The New Discipline of Engagement Planning

As we enter 2012, the world of “social media marketing” has matured. As marketers, we have a clearer sense of protocols and practices that allow us to leverage social media with greater skill to drive long-term marketing value. This means we focus more on content than shiny apps and platforms; more on community-building practices than “viral” campaigns; and more on real measurement rather than simply counting social metrics.

It is this maturation that has led to the development of a new discipline – engagement planning. I like to think of engagement planning as media planning on steroids. Instead of planning where and when to buy media, engagement planners plan where, when, how, and with what kind of content (and at what frequency) to create earned media through community development, outreach, and digital dialogue. Ultimately, this discipline of engagement planning brings clarity, protocol, and a degree of predictiveness to what has otherwise been thought of as a somewhat chaotic way to market – that is, marketing in a socially-connected digital world.

What does the practice of engagement planning look like? Here are my top bullets:

  • Engagement planning is based on audience insights. Engagement planning begins with understanding audience needs and wants in real time. The use of social media performance data, conversation data, search data, and site analytics data can be gathered and analyzed to help answer critical questions: who is our audience? What do they need and want? What are they searching for and talking about, and how do they discover what they want?
  • Insights lead to opportunities for content and conversation, the basis of earned media. Based on answering these critical questions, engagement planners identify opportunities for content programming that will help meet these audience needs. These needs are met through a comprehensive content and conversation approach that is articulated in an engagement plan.
  • A plan is created, but remains “always-on” to adapt to real-time opportunities. An engagement plan should articulate the who, what, when, and where of a real-time content program, and should be updated and adapted as new insights into audience behavior and content performance are gained. This plan should define the particular themes, topics, content formats, channels, publishing timeline, frequency, and supporting activities that will help content spread and be shared beyond owned channels (e.g., influencer outreach and SEO) – all aligned to specific audience needs and mapped to marketing goals.
  • Engagement planning is adaptive and agile. Unlike traditional planning, engagement planning is “live,” inextricably tied to execution activities. As audience managers and content creators execute against these plans, the engagement planner must continually assess and analyze the quantitative and qualitative performance of these activities, and adjust these plans according to new performance insights and audience behaviors. Keeping a track record of how these plans changed over time and why is critical for identifying long-term content and community patterns that can be leveraged for future planning purposes, bringing a degree of science to the art of engagement marketing.

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