About two months ago, I wrote about training and the importance of developing your skills in social media as it applies to business. I’m currently leading a series of workshops for the American Marketing Association covering the application of social media to business. One central feature of this series is its hands-on nature: Some of the most exciting — and challenging — aspects of social media come when you actually put it to work. In that spirit, here are three things you can do today to kick-start your social media program.
Foremost on the list is listening to what people are saying about you. I’m not talking about monitoring but actually listening. Rohit Bhargava makes this point and refers to it as “active” listening: Not just tracking a conversation but thinking about what people are really talking about and how it relates across the departments that make up your larger organization — and which together are responsible for and drive the conversations you’ve discovered.
It isn’t surprising, then, that first item on your list today is to install a listening platform. Techrigy, Radian 6, Cymfony, and Collective Intellect all offer easy-to-implement solutions with core features like conversational analysis, trending, and workflow (allowing you to automatically send a post that references a defective product to your warranty services manager) that really make your life easier.
Business Objectives and Audience Profile
Number two on your “Get Started” list comes right out of Groundswell: get clear about your business objectives, what you are trying to accomplish, and what you are aiming at. Business objectives (or organizational goals for nonprofits) always come first. At least to a first approximation, if what someone in a marketing role is doing is not in some way driving the business, he probably ought not be doing it.
By starting with your business objectives, you get a second really big benefit, too, something that I note in my book “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day” you get your internal audience’s attention. When championing social media, you may well find that not everyone knows what it is, and fewer still will actually have direct business experience with it. That sets you up for failure, as people with little knowledge are highly likely to pull out old clichés like the million-plus MySpace friend magnet “Tila Tequila” and seriously derail your presentation. Start with business objectives — the business goals that everyone agrees on — and you’ll be pulling people into your presentation rather than giving them a reason to shoot it down.
One of the best — and still free (as in no strings attached, not even registration) — tools for marketers is Forrester’s Profiler. A nod to Forrester Research is in order here. This tool is a real testament to the idea of the collective. The researcher has elected make its own data, something a lot of firms pay money for, available for free, in part so that anyone interested in understanding social media and applying it intelligently to business has an easier time of it. If everyone contributed something, how much richer would we all be? If you want a quick look at how the big segments in your audience are using (or not using) the social Web, look at the Profiler.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a Blog
With your business objectives defined and audience’s behavior understood, it’s time to step into the social Web. Look through the following list, then pick one and give it a try:
- Facebook. Facebook gives you access to a quarter of a billion people, plus or minus. Of course, your mileage may vary — and probably will since you’ll want to be more focused about who you target on Facebook. This is something else that the site allows you to do very easily through its 30-second setup display ads platform. Facebook also offers Business Pages, complete with viewership stats via the Insights data available to Business Page administrators. You can embed Facebook applications in your business page, and you can drive traffic to it since the business page, unlike a Facebook Group, can be viewed (but not interacted with) by non-members of Facebook. One caution: Facebook’s terms of service prohibit one individual (read “person” and not e-mail address) from having more than one Facebook account. This means that your personal life, assuming you have one and assuming that some part of it is posted on Facebook, is potentially merged with the business page you’re managing. Facebook itself separates the two, but not all Facebook applications do. Word to the wise, and look for this to be cleared up as Facebook pages become (even) more popular.
- Twitter. Enough said, right? No, of course not. Twitter may be the hot app right now, but that’s not enough of a business reason to use it. Here’s what is: Your customers use Twitter to talk about you. Hot or not, Twitter is a lay-up for listening. Set yourself up on Twitter, go easy on the “all about me” tweets, and use a client like TweetDeck to search for mentions of your brand, product, or service in real time, as well as those of your competitors. You’ll be fairly amazed at what you find and at how easy it is to keep abreast of conversations that matter to you.
- LinkedIn. No doubt you know that LinkedIn offers a network directory service. I’ll bet you’re a member of LinkedIn, too. But did you know that you can create a company page? Just like your profile, you can create a page that represents your company and connects all the people who work there. Beware, though. Because there is no control on who people claim to work for and because some companies have the same or similar names, your company page may well include people who don’t work there. In the LinkedIn search box, choose the “Company” tab and then enter your company’s name. To remove people who don’t belong, you’ll need to e-mail LinkedIn Customer Service. It should be easier than that and over time probably will be. But, hey, it’s free, and it’s a start.
- Your business blog. I saved this for last because it’s often the anchor of everything else. Your blog is where you get to talk, in depth, about things you are passionate about, about your industry, and about events and legislation related to it. Your blog is very attractive to search engines, and by linking your other social profiles and pages to it you increase the visibility of all the components of your social program. Don’t have a blog? You can set one up at WordPress.com in under 10 minutes. You can look on Twitter for resources, like Kim Beasley, and get a custom-designed template for under $5,000. Or you can get a complete implementation, including some basic training, for well under $10,000. (If you’re a DIYer, you can do all of this for free, not counting the cost of your time.) Quite seriously, blogging is a social media best practice. One tip: Establish — or find and read — your company policy on blogging before you start.
Taken together, these are three easy things you can start on today. You’ll learn a lot about social media: prudent participation remains one of the best ways to get it when it comes to the social Web. You’ll also create some real value for your company. And who knows: with organizations looking to become ever more efficient, being seen as an innovator in an important, emerging discipline might well pay off for you.
Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 16 events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing.