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Doing social media ? First ask yourself why

Andy Wood of Freestyle Interactive shares a few of the key reoccurring themes that have come their way while working with clients on social media campaigns.

Know your objective! Social media is like any other marketing activity, it needs a clear business objective!  You need to be considering the part of the brief that asks: Why are we doing this? What do we hope to achieve from this campaign? You might not know how to get the results you want, or even what’s possible, but that’s why you employ an agency - to help you work these things out. Make sure the objectives are clearly understood and agreed before you kick off.  Your objectives in the social media space should be no different to any other bottom line business objective, and more often than not, you’ll find that they augment everything else you’re doing. Just getting involved for the sake of getting involved will lead to disappointment, and I guarantee not everyone involved at the client and agency will have the same expectations. When it comes to objectives, think about the familiar faces: raising brand awareness, influencing brand perception, driving traffic to your website.  They’re all still relevant!  Remember, doing social for the sake of doing social, is not a sound business objective! 
 Choose the right tool for the job Matching the channel to the job has always been a part of your skill as a marketer. Social media is not a global panacea, it’s a new and potentially very useful, tool in your toolbox, but a tool amongst many nonetheless. Social sites are a great way to build brand quickly, using ‘word of mouth’, and it’s even possible to pick up sales leads if you’re targeting the right environments. They’re also one of the best places to listen & learn about customer satisfaction & pick up genuine customer service issues, and of course to influence brand reputation, particularly if you have a stake in wider issues like the environment or sustainability. 
 But, remember social’s only part of the mix and should be planned, together with your agency, alongside more traditional channels like email, search engine optimisation strategy and placed ads. Think about how your target audience uses social media as part of their wider journey, a journey that incorporates brand websites, search engines and traditional media as well as social media websites. Understand and plan integrated campaigns that understand how these channels fit together for the consumer.
 If you do nothing else with social media, make sure you implement a social media monitoring service It’s your job as a marketer to understand what’s interesting and important to your target audiences. Chances are your consumers are already talking somewhere online, and it’s your job to understand how this relates to your brand. Understanding what’s going on across the social landscape is also the first step towards formulating a plan for getting more actively involved. It’s basic stuff: first understand what the audience is doing, then formulate a strategy to engage with this audience. There’s a lot of software out there designed to measure social media activity, targeting keywords relevant and important to your brand.  
 Like any analytics software, in the right hands, it can revolutionise your understanding. But remember, data is not the same as intelligence. It’s crucial that what’s measured empirically is backed up with desk research and is brought together with your business objectives by those people who know your brand and customers best.  Though tools and automation can help resource your social media efforts, human input into this process is key.
Create the debate Social media channels provide a great opportunity to kick start the debates that are important to your brand. But remember, you don’t always need to own the environment where the debate takes place. Corporate systems are like Milton Keynes, efficient on the face of it with lots of well thought out signposting, but pretty boring and uninspiring when you get right down to it. Companies don’t do social media, people do. Even when your CEO is talking as the face of your company, it’s the man we’re all listening to and that’s fundamentally different to all the other marketing channels your business uses. 
 It’s important to remember that people want to interact with people, not marketers, and they want to use the environments that are most relevant and comfortable for them, which probably doesn’t mean the corporate website. But that’s ok, you need to worry more about creating the right content, then finding the right social environments to put this content so that it reaches the right people. 
 Don’t worry if you don’t have a branded blog environment, chances are it’s not what your audience want from you anyway. Remember, the really exciting opportunity here is getting to hear all those quiet consumer voices that up until now have been largely unheard, you just need to know where to look and how to listen. 
Develop a crisis management plan All brands are afraid of negative social commentary, and with good reason. As a global extension of the traditional peer group word of mouth that could make or break a brand, social media channels have the power to severely damage your reputation over night. 
 The viral effects of social channels are great when things are going your way, but when the brand chucks out a poor product, or your service falls short of expectations, the same word of mouth can spread bad news very quickly indeed, ask anyone Googling Toyota over the past two weeks! In these situations having a crisis management plan in place to deal with these issues can significantly limit the damage done. 
 Policy, procedures, content, a plan for where to post this content, as well as a good understanding of who should be doing what can save you days of negative publicity. Also, remember it’s pretty hard to hide from a genuine mistake when the weight of consumer voice is against you. I have to say in the majority of cases where social communities are listening to negative commentary about a brand, and a good number are joining in, there’s usually substance to the criticism. In these situations honesty is often the best policy, admit your mistakes and most importantly deal with them and most of your customers will understand. 
 Ultimately you must remember, you really have no choice but to engage, because with or without you these online conversations will continue to go on.  

 Andy Wood is a Director at Freestyle Interactive. He’s worked in the digital industry since 1997, in-house and agency side. His core responsibility is the development of digital strategy for clients and the continued development of the agency offering. His special focus is centered on helping clients find the most effective way to integrate digital marketing, including the complexities of social media, into their wider marketing communications plans.    

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