know where to start.
Once the organisational objectives have been set, it's then a case of looking at how the broader digital ecosystem can support those objectives and then how social can contribute.
Trying to define the role of social without first setting the broader organisational objectives is like trying to build your car from the roof racks down instead of from the wheels up.
2. Choose your battles
This could - and probably will - be an entire post in itself as there is no single method or criterion for determining which social channels are going to be most appropriate for your organisation. The good news however, is there are a number of questions you can ask that will point you in the right direction:
In which channels are our priority audiences most active?
Which channels are the best cultural match for our organisation?
Which channels best match our skill set?
In which channels can we best educate, entertain or offer utility?
In which channels do we have the most permission and authority with our audiences?
The social channels that appear as answers to most of the above questions should be your starting point for activity, as they will offer you the most opportunity, and will also be the best fit with your skill set, your culture or (hopefully) both.
3. Be ruthless about where you're going to play
Once you've identified which channels offer the most opportunity, then it's time to take the tough decision about where to focus your effort.
Unless you've got the GDP of Luxembourg and an army of thousands at your disposal, you're going to have to be very selective about which social channels are going to receive your time and attention.
There are simply too many channels to be both everywhere AND excellent, so it's important to make very deliberate decisions about where you will and won't focus your time and attention.
When considering social channels, think about them in terms of:
Absent: where you're choosing not to play
Competent: where you're going to be present, but not that active
Competitive: where you're going to be as good as the best of your peers
Leader: where you're going to be the best of your peers
Given the sheer volume of social channels, you're probably going to be absent or competent in most of them and that's ok, as long as its by design, and not by lack of effort. If a social channel wasn't the answer to any of the questions from tip 2, then it's a good indication that you can safely be absent from there for the time being.
For those channels that appeared only once or twice, then you should probably have a presence, but focussing your effort here probably isn't going to yield the highest return on investment, so here you can just be competent.
Any channels that were the answer to most questions, are good candidates for areas in which you can probably be competitive with your peer group. For these channels you want to make sure you’re keep up with the Joneses.
And finally, any channels that were the answer to all questions should be considered opportunities for leadership within your peer group; so go on - blow them all away.
Unless you've been through this process before, then you should probably only have two or three channels where you're choosing to be competitive, and a single channel where you think you can lead. This gives you a realistic base from which to build, with the aim of moving a channel or two, one step up the hierarchy every six months or so.
4. Play each channel for its strength
Every social channel has its own strengths and weaknesses and it's important to understand those differences so you can leverage the strength of each.
The worst thing you can do is assume that something created especially for your Twitter audience is going to be suitable for cutting and pasting to Instagram.
Make sure the content you create is tailored for each channel as it's much more likely to engage your audience when it's channel appropriate.
Remember: Snipe your audience with excellence, don't carpet bomb them with mediocrity.
5. Develop an appropriate tone
Just because your annual report is printed in seven shades of grey, doesn't mean you need to be overly formal and dry when operating in the social space.
Remember that the key word in social media is "social", so make sure that the tone your organisation adopts in social spaces is appropriate for the medium.
This doesn't mean your law firm needs to ROFLMAO when tweeting about new EU regulations, but it does mean sounding like there's a human, rather than a Random Headline Generator™ behind your social activity.
6. Review everything regularly
The social landscape moves incredibly quickly and new channels emerge, grow, mature and die in the space of months rather than years.
You don't need to overhaul your entire strategy on a week to week basis, but by reviewing your channel mix a couple of times a year, you'll at least begin to mitigate the risk of spending a lot of time and attention on a channel from which your audience has long since departed.
Bake these review periods in from the outset and they'll quickly become a more natural part of your social process.
7. Experiment like there's no tomorrow
If something isn't working, change it. If it still doesn't work, change it again. If it doesn't work a third time, then congratulations, you've just successfully identified what not to do.
Understanding what doesn't work is just as valuable as knowing what does - so long as you're agile enough to incorporate your learnings.
Don't be afraid of failing, just make sure you can fail fast and course-correct immediately.
Of course, if you do stumble in public, own it. The internet might seem like a big place, but it’s too small to sweep anything under the carpet. Be genuine about your failures and you’ll find your audience a lot more forgiving than if you take a defensive (or denial) stance.
8. Don't forget Google+
Ok, so Google+ might not be the thriving hub of activity that Larry and Sergey would have you believe, but that's beside the point - it's increasingly becoming the connective tissue behind some of the biggest entities on the net.
The single biggest value that G+ can offer is its ability to boost the visibility of your digital assets in search, so make sure it's at least in the consideration set when talking not just about social, but how you link up all the components of your digital ecosystem.
9. Take a long term view
Individual channels may come and go, but social as a concept is here to stay.
Businesses that understand how to leverage social media to achieve their core objectives - and are able to resource accordingly - will gain a significant competitive advantage as they build a relationships with their audience outside of the typical purchase/engagement cycle.
Not every channel is going to be a winner and it might take time to find your feet, but by building your social strategy from the wheels up, you’re going to give your business the best chance of success.
While not an exhaustive list of considerations, if you're looking down the barrel of a social media strategy review, thinking about the above points will start you down the right track.
To learn more about how Draw can help you set an effective social strategy for your business or organisation, please get in touch.