Why should you spend your ad dollars on social media?
That might seem like a silly question, given that everyone seems to be shifting ad budgets to hop on the social media bandwagon. But if you aren't asking it, you're asking for disaster. And if you can't answer the question with a comprehensive, strategic answer, you're wasting your money.
It might sound harsh, but a recent Center for Media Research report has me worried. After surveying more than 1,000 people with media buying or planning responsibilities, the center found that "having a presence on social networks" is one of the top priorities for media plans in 2010.
Why should that worry me? Because I've only rarely encountered people with actual strategies behind their social media push. Sure, plenty of clients (and prospects) I've spoken to in the past year or so made vague noises about viral video or being on Facebook or tweeting, but when I've pressed them for why they want those things, few can give me an answer.
Not that I blame them: it's tough to read any of the industry press these days without getting the feeling that everyone's doing social media better than you are. Ad spending on social media sites keeps going up, the buzz is deafening, and just about every company you encounter asks you to follow them on Twitter, read their blog, or become their friend on Facebook. And like any new thing, it's got the sheen of new on it that's hard to resist.
But before you spend money on building a social media presence, take a step back. After all, if you're spending money there, you're not spending it somewhere else. If you don't spend money with a strategy, you're throwing it away.
Here, then, is my 10-step social media strategy checklist. It's hardly magical stuff; you could probably apply a lot of these questions to just about any advertising or marketing you do. But going through this checklist as you build a social media strategy will help you develop a strategy based on results, not hype. It may be painful, especially if you like new things (Oooh! Shiny!), but when you get real results instead of making excuses, you'll be glad you did.
What are we trying to accomplish? Are you looking for more leads, more direct sales, greater brand awareness, conversions, or brand engagement? Understanding what you're trying to actually do with your social media presence should be the first step in developing a social media strategy.
Why social media? Is your audience there? Do you want to build stronger relationships with customers and prospects? Tap into online word-of-mouth channels? Demonstrate that you're down with the kids? You have a niche audience that's difficult to reach otherwise? The best way to avoid recklessly jumping on the bandwagon is to examine why the wagon is the best way to get where you're going before you hop on. Ask yourself: is spending money on social media going to provide better ROI (define) than other forms of advertising you could be spending money on?
What kind of social media will help us best achieve our goals? Do you need to utilize social networking sites, blogs, real-time updates (e.g., Twitter), social news sites, media-sharing sites, review/directory sites, virtual worlds, or display ads on social media sites? In some respects, talking about a social media presence is like talking about having an advertising presence: you must specify what you're doing and where you're going to place it. Examine the characteristics of the type of social media you want to have a presence on and how those characteristics fit what you're trying to accomplish to help choose the ones that will work best for you.
Are we prepared to let go of control of our brand, at least a little? You can't participate in social media without being...well...social. And that means engaging in a conversation with customers. Once you engage in a conversation, you have to give up control. Is your company willing to do that?
What will we do to encourage participation? There's nothing more embarrassing than going to a corporate YouTube channel and seeing that the viral video it spent tons of money making has just 127 views. Ditto for going to a company's Twitter feed and seeing that it has all of 11 followers. What are you planning to do to drive people to your social media presence? And do you have the money to do it?
Who will maintain our social media presence? Participating in social media takes a lot of work. You must have something to say and you must have someone (or a team of people) to say it on a regular basis. It won't happen unless it becomes part of someone's job. Do you have someone ready to commit a big chunk of time to maintaining your social media presence?
Do we have the resources to keep this up, or will this be a short campaign? Similarly, unless you specify that what you're doing has a limited duration (such as a Twitter feed based on a particular conference), people will expect you to keep it up. Have you budgeted the resources to continue your social media presence beyond the fiscal year?
How does engaging users via social media integrate into our overall marketing/communications strategy? None of this stuff exists in a vacuum. It has to be part of a larger marketing/communications strategy. How does social media fit into what you're trying to do in all your other channels, and how will you use those channels to support each other?
How do we measure success? What constitutes failure? Are you measuring views, followers, comments, or subscribers? What's the threshold for your success metrics that takes them into success territory? What happens if you don't get there?
What will we do less of if we're spending resources on social media? Chances are you have limited dollars (if not, could you contact me immediately?). If you spend more money on social media and other nontraditional forms of marketing, you have to spend less on something else. How will your overall goals be impacted by taking money away from other forms of advertising/marketing and moving it into social media?
Sean is off today. This column was originally published Sept. 14, 2009 on ClickZ.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.