Long-term success in social media is about more than tactics

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Later this month I’m the keynote speaker at the Dutch Marketing Conference Digitaal willen we allemaal in Utrecht. I’m speaking about the danger of building your social media strategy on tactics (“We need to use Twitter” or “We need to use Facebook”) rather than focusing on ongoing and sustainable engagement. Long-term success comes from a strategic (not tactical) approach to social media and from properly evaluating why you are using social media in the first place and how you will measure its success against overall business objectives as well as any individual campaign aims that you might be focused on at any given time.

This approach has a number of implications for what brands should be doing online and for the role of the social media agency and the brand itself. I’ll be talking about this in some detail later this month and will share the slides and more thoughts nearer the time. In preparation for the conference I was interviewed by the Dutch marketing magazine Tijdschrift voor Marketing, and the article (in Dutch) can be found here. For non-Dutch speakers I thought I’d share the full text of the interview I gave with the magazine below. In it, I look at current trends in the social media industry, how to develop a social media strategy and the role of the social media agency and of the brand in any engagement.

Q: What are the main themes currently being discussed in the social media industry?

The social media industry (such as it is) is in an interesting position at the moment. There are the usual discussions of social media measurement and ROI, social media monitoring, buzz tracking and how brands can use social networks (such as Facebook) and other social media tools to engage customers and others. However two significant themes are common at the moment:

  1. How brands can best develop a social media strategy
  2. The role of the social media agency and how it should work with brands

I will be talking about both of these issues at the Marketing Live conference in April. The first, the question of how to develop a strategy, tends to divide between people who are actually developing tactics and people developing a strategy. Tactics tend to be tools based (how do we use Twitter or Facebook, for example) and have shorter-term impact. Strategy considers what the business is looking to achieve and then how social media can fit into the marketing and communications mix. Too many businesses are still developing short-term, tool-based tactics rather than thinking strategically. This is a real shame and it is a pity to see brand who are still not taking a strategic approach to social media.

The role of the social media agency is also a contentious issue. Many brands think that the best person to manage their reputation and presence in social media is themselves. At FreshNetworks we would agree with this. However, for many brands this is a daunting prospect and when you are launching a new social media strategy you can benefit from working with specialists. Ultimately a brand should own its own presence in social media and an agency should be used where the expertise and experience is beneficial.

Q: If companies want to create value for their business (and not only their brand) through social media, what is the best approach? What should they think about first, and second?

The best approach to using social media in a business is not to take a tools-led approach, but to take one driven by business strategy, aims and objectives and that is measurable against these. Any business looking to develop a social media strategy should follow a four-stage process that puts these business aims first:

  1. Listen to and understand what is currently being discussed online and in social media about your brand, business, market and customers. Social media monitoring and buzz-tracking is an essential first step for any business getting started in social media as it helps you to understand the media and what discussions are currently going on.
  2. Think about your business aims and how you will measure these. Any social media strategy should relate to specific existing business aims. Isolate the aims that social media can best contribute to and then develop scorecard metrics for how you will measure these.
  3. Explore the social media tools available to you and experiment with them. Use these as part of a deliberative process. Try some tools and then refine your use of them or try new tools to develop a mix that works for your business aims and the customers you are trying to engage
  4. Measure your impact ruthlessly. Measure against your original business aims and refine your approach and strategy if you are not having the impact you expect.

Q: Is it possible for multinationals to have an global social media-strategy, what are the pitfalls?

This very much depends on the business, brand and market you are in. Any social media strategy needs to meet two distinct needs:

  1. Your business aims and objectives
  2. Your customer or stakeholder behaviours and needs

Often what works in one country may not translate to another country because customers there behave in different ways or have a different relationship with you. To understand how your social media strategy will translate between territories it is important to make sure you fully explore the people you are trying to engage in each market and how they interact with you. It may be that the same approach will work, or it may be that you need to refine your approach for a different market. Again, a clear and thorough strategy is key here.

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