When I think about social media, my head explodes with all of the possibilities it brings - being able to listen to our customers, engage with them, help them to solve problems, share solutions. But at the same time I have to face the harsh realities of working in a highly accountable, under-funded and under-staffed marketing organization, during one of the crappiest economies that most people have seen in their lifetime.
This is why, before jumping on the social media bandwagon, it is important to consider and understand the "5 Knows" of Social Media:
1. Know Your Audience
Are your audience using social media within the industry in which you operate? And if so, which social media tools are they using (for business, not pleasure)? If you are a global organization, then how does this differ by region and country?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you need to consider how to get this information. Forrester have a useful Social Technographics Tool that can provide general information by gender, age group, and country. Is this enough to provide you with what you need? Or do you need to get more customer-specific data, for example from:
- Website or Email surveys
- Customer focus group research
- Third party research (such as industry magazines)
2. Know What You Want to Achieve
What is it exactly that you want to get out of social media? Do you want to lurk and listen to customers' conversations to gain a better understanding of their challenges and views? Do you want to engage and interact with them on a regular basis? Do you want to embrace their ideas and use these to drive product development? Do you simply want to support existing customers? What about branding vs. demand considerations? Different tools have different levels of reach when it comes to branding, demand and traffic.
Knowing what you want to achieve from the outset will help you best determine which social media tools (of which there are so many) will best accomplish your objectives. It will also help to keep you on the straight and narrow, so that you do things for the right reasons, not just because it's cool and everyone else is doing it.
3. Know What You Can (And Cannot) Track
Showing a direct link between social media and ROI is extremely difficult. So it is important to understand that in most cases, the metrics associated with social media will be softer measures, centered around engagement and awareness. For example:
- The number of subscribers to your blog
- The number of retweets and clicks on tweeted links
- The number of active forum members
4. Know How to Integrate Social Media Within Your Marketing Mix
Social media may be relatively new, but in the grand scheme of things it is just another tool in the marketer's tool box.
More and more companies are finding opportunities to successfully leverage social media with other marketing communications tools. For example, BestBuy's Twelpforce (who provide technical advice to people on Twitter) was supported by a TV advertising campaign, Paid search ads and spawned a ton of PR coverage.
5. Know How Much Time and Resources are Needed
Social media requires a lot of time and commitment, and so to do it properly requires adequate budget and resources. Blogs can be updated daily. Tweets can be updated hourly, or by the minute. Posts on forums need to be continuously monitored and addressed.
In a way, social media is like a child. Once you have it, you can't just return it when it starts to scream and poop. You're stuck with it. Content and relationships need to be maintained on an ongoing basis, unlike a direct mailer or E-comm which you might send out once a month and not have to think about or work on again until the next time.
Once you and your content is out in the social universe for all to see, there is no undo button. There may be a "discontinue account" button, but it's at the risk of disappointing the fans and followers you do have (as an extreme, just think of the upheaval caused when Miley Cyrus gave up Twitter!). In which case, do you risk a potential back-lash from the people who are possibly your biggest advocates?