Understand the Impact of Social Media

Everyone’s talking about social media, and companies are trying to leverage it for marketing, customer outreach, and PR. They’re hopping on the Twitter bandwagon, creating Facebook groups, and building communities in the hopes of luring customers.

A few succeed, but many pour a lot of resources (time, money, brain share) into these efforts and don’t have much success. The biggest concern is they haven’t defined what success might look like for themselves or their customers and potential prospects.

Defining specific site goals is important when putting together an onsite behavior measurement plan (Web analytics). Companies that don’t have documented and agreed-on site goals that have been shared throughout the Web team really struggle when it comes to prioritizing initiatives and measuring their site’s success. But shared site goals are the foundation of understanding your site performance’s impact.

The same holds true when you want to understand the impact of social media on your business. You must define what success means to you.

Consider how you can leverage social media’s power, but — and this is where many companies struggle — understand that you can’t control social media. You can’t force your goals on people talking about your company, products, and offerings. When defining your goals, consider what success also means to those interacting on the Web with your brand, whether it’s on your site or not.

In defining goals and identifying ways to leverage social media, you must understand the difference between social media that you own and social media that you don’t own. You own the social media that you empower on your site, your Facebook page, your Twitter account, and the like. You don’t own what other people are saying on their Twitter accounts, reviews on other sites, and so on.

Too often, companies are just focused on understanding how people interact with the social media initiatives controlled by the company. You hear people talking about the number of followers a company Twitter account has or the number of fans a company Facebook account has. And while you want to understand the reach of those owned initiatives, the power is really in what others are saying about your company, products, and services online.

The magic for companies is defining ways in which to harness that positive power of comments while finding the negative comments and addressing them so that they don’t spin out of control and continue to have a negative impact on your business (short term and long term).

A well-known example of this is the buzz that went on a few years ago on the Dell laptop batteries overheating and exploding. There was a tremendous amount of talk about it online before Dell acknowledged and addressed it. It ended up becoming a huge issue leading to recalls and the like.

If Dell had been listening across the Web at that point, it may have been able to identify the issue earlier and get ahead of the problem, working with manufacturing and recalling batteries earlier. It would’ve been seen as getting ahead of the problem rather than getting nailed for ignoring it.

Dell and others have learned from mistakes like this, but many companies still aren’t proactive in listening to what their clients are saying on the Web. To shift corporate thinking in this area, put a strategic plan in place to address these types of things.

How do you define success around social media? What is your strategy to leverage the positive mentions and address the negative (or potentially negative) mentions?

Once you have that in place, you can look at the different tools and listening platforms available to understand what’s happening outside initiatives you control. Make sure you look not just at quantity of mentions but also at quality measurements. Sentiment definition is a great way to help focus on quantity versus quality. Define your goals around these areas and plan your strategy based on that.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.

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