Social Media — No Casual Undertaking

It’s that time of year. We all started off the new year with lots of good intentions to climb new mountains and improve ourselves personally and professionally. It’s a safe bet that many business people included a New Year’s resolution to join the digital conversation either for their personal growth or on behalf of their brand or company.

But a goal isn’t a plan and it isn’t necessarily a commitment either. My fear is that many of these new social media converts will leap into social media without a plan and, like most other resolutions, will have fallen off by Valentine’s Day with the resulting Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts as deserted as the local gym.

The impact of that desertion can be dramatic if customers, prospects, colleagues, or friends are left hanging and the social sphere becomes cluttered with burned out hulls that remind those who stumble on them that you didn’t sufficiently value their relationship to maintain it. Think about it — if you start a conversation and then walk away in the middle of it, you can reasonably expect some quizzical or even hostile responses to that behavior. This abandonment can damage a brand, a corporate reputation, or many important relationships. It can be devastating to the organization’s commitment to this critical effort if the first pass is insufficiently supported or thought through.

While there are some circumstances where a transitory presence makes sense and meets audience expectations — an effort in support of a trade show or conference, for instance — it’s generally best to approach social media as a long term, consistent effort. Like all outreach channels, sometimes it may be more active and sometimes it will be less, but if you open the channel you have to be ready to keep it open. That takes resources, commitment, organizational alignment, and most of all a plan.

Know What You Can Support

It’s hard to be disciplined about anything, and social media activity is no exception. We learned early in the static Web site days that producing good, fresh content on a regular basis is a nearly insurmountable challenge for many organizations. Multiply the content hungry online locations by the number of new online venues and the task becomes daunting.

Making all digital content portable and distributing it in multiple ways helps to cut down on the overall volume of content required, but requires advance planning. In a best case scenario, your consumers will supply the most valuable content as they engage with you and others in your space through comments, reviews, ratings, video postings, polling, and a host of other opportunities; but you need to know how to elicit and encourage that participation.

It’s usually not a good idea to try to launch multiple new platforms at once. To start, pick what is doable (and can be done well), what is the best match for your objectives and audience, and what best leverages your resources. It’s far easier to extend into other social media channels on the back of one already successful effort than to launch a bunch of things at once and hope the synergy emerges. You can plan for a multi-prong initial effort but it requires some finesse.

Know What You’re Looking For

Remember when you only had to measure and monitor your Web site activity, when all you cared about was e-mail registrations or sales or leads or whatever high value concrete tasks you were measuring? Now you need a reliable and understandable way to put your social media efforts and expenditures into perspective with all your other hard work and investments, and you have to quantify the intangible. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with it all.

Create a dashboard that describes in detail your current and desired state and the path to get from one to the other. Set realistic and aspirational short- and long-term expectations so that you can track and celebrate your progress or correct the course as needed. This is the most fluid environment you will encounter. If that attention lags, opportunities will be lost.

Conversation threads can be fleeting — this makes them potentially powerful or ephemeral depending on if you’re listening carefully enough to catch them in a timely manner.

Make Planning a Priority

There are a multitude of reasons that planning for social media is overlooked more often than in other digital efforts. It’s not clear who owns it, you don’t usually need an IO or contract with a third party, the field is new, the opportunities are varied, it’s perceived as more casual, or construed as a somewhat reactive environment. That makes planning harder maybe, but not less important.

Yes, there is a lot of latitude in this area. There are many different kinds of legitimate and productive online conversations you can facilitate in support of many different business or personal goals. Not all of them have to last a lifetime or involve thousands of people but all of them require thought and preparation to make it a good experience for both you and the intended audience. It’s worth the effort.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.