Like it or not social media is an important communication channel for your business and you need a plan of how to leverage this asset. In this article we will explore the factors to consider as you create your plan. Social media is a very big topic and this article is limited to basic planning for a business and avoids all the complexity involved in the personal components of social media. It is written from and for business owners, executives, and key managers.
Major components of a social media plan are:
- Profiles to Manage
- Network Building
- Posting Plan
- Work Plan
All plans need broad goals defined and social media is not exception to this. In the goals section you want to outline why you are making this investment and these goals should guide the lower level details. For some clients we target industry communications, prospecting, customer communications, or competitor monitoring but the goals can be whatever you believe will create value for your business.
Social Media Profiles
These are the company records and personal profiles to be included in the plan. One immediate challenge is how some people feel about their profiles. In every business you have market facing positions typically executives, managers, and sales staff and if any of these feel their profile is personal you need to have a serious talk with them. In extreme cases where the person will not allow the profile to be managed you might want to consider creating a positional profile. Because of the complexity of this planning you have to understand the type of profile and the person that owns it. In a small business the owners or key managers are typically deeply engaged in the business and it is a blurry line between the personal and professional use of the profile. For sales staff they have to consider as a minimum that they are renting their profile to the business. There are lots of challenges in this part of the plan and the right answer is a variable based on how the person perceives their profile.
Not every network works for every business and while there are lots of these networks, typically only a few are important enough to develop a communication plan for. The classic ones to talk about are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ but many industries or markets will have some of their own. LinkedIn tends to be the network connecting business to business and Facebook is business to consumer. For any specific audience it is unlikely that both of these will be important for the same audience.
Audiences & Messaging
In any communication plan you have to start by defining whom you are talking to. The better your audience definitions the better you can be in planning your content. Do not fall for the ‘everyone is my prospect’ statement because if everyone is your prospect then nobody is your prospect. By defining the audience you force your organization to clarify who they are talking to along with the message they want delivered.
Business is a competitive sport and we have to keep our eyes on the bad guys so we can understand the game. While it might seem underhanded we often belong to feeds that contain content from our competitors and let’s face it we all do this. To do this sometimes requires belonging to groups owned by our competitors and if they were aware of what was going on they might not approve so we typically do not go out of our way to disclose this. This whole area is a bit like spy on spy and I can assure you that what you say in social media will find its way to your competitor.
Most systems provide a basic process for alerts typically constructed using keyword targeting. The biggest of these is Google Alerts and if you are running a business you should be using this tool. Within the alerts we typically monitor industry names and key terms. This is a little like building a keyword model for your PPC campaigns except the output is data rather than traffic.
Your social media voice is only as loud as your distribution network and that takes time and effort to build out. One reason to distribute audiences to profiles is so you can create a model of the connections allowing you to route the right messages to the right people. Not thinking this part of the plan through is one of the most common mistakes made. Each MFE (Marketing Facing Employee) should have a model of their target connections so that each new connection can be evaluated based on that. Within the plan you should have expansion goals for each audience and the profiles connected to those models.
Posting types include things like company-unique content, like this blog article but also includes other articles of interest, news, photos, video content, and fun/humor. As you paint the image you want for the market you can consider each of these are a different type of paint brush. Each post type has a unique set of attributes and all are used to create a different effect. The news you pick, the articles you write, and the humor you like, all create the image of your business in the social networks.
Posting types can be planned or event-driven and each of those has to be planned separately. For example in our business we post things that are interesting for our business as we run into them but we also have regular communications like our monthly newsletter. Within that newsletter are articles like this one that defines what we are and what we find to be important to share with the market.
The work plan is simply documentation of the tasks to be performed and is normally broken into daily, weekly, monthly, and one time tasks.
Dumb Things Businesses Do
We have been involved with social media for a long time and we have seen businesses do some incredibly dumb things. The common one is to rush into a network with no understanding of the culture of the group and act like idiots. Very few respond and those that do, respond negatively so the business leaves assured that social media does not work for their business. This however is a bad conclusion based on false data. In social media, like all social settings you have to earn the right to communicate and it is not a god given right. You have to first understand the culture of the network and any sub-groups and then post.
Another common problem is the business enters the social network but never engages with the group. Then after months of painful silence they declare that social media does not work for them and they exit stage right.
Slow & Steady Wins the Game
Like any social setting, success comes to businesses that communicate in a steady manner by establishing their value in the group. This comes from a steady communication plan that effectively represents your business values and beliefs. We often see social media plans that start with a shock and awe campaign and the only one that is ever shocked and awed is the business when they are driven out of town by the villagers with flaming emails. Earn your reputation by contributing to the social network and the rewards of an expanded network of business contacts will take care of itself.
Professional Execution Counts!
Once you have established this basic data the next step is to plan out the postings and post them on time and over time. We use a spreadsheet with each day of the month and we include the complete posting to include the short link. Using the len feature of Excel we make sure that the posting is less than 140 characters (in the case for Twitter) and we are off to the races.