Don't do social media for social media's sake

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I often receive panicky e-mails or phone calls from marketing managers that sound something like this:

“I am planning a campaign. Social media needs to be part of my marketing mix. I need to do something on Twitter and set up a Facebook fan page. Can you help?”

Inherent in such requests are two key assumptions. One, “Social media needs to be part of the marketing mix,” may or may not be true for all campaigns and all businesses. Two, “I need to do something on Twitter and set up a Facebook fan page” assumes that Social Media = Twitter + Facebook. 

If your business is considering integrating social media or if your social media tasks are not fulfilling your marketing goals, then it's probably time to ask hard questions. These questions might seem time-consuming at the beginning, but thinking strategically about social media can save your business time, money and embarrassment.

Let's begin with four core questions:

1. Why do you think social media needs to be part of the marketing mix?

If your answers are along the lines of, “Everyone is doing it” or “My manager would like to see us on Twitter and Facebook,” in the absence of other compelling reasons, a different strategy might be more effective.

2. What is the marketing objective?

Is the marketing objective to build awareness of a new product or increase sales or market segment share? Different objectives require different marketing tactics.    

3. What is your definition of social media? 

The typical answers tend to be “Facebook and Twitter.” Some clients mention selective online communities. But social media is more than Facebook and Twitter. It is about two-way engagement with your target audience. You'll need to be sure you have the resources, commitment and know-how to engage your audience—not just announce and advertise.

4. What is your target audience? 

Is it the press? End-users or middlemen such as manufacturers or service providers? Different target audiences require different social media tactics. If you focus on a small group of press, high-touch communications, such as a social media kit, may work better.   

Once you've defined clear answers to these questions, then you can ask some tougher questions that will help you assess the feasibility of social media for your business.

5. Where and how does the target audience receive information?

Does the target audience use social media to receive product or technical information? Even with 600 million people on Facebook and 150 million users on Twitter, these are not necessarily the best forums to reach your target audience. 

6. What are your resources and budget commitment?

Many people assume social media is free. If social media is done right, it requires headcount commitment and investment to keep content relevant and users engaged. Your business might need to hire content specialists or assign someone to oversee social media campaigns and content.

7. What is the social media editorial and content planning?

Without a long-term content plan and without adequate budget, a business could be embarrassed by launching social media pages and Twitter feeds only to have potential customers show up to pages or feeds that have not been updated for months. It's a quick way to suggest your business is dead, disorganized or negligent. 

Social media is not a short-term campaign mix or fix. It should be part of a coordinated, long-term strategy. Appropriate resources and budget, along with proper editorial and content planning, are keys to a successful and sustainable social media effort. 

Don't do social media for social media's sake.

Next: I'll discuss how to create a social media editorial and content plan.

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