Back in the early digital days we often fielded panicked calls from in-house marketing personnel whose head of marketing or another C-level executive would demand that they secure the top organic search listings in the major search engines. Thank God most business people now understand both the value and difficulty of that feat.
Today's equivalent is the overworked, understaffed, and stressed out in-house marketing departments being presented with the demand to start tweeting or get a Facebook page up - yesterday. When your boss comes blowing into the room demanding that you make an immediate splash in social media, deflect any attempt at forcing an ill-conceived tactical launch by asking for a short period of time to gather and present your research, plan, and budget.
Create an organizational chart of all the different departments or divisions that a social media effort might touch - think HR, PR, legal, marketing, customer service, and others. Find out who else in those departments was issued an edict and partner with them to share the load and create a best practice approach to a successful social media program that meets enterprise needs.
Create an audience profile; then spend time understanding how your audience uses the Web and social media and what they would find relevant and valuable associated with your brand or company. This will form the foundation of your effort.
Check out the direct competition in social media as well as others who share your audience. Find what appears to be successful efforts and try to estimate the effort associated with their work. Double it - I am certain you underestimated it. Ask your boss about budgetary support because these efforts are not free. Strategy, creative, outreach, internal training, and many other items come into play and they all require an outright expense or the use of expensive and scarce resources to support.
Find the aimless, ill-conceived, or abandoned efforts in the reviewed competitive field and highlight them as well. We can learn from failed experiments just as surely as successful ones.
Bring in the creative team. There is thought required to build the best program or campaign. It takes time and special skill sets - not least of which is experience in social media.
Develop both a content strategy and a content plan with resources outlined. Social media programs require care and feeding. Conversations must be nurtured and followed.
Put together a realistic launch timeline that allows for iterations of learning.
Identify a monitoring and listening tool to help you regularly report on and tweak your program. Develop a mock dashboard for your boss that will capture and show key metrics from your social media efforts.
Create a set of guiding principles and defend it from the temptations of others to use the channels you are so carefully crafting as push vehicles for marketing messages. If you have to, distribute daily leaflets that state: "Our social media program is about our customers - not about us."
Ask your boss if you can count on his support for this effort and budget for at least two years. Social media is about building relationships over time and you don't want to abandon this prematurely.
Ask what he is willing to give. Most often the core elements of the successful programs you found in your homework offered something of value to the audience. Is your company prepared to invest in building a program and offering content, tools, discounts, entertainment, access to other like members, or something else in exchange for goodwill and engagement?
Talk goals. Like any other marketing effort, unless you have a road map you will be forever lost. Insist on defining clear goals for the proposed program well before you talk about any specific tactics.
Remove "viral" from your vocabulary. You can't reasonably plan to get viral uptake - so don't plan on it. It is as much a strategy as a lottery ticket is a retirement plan. Lots of smart, relevant, entertaining, and useful content never makes it past a small audience.
Set regular check-in meetings where you can discuss the program performance against the goals you set.
No boss can fail to be impressed by your preparation and the smart approach you will have outlined. This will balance an urgent request with an action plan that puts business goals and audience needs first.
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.