A Recipe for Building and Implementing a Social Media Plan

Social Media Terms Word JumbleSo, you work in the corporate marketing department and your boss wants to know what “your” plan is for social media in 2011 and beyond. After clearing your throat and fumbling with a few papers on your desk, you tell him or her that you have been working on it and should have the plan ready to present in the next week or two.

So you’ve bought yourself some time but what next? Well you do a web search for how to build and implement a social media plan and come across some articles like this one which provide you with enough of a framework to put together a sound plan. What would we do without the internet?

There are a number of variations to this approach but the fundamentals remain about the same. This particular process is intended for a large company but can just as easily be followed by smaller organizations.

Step 1 – Define your Objective(s). Objectives can be things like building brand recognition or loyalty or providing customer service or indirect sales (direct sales via social media is best left to those who have already followed and implemented a plan like this). Be careful not to make your objectives so broad that they cannot be measured. It’s also worth stating the obvious – one person or one group for that matter should not be defining the social media objective(s) for the entire company without input from other key internal stakeholders and ideally one or more subject matter experts.

Step 2 – Understand Your Audience. Will you be interacting with happy or unhappy customers, former customers or prospects, or all of the above? Also don’t forget that whoever your intended audience is, there will be others watching and listening. This includes shareholders, the competition, legislators, regulators, current, former and prospective employees, your business partners, vendors and more.

In order to fully understand your audience you also need to know where they are. Are they on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, industry or competitor blogs, Digg, Delicious, etc.? Are they passive, meaning they are mostly in read-only mode, or are they active in generating messages and commenting on others’ messages? To fully understand this you will need to learn about social media monitoring tools. These tools help track sentiment towards your company or brand as well as the volume of mentions and how influential the person or people talking about your company or product are. Influence is usually gauged by the number of followers someone has, but that is not the only factor. You may be familiar with TweetDeck or Seesmic which are among many basic and free social media interface and monitoring tools. More sophisticated and expensive tools include Radian6, Sysomos, Lithium and others.

Woman on laptopYou can also do some basic look-alike modeling where you input the demographics of the audience you will be engaging (for example your customer demographics) and find out where others who share the same demographic profile are and understand what their social tendencies are as well. Forrester offers a free Social Technographics profile tool on their web site.

Understanding your audience, where and how they engage is an important step in the process, especially as it relates to staffing and operations which is discussed later on.

Step 3 – Assemble a Cross-functional Team. This is a step which arguably can be skipped if you work in a small company, but beware of the dangers of leaving out key internal stakeholders if you do. Generally speaking, a cross-functional team should include members from marketing, sales, public relations, internal communications, human resources, legal and customer service. Obviously this list of departments should be adjusted to suit each organizations unique structure. Also, the level of the participants should be such that they are close to the day-to-day operations and therefore aware of potential challenges, yet empowered to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of that department.

All teams need leaders and it is customary though not mandatory that someone from the marketing department lead a team such as this. Having a strong project manager on the team is a tremendous asset as well as there is no substitute for excellent process and project management.

Once the team is assembled, make sure that they understand their objectives and what is in and out of scope. Ideally there will be an executive-level sponsor of this initiative who has or will take on some of the tougher decision-making assignments with his or her peers.

The cross-functional team (team) should understand and agree with the social media strategy and objective(s) and understand the make-up of the primary and any secondary audiences. If this is not the case, then this is a good way to build some team dynamics and synergy.

Step 4 – Study Best Practices & Lessons Learned. Once you begin searching the internet, you will find that there is no lack of free information or best practices and lessons learned as it relates to social media. What’s more, the information is in a constant state of change and evolution and requires regular monitoring and engagement. Join online discussion groups and forums like those on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Read AdAge DIGITAL and other online publications and blogs and subscribe to Twitter accounts that blog about social media. Also pay close attention to your competition so that you know where the bar is set in your industry. You may see things that you want to emulate and other things that you want to avoid.

Step 5 – Set Goals. Again, depending on how your company operates, goals may have been set at the beginning of the process. Regardless, take the time to socialize the goals with the team and to ensure they pass the test of being measurable and attainable. Start with simple goals like getting a certain number of people to “Like” your company’s Facebook page or a certain number of graphfollowers on Twitter within a defined period of time. If your goals include customer service, you may include resolving a certain number of issues per month via social media. You can also set goals for positive versus negative mentions of your company or brand but beware that sentiment is an inexact science. Even the best monitoring tools can only approximate sentiment because they cannot account for human sarcasm or cynicism in text comments. Goals can also include clicks from Facebook, Twitter, etc. to a specific offer landing page but remember that wherever possible you do not want to disrupt the user’s social networking experience. Generally speaking, people are not engaging in social media to click on a bunch of links to corporate pages. You can however set up separate Twitter accounts and Facebook tabs just for offers and promotions or provide people with an opportunity to opt-in to receive emails or text messages for special offers.

