Social Media Strategies and the Steps to Success

Last month, we talked about social media networks. Since then, we met with clients and prospects and found that some are ready to embrace a network community, and others need to take smaller steps to develop a social media strategy. (And, if you are still struggling with the power of social media, consider what happened to United Airlines recently, when a dated bankruptcy story traveled the social web and seriously depressed its stock).

So we decided to devote this Enterprise to social media paths and the steps to success in creating strategies. First, let’s talk about the path or conduits to social media. Industry experts identify the following as the four basic paths:

Path #1
Reputation aggregators, which include search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo, Ask and Live). People use these engines to decide what content they want or need. These are the essential gateways to obtain online content.

Path #2
Blogs/vlogs are online columns or journals where ideas, images and even links are presented and sometimes posted to other web pages or sites. A vblog (video blogs) is the same idea in video.

Path #3
E-communities are online sites where people congregate based on common interests and can include professional content and media (e.g. Fortune.com. golf.com, cnn.com, WebMD).

Path #4
Social networks are where people come together to meet people with common interests, passions and allow them to link together based on their relationships (e.g. Facebook, Flickr, IVillage eHarmony).

A brand or company can benefit from engagement with all of these paths and the most productive way to start is to follow these five steps to success–listen, enlist, evaluate, connect and measure.

1 – Listening means going out to the social media and blogosphere to determine the most powerful places. You will want to ask questions like, “Who is the largest community? What is the conversation? What is compelling and relevant content?” You will want to listen to conversations from bloggers, industry experts, pros, retailers and customers. And it is very important to determine which companies and brands (especially your competition) are creating the most talk and are the focus of conversations. Look for trends relative to this strategy inside and outside your industry.

2 – Enlisting is about developing your audience. You have to enlist and recruit the heart of those people you whom you want to talk about you. It is critical to coordinate this with the first step to know who you should target.

3 – Evaluating paths that are the best for your goals is imperative. It could be blogs, reputation aggregators, social network, e-communities or even a combination of a few or all of them. Do you know the most effective search tools? Does your audience prefer to listen or read information? Do they want to know the information 24/7? Do they want to revise and edit your content?

4 – Connecting is based on the universal truth that content drives connection and engagement; and that is how the conversation really takes off. It is essential to build relevant and compelling content to get your targets returning, coming, buzzing and responding. You will also need a blend of professional user-generated and community-driven content.

5 – Measuring is obvious, but much harder to do than you think. You will need to develop measurements based on your specific needs. What community have you engaged with? Which measurements are the most relevant?

Once you determine which path is most productive for your company or brand, it will be important to develop the plan to promote your efforts as well as to enhance the paths you chose. This is important because your social media strategy is like your product or service, it will be more valuable when it makes a positive and constructive contribution to the web community and your marketplace.