Are brand pages worth the trouble?
The short answer is yes, but since there's an ever-increasing supply of social-media real estate, the challenge is figuring out what's brand-relevant. For instance, Tumblr and Instagram are still experimental for brands, but those with plenty of compelling images have a ready-made connection. Media and fashion brands have been early adopters on those platforms, while consumer-packaged goods are mostly absent.
Maintaining a Facebook page and a Twitter handle with fresh, relevant content is a no-brainer for any brand, and repurposing that content for your Google+ page is a good hedge, because activity on the platform could eventually be baked into Google's search rankings. Twitter also has official brand pages with a few bells and whistles, such as a customizable header image that 's available to existing advertisers. But if you're not already spending big money on Twitter, a brand page probably shouldn't induce you to start.
Should I keep buying "likes"?
The marketplace is flooded with studies purporting to give the return on investment of unique Facebook fans. While the results and methodologies differ, the emphasis on the value of fans is the same. The obvious reason is reach, which is why a megabrand like Starbucks, with 28 million fans, continues to invest in Facebook ads: to increase the constellation of "friends of fans" who can be presumably exposed to organic messaging. But having good content on your brand page to spur fan activation is vital to deciding whether Facebook ads are a valid investment. If you don't, "then you're inviting [consumers] to the party and not serving them any beer," said Seth Berk, chief marketing officer at the social-media agency Big Fuel, and it's unlikely to be worth the money.
Should I build a Facebook app?
Building a Facebook app is an effective way for marketers to tap into an actionable level of data they crave about users, like email addresses, but that 's provided that fans are actually interested in what's on offer. Opt-in rates are low, and the cost of app development is high (it can be about $50,000 in the case of sophisticated ones). So build an app that enables something your fans actually want, whether it's sending cans of soup to sick friends (from Heinz Soup U.K.) or seeing themselves transformed into vampires (from "True Blood").
Another consideration is about growing user watchfulness for privacy breaches. If you don't avoid overreaching with data requests or if the reward of the app experience doesn't seem to correspond to the user permissions granted, you risk putting yourself in a watchdog's crosshairs.
How do I choose a social-media-management system or listening vendor?
Big Fuel has a 27-step assessment process for tools it refers to clients, according to Mr. Berk. The ecosystem of social-media-management systems like Buddy Media, Vitrue and Syncapse and listening tools like Crimson Hexagon is getting more complex. Don't assume that you should go with the biggest name or that one size fits all. Factors such as the level of security, the number of employees who need access, the languages to be deployed and whether individual posts need to be approved by legal departments will all come into play.
What should I do when smart-alecky Twitter users hijack my campaign's hashtag? Reports of "brand-jackings" on Twitter are on the rise, with Research In Motion and McDonald's recently joining the victims' ranks. Common sense dictates that brands should pause before putting themselves at the mercy of Twitter pundits -- especially if they already have a disgruntled set of customers (e.g., RIM) -- and also refrain from using grandiose-sounding hashtags that invite sarcasm, like the BlackBerry maker's #BeBold. You need a crystal ball to predict a snarky meme will go viral, and that 's why crisis-management teams exist. But sometimes engaging the haters doesn't help, and the best practice is to let the fire burn out on its own.
"There's a particular point where you just need to walk away," said Ekaterina Walter, social media strategist at Intel.