Social media offers new channels of communication to serve existing customers and clients and reach new prospects. The challenge is this: Unless you have a meaningful plan to use social media to achieve some outcome, you're probably spending time and money in the least effective way possible.
So that's why I focused on the strategy side of social media marketing each time I taught Social Media Practices, a course I developed when I was a faculty member at Samford University.
Strategy is the same approach I take when consulting with clients or preparing a conference presentation on social media marketing and content development. I find that most people (students and business owners) like to focus on tactics–what's where the fun is.
But if you don't know where you're going or why you're doing something, you have no way of knowing if you're accomplishing anything or just spending time and money churning out noise.
This post is a part 1 of an article I published over on LinkedIn and I'm offering here to widen the distribution.
Here's the thing about social content for small businesses:
The value of social content comes when it serves a business purpose and is based on a strategy that's carefully designed to support business objectives.
How Does Social Serve One or More Business Objectives?
The first questions I ask prospective clients are aimed at helping me understand what they are trying to gain through social media. What business objective will your social media presence relate to? If they don't know, we talk through some possibilities.
Meaningful social presence and good social content can help business objectives related to sales, customer support, product/service development and enhancement, and broader market research.
The obvious (ultimate) answer is, of course, to grow your business through sales, retain and support existing customers, and find new clients who need the services your business provides. But you need to spend some time thinking specifically how social media content and engagement can serve specific business functional areas.
Quick Aside: I believe your social content must tie back to your website presence. That's a topic for another post, but everything I'm saying about social content presupposes that it is, in some way (directly or contextually) leading prospects to your website and lead capture tools. This is something Chris Brogan is known for advocating, along with most other small business marketing consultants.
Today, the digital and social sphere is usually the front lines of customer service and social content may be the first touch point for a prospect who is exploring the types of products or services you provide.
Takeaway: Before you start to develop a content strategy for social media it's imperative to identify the ways this social content will serve the ultimate business objectives.
Once you know where social fits into the larger business picture, you can start to consider social media on a more strategic level.
People – Objectives – Strategies – Tactics
My version: People – Objectives – Strategies – Technologies – Tactics. (POSTT)
I'm not the originator of the P-O-S-T approach, although I added a second T (for Technology, as in channels), as a wrinkle to help students in a class on social media strategy that I developed at taught at Samford University.
People: Who Are You Trying to Reach?
Before you launch into sharing content across a multitude of social channels, you MUST first identify the audience(s) you need to connect with.
It's not enough to say “new customers,” “existing customers,” or even demographically: Small business owners with more than 5 employees, or plumbing service providers, or parents of kids age 8 and up who need orthodontics.
Your customers and clients are not demographic segments or socio-economic data points.
Your people are real humans who have interests, needs and values. You may serve multiple audience segments, so you need to carefully craft the biographies of your ideal customers. These are sometimes called avatars, sometimes simply customer personae, sometimes bios.
Develop one of these avatar bios for each category you serve or want to serve. And write it like you're describing a character in a book or movie. Give each person a name, think about what they want (or might want) from you in relation to how this relates to their overall life. What are their hobbies or values or goals? Again, think of each as a real person.
If you know your customers well, you can use a few real people to develop these audience biographies.
Once you have those biographies in place, then you can start to understand more about how to reach them. More on that in a moment.
Objectives for Social Media (Digital) Presence
Before we get to strategies and tactics you need to consider social objectives that relate back to the business objectives.
Perhaps if you're a B2C retailer or provide a service like home repairs you may want to offer a social presence to help with customer service (support function) and respond to prospects who have questions (a sales function).
If you're a B2B provider or offer services that are confusing, complicated or new, you may want to emphasize thought leadership (sales) or helpful resources that educate prospects and explain what you do (business development).
Once you've defined your objectives for digital, then you can move on to developing the content strategies to lead you closer to achieving these objectives.
Strategy is Your Road Map
In my teaching days, I often had students who were confused about the difference between a strategy and a tactic, so I used this analogy:
Let's say your objective is to travel to Atlanta from Birmingham to attend a job interview.
You need to develop a strategy to get to Atlanta. Issues to consider in developing your strategy are whether to drive, fly, walk or ride a bicycle. What's your budget? How much lead time to you have? When do you leave? If you drive, will you drive your own car or rent one? Will you take the interstate or backroads?
Let's say the strategy is to drive to Atlanta to achieve the objective of attending a job interview on Thursday. Then we define specific tactics: Leave Wednesday midday and stay overnight so you're rested for the morning interview, travel Interstate 20, etc.
The same approach can be used to understand strategies vs. tactics in developing plans for social content and social engagement.
This post is getting a bit long, so I will divided this up into a second installment, where I focus on a hypothetical social strategy and offer some tips for identifying the technologies and tactics to implement the strategy.
If you're looking for help, I'm available for consulting work on digital content strategy development and can also help you on the digital content production side.
My production specialties are writing and on-demand audio. I can help you find the right partners for comprehensive branding services and videography, if that's necessary.
Find out more about Sheree Martin here on LinkedIn and elsewhere on the internet, including:
I developed my version of the POST approach based on the ideas in Groundswell, a book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research Group. [The link is to the book on Amazon, and is an affiliate link.]
Groundswell was first published in 2007 and I used the 2011 revised/expanded version as a recommended textbook in the first semester I taught Social Media Practices. Even though the statistics and other data, along with discussions of social media practices and platforms, are of only historical relevance today, I still think the book provides a great backstory for anyone who doesn't fully understand the underlying foundation of social media marketing.
You can find better sources for tactics and best practices in 2016, but Groundwell is still a great resource for anyone who feels that they don't really understand this whole social media thing and how it relates to business. [Amazon affiliate link.]