Joe Friedlein, Founder and MD of Browser Media, explains why social media strategies need to be carefully thought out
Unless you are an ostrich, with your head stuck firmly in the sand, you will have noticed that social media has boomed over the past few years and is arguably the hottest of all the ‘new’ media that marketers have to manage in the connected world.
If you had to single out the channel that has the most buzz and hype, I suspect that many would choose social media.
There is no doubt that the hype is often justified and the potential that social media offers cannot be denied – there are some fantastic case studies showing just how potent the channel can be to reach and engage with your target audience.
Of all the web 2.0 offerings, I would suggest that social media represents the pinnacle of empowering people rather than just preaching to them. It is also a fantastic medium to crowdsource ideas and demonstrate that you really do care what your customers think – Dell serving as a great example of using social media to listen to their customers and radically improving sentiment towards the organisation.
There is, however, a sense that social media is the answer to all the problems that exist in the world and, in my humble opinion, far too many organisations are jumping in without really having a strategy.
As an agency, we are under increasing pressure to produce social media strategies and advise how organisations should make the most of the opportunities that social media offer. We love a challenge and welcome the chance to exercise the grey cells, but expectations are sometimes far too high and more of a reflection of the hype than reality.
The fear of being left behind often acts as the catalyst to speak to agencies and a lot of the requests that we receive are born from a sense that you ought to be using social media rather than a long term strategic vision.
Far be it for me to say that social media is not relevant for your organisation, but I genuinely believe that there is far too much pressure to launch a Facebook page or jump on the Twitter bandwagon and not enough thought goes into how you are going to use these channels.
Facebook is probably the source of my greatest concern – it is a fantastic platform and it certainly does offer more than the ability to share photos of drunken nights out, but is it really relevant for business?
Absolutely, if you are an established B2C brand launching new products (eg new mobile phone launches) but not necessarily if you are primarily a B2B organisation with no real need for constant interaction with your customers.
For example, if you sell annual insurance policies, ask yourself why your customers would want to ‘like’ you on Facebook, what you can do to engage with your target audience on a regular basis and how you are going to measure the success of the activity. If you struggle to answer any of these questions, then it may just be that social media is not going to provide the miracle cure for your online marketing.
In a world where budgets are finite, ask yourself whether you would want to invest all your budget in managing a Facebook page or whether you would prefer to be found on Google by those users looking for your products/services. If customer acquisition is important to you, do you think that Facebook will perform better than Google? Social media can work wonders for retention, which is vital, but would you search on Facebook for a business insurance policy?
Of course, agencies must accept the challenge and creative minds will usually conjure up a plan of sorts, but there are times when I believe that the right decision is to hold back and watch / listen to the social media channels to assess how you may be able to engage, as opposed to setting up a Facebook page just because everyone else is doing it.
There is more to social media than setting up a Facebook page or Tweeting (bleating?) away and there are many ways to benefit from the opportunities that social media offers without having to have your own social presence. The art of listening is one that doesn’t seem to be promoted amongst all the hype.
We spend a lot of time monitoring Twitter on behalf of our clients and there is a demonstrable ROI from responding to tweets that are crying out for help. Listening to what others are asking for and responding wisely is far more effective than constantly tweeting about nothing. Equally, engaging with others on busy social channels that are not managed by you is far more effective than having a Facebook page with no activity.
Another issue that is usually ignored amidst the hype is the reality of actively managing a social media presence. It takes (a lot of) time and you canâ€™t delay your activities to suit your busy schedule. If you engage, you need to respond quickly and it really is possible to do more harm than good to half heartedly dip in and out of social media.
Having a robust strategy is an excellent start, and one that is often missing, but do you have the resource to follow it through, either in-house or using an agency? It is very hard to forecast the resource required and there will be significant peaks and troughs, but it is important to appreciate that you can’t really stop once you get started unless you wish to risk online ridicule.
No doubt this article sounds negative, but I am a great fan of social media. I simply believe that the hype is creating unrealistic expectations and the pressure to do something is leading to some ill conceived social media efforts.
One of my favourite adages in life is ‘engage brain before engaging gob’ and I feel this is very appropriate to social media. Think carefully about what you are trying to achieve, why you are doing it and how you are going to do it before jumping in. There is no harm in watching and listening before engaging.
Another favourite saying of mine is ‘you have two ears, but one mouth’. Listen carefully before speaking. Understand the social landscape and assess what works and what doesn’t before committing the resources that will be required.
There is no doubt in my mind that social media is fascinating and here to stay, but don’t feel pressurised into doing it. You can’t ignore what people are saying about you (and the recent sale of Radian6 shows just how important social media monitoring is), but you don’t need to feel obliged to launch your own social initiatives without carefully considering the who (will manage it?), what (is our objective and how will we measure it)? and why (are we doing this?).
Joe Friedlein is founder and MD of Browser Media