Retail businesses need a structured road map to manage successful social media programs. Social media strategy consultant Neal Schaffer shares 11 essential components all social media strategies should include.
By John Lofstock, Editor
Many company leaders understand that in order to survive in today’s business world, their companies must have a social media presence. But to the detriment of many organizations, strategy is lagging way behind. In fact, according to the 2013 Social Media Marketing report conducted by Social Media Examiner, creating a social media strategy is still a major concern of 83% of marketers.
And when no strategy is present, said social media strategy consultant Neal Schaffer, here’s what happens: Individuals from different departments tweet at will, using the company’s official handle. Some of these 140-character messages are loaded down with cumbersome language from the company’s Web copy guidelines; others are peppered with abbreviations like “u,” “r” and “2.”
On Facebook, users who “like” the company’s page find that their newsfeeds are bombarded with promotions, surveys and so called “news.” Meanwhile, customers are posting positive and negative feedback on both sites. Sometimes these comments receive responses; sometimes they don’t.
“In using such a scattershot approach to social media, these organizations are missing out on major opportunities to engage with potential and current customers, manage their reputations, and they may be alienating social media users in the process,” said Schaffer, author of “Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success.”
Schaffer helps marketers focus on how they can create a strategic social media framework, leverage opportunities that each social media channel offers and implement a data-driven approach to monitor the success or failure of their social media programs.
“If your company is going to enter the social media world, you need a strategy because it standardizes messaging, determines how resources are used, defines which tactics you will and won’t pursue, serves as a road map, and will still carry on its purpose through personnel changes,” Schaffer explained. “When formulating a strategy, be sure to look at the implications it will have on all of your internal stakeholders and include them in the planning.”
Schaffer shared 11 essential components of a comprehensive social media strategy:
• Branding: Be consistent across all channels. Most businesses already have brand guidelines (including naming, color scheme and imagery), and these should be applied to your social media properties as well. After all, branding is all about consistency. The challenge, though, is that most branding guidelines don’t include any guidance for the most important part of your brand in social media conversations: your voice.
“Although your brand guidelines might make mention of tone and vocabulary for use in Web copy, social media will challenge those guidelines when you need to have a conversation with an average person,” Schaffer said. “In most instances it’s OK to be less formal on social media channels—just make sure that your updates and comments speak with a unified voice. In the planning process, be sure to ask who represents the voice of your company in your social media branding guidelines.”
• Content: Engage in conversation. Although cynics might dub it a mindless vacuum, social media is really about the convergence of communication and information. That being the case, what you share and talk about with social media users is important. Content provides the medium to help you engage in conversation—and creating content that is truly resourceful and shareable can have many long-term benefits to your company’s social media presence.
“Keep in mind that content isn’t just about blog posts, photos and videos,” Schaffer said. “Think outside of the box. Presentations, memes and even discussions are all types of content that should be considered for your social media strategy.”
• Curation: Share meaningful content. If you’re just talking about yourself in social media, no one wants to listen. It’s only when you begin to curate content that is of interest to your followers and promote it, together with your own content, that your social media accounts begin to breathe new life.
“When you work for a company that sells directly to consumers, share more photos and videos of who is shopping your stores and using your products,” Schaffer said. “Share stories about your brand that have never been publicly discussed, or resourceful information to nudge people into realizing they need your services. And don’t forget that crowdsourcing content is also a great way of curating—especially if it is from your own fans’ tweets about and photos of your products.”
• Channels: Join the right networks for your company. There are currently more than 50 social networks with more than 10 million members. You can’t—and shouldn’t—have a presence on every single one of them. Deciding which social networks to engage in, and creating internal best practices and tactical plans for each of these networks, will form a sizable part of your social media strategy.
“While most companies concentrate on the more established social networks, the new emerging social networks of Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram might be equally important,” Schaffer said.
• Frequency: Post strategically, not constantly. No two social networks are alike, and with limited resources, you’ll need to decide how much time you are going to spend on each platform, as well as what you’ll be doing there. It’s also important to tweak your frequency strategy for each social network from time to time so as to maximize the effectiveness of your posting.
“Frequent posting doesn’t necessarily make your social media more effective,” Schaffer said.