Step 6 – Operationalize. Now comes the fun part – figuring out how to support your social media efforts on an ongoing basis. I underscored the last two words to emphasize the point that social media efforts do not have a hard start and stop date like a direct mail campaign or a print ad campaign. Once a comment or promotion begins, it takes on a life of its own and you need to be prepared to support the conversation until your audience tires of engaging on the subject. This is where most companies fail. They don’t understand that in the digital age, companies don’t really own their brand or the conversation with the consumer. The consumer owns them. As marketers, we now guide, nudge, polish and influence our brand and the conversation, but we no longer own it. This is what marketing 2.0 is all about – giving up control in return for an honest and open dialogue and partnership with your external customers, prospects and other important constituents. It’s no longer “push” marketing, it’s a partnership with your customers for the good of everyone involved. If you try to “control” your social media efforts as opposed to managing them, you will fail. It is important to manage the expectations of senior management on the topic or control versus transparency and partnership.

Back to the operations decisions that need to be addressed. The team must make decisions about when and where to begin. It is often best to start small, like starting a Twitter dialogue. This will help limit mistakes and also help with resourcing the effort. By the way, if you work for one of those companies that need to see a business case with a documented positive ROI on social media before investing in it, you have a huge uphill battle on your hands. That doesn’t mean that social media cant or doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, because it does. My point is you do not begin engaging in social media purely for the ROI. It’s an indirect outcome but not the initial objective of social media efforts.

Different departments will have different objectives. For example, customer service may be focused on servicing customers while marketing may be interested in raising brand awareness or raising positive sentiment. Public affairs may simply be interested in more positive mentions. Additionally, Twitter may be the best venue for customer service while marketing may prefer Facebook or YouTube. This doesn’t mean that departments or objectives should be limited to only one social media channel. I am simply suggesting that the team establish a preferred channel for each main objective.

The team will also need to address monitoring, establishing a policy or as I like to call it, “rules of engagement” which is about who in the company is allowed to engage in social media in an official capacity. Staffing and training will need to be discussed as will in-sourcing versus outsourcing, internal communications to employees and more.

Step 7 – Pilot. Once the team has made all key decisions and senior management has signed off with a full understanding of what to expect, it’s time to cross your fingers and soft-launch your social media efforts. Soft-launching means no major announcements in the media. This will give you a better chance of becoming confortable with whatever you are doing, before you announce it to the world and get more volume than you can handle. Also keep in mind that whatever you are doing, social media should provide at least the same if not a better experience than conventional channels. What I mean is that if your call centers for customer service are 24×7, then your social care efforts should be 24×7.

Of course there are many more details and considerations behind each step, but these 7 steps should serve as a good road map to plan your efforts.

Here are some additional tips.

–          Be honest, don’t “spin” the truth or you will lose credibility and your audience will discount your point-of-view in the conversation that is taking place. It really does not matter that you represent the company or brand, if you are not credible, you will be discounted.

–          Know when to just be quiet and listen

–          Identify key influencers and get to know them and understand their social media habits and behavior

I hope you found this article helpful. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments and stay tuned for a follow-up article about Social Media Communities.

Author:  Steven Copertino

Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.

7 thoughts on “A Recipe for Building and Implementing a Social Media Plan

  1. Thanks for including us, Steve.

    Really fantastic article on building and implementing a social media plan. This could actually be a nice white paper. Supporting social media efforts on an ongoing basis is key. Once you’ve engaged your community you can’t really take a week or two off – those expectations have been set.

    Having some guidelines in place like “rules of engagement” for your team (or a social media playbook) is crucial as well. Giving your team something to hold in their hands that they can refer to when in doubt is always helpful. Perhaps even include a “who to go to” chain of command, when questions about engagement arise.

    All the best,

    Trish (@Dayngr)
    Community Manager | Radian6

    • Thanks Trish. Completely agree with your comments. We used Radian6 when I was at Time Warner Cable. It worked very well based on our needs. Sentiment measurement remains the last big hurdle for all monitoring tools.

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