• Engagement: Be worthy of being followed. Engagement should be considered in both its proactive and reactive forms. While most companies do well at proactively engaging with their own content—posting both new content and conversations, as well as the sharing of content and information from others—proactively engaging with new social media users and reactively engaging with those who comment or respond to your updates is equally important to create an effective social media presence.
“Try to look at your company’s social media profiles from the perspective of an outside observer and ask yourself, ‘Is our engagement with fans worthy of being followed? Would I follow us?’” Schaffer said. “Remember, engagement is a tactic to help you achieve your objective—namely, expanding your brand, attracting new customers, and growing your company—not the objective itself. But be encouraged: The odds are in your favor. Sixty percent of Facebook fans and 79% of Twitter followers are more likely to recommend brands that they have liked or followed.”
• Listening: Interact meaningfully with customers. The customer service desk has gone digital. From complaints to questions to praise, consumers are using social media to convey their thoughts, opinions and queries. But according to Schaffer, many companies are blowing this golden opportunity. For example, the 2013 Social Media Marketing report showed that 71% of customers who complained via Twitter were not contacted by the company.
“Your company needs to have a listening—and responding—strategy in place,” Schaffer said. “Listening means more than merely being on the lookout for complaints to defuse. Every engagement with a social media user is a golden opportunity, because it can give you real-time feedback on what your customers are thinking. You can also utilize big social data to help understand potential future trends for your products and services. And remember that a meaningful interaction with a customer—a problem resolved or a question answered, for instance—can win you the type of loyalty that money can’t buy.”
• Campaign: Regularly introduce new ways to engage customers. Social media campaigns should not be confused with traditional campaigns that are used in marketing to promote new products or discounts. In the social media world, you’re not speaking to or at customers; you’re speaking with them. That being the case, social media campaigns should leverage the social aspect of social media, combined with its viral functionality, to create events that trigger engagement from followers in a new and exciting way.
“Think of it less as a promotional marketing campaign and more of an experiment to better understand—and more effectively engage with—your social media followers,” Schaffer said. “Create and implement new campaigns on a regular basis around revolving themes, such as those aligned with promotional, calendar or seasonal events. Remember to make your content specific to help give you more precise data for your future planning. Polls, product giveaways, and crowdsourcing are all good examples of campaign types.”
• Influencers: Take a cue from other users. There’s no need to navigate the world of social media on your own. Use the examples and successes of other users called influencers to help shape your own strategy and make it more effective.
“At minimum, influencers provide a source for content curation, and by retweeting their content, you increase the chances that they will notice you and reciprocate the favor, thus broadening your reach in social media,” Schaffer said. “Beyond merely utilizing influencers for content curation and to broaden social media reach, they should also be considered as potential collaborators in future social media campaigns.”
• Brand Ambassadors: Recruit fans to spread the word. Brand ambassadors are current loyal customers and fans who help spread the word about your brand through their own social networks. They can also act as an advisory board during a crisis. Harnessing and rewarding ambassadors is a very effective way to help spread the word and value of your brand throughout social media because 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing.
“Whether they are current employees, alumni of your company, or loyal fans to your brand, your social media strategy should always be looking for ways to engage—and reward—brand loyalty and amplification in social media,” Schaffer said.
• Crisis Management: Be prepared to handle trouble. Given the speed at which information travels in social media and the fact that social media is now a primary news source for consumers and the media, it is inevitable that some sort of crisis will occur. That being the case, your company needs to always be prepared for the worst. Completely integrating social media into your company’s crisis management planning can be a wise decision. According to Schaffer, 76% of social media crises could have been diminished or averted with the proper social media investments.
“Make sure that your crisis communications plan includes messaging for each of the social media channels you’ll be investing in,” Schaffer said. “Beyond that, make sure that your employees are proficient at the social media tools your organization utilizes so that they won’t inadvertently make a crisis worse. Secondly, you should try to proactively build a community of goodwill with followers of your brand. Over time, your word will become more trusted, and more brand advocates will be born, both of which will help lessen the potential negative effects of any crisis.”
The bottom line, Schaffer said, the clearer you are, the more productive your organization’s social media presence will be. “Regardless of your company’s social media goals, though, make sure that you address all of these concepts individually, so that everyone in your company understands what they are and how they are meant to work together.”