It’s Time to Get Strategic About Social Media
Some of us are old enough to remember how database marketing was going to change the way we built, delivered and measured our marketing stories. And it seems like only moments ago that CRM and its kid brother, one-to-one marketing, were going to shift all known paradigms right out from underneath us.
Perhaps even the youngest among us can recall the awful popping sound when the bottom fell out of the hyper-inflated, overvalued "banner-fed economy."
The music certainly seemed to stop then, and it wasn't until search snuck up and dazzled us with the promise of consumer-initiated marketing that we were forced to take stock.
But now we seem to be in for something completely different: social media and its companion disciplines and behaviors, such as social network marketing, social search and, most recently, social retailing.
Is it really media?
Although much of the social media we are working with today doesn't look or act like traditional media, it's critical that we view the communications and programs we run in the social media space as just that: media.
Whether it's a hosted blog on our Web site, a widget inside a rich media ad unit, or a Web page or posting that we push into a social network, these assets are best imagined and measured when we treat them with the same rigor as we do our traditional media.
From how we design these programs to how we target, distribute, measure and optimize them, treating these programs as traditional media can better inform and support our efforts to apply whatever measures and controls we can throughout the social media serving and consumption loop.
Of course, the most distinguishing feature of social media, indeed the most frightening aspect to many marketers, is the seeming, and sometimes real, loss of control.
When we set our brand loose "into the wilds" of social networks, it's media surrendered to
the ecosystem. Control becomes a very tenuous
proposition. In the hands of our consumers,
our brands can do some interesting things, sometimes in ways that are decidedly not aligned with what we, or the client, might want.
Certain types of social media, such as a hosted blog on a Web site, are more easily controlled, since posts are moderated before they are published to the community at large.
But even in those cases, marketers should understand that certain content, such as negative product reviews, will be published, even though they may not want them to be.
Best practices in social media suggest that if a brand is brave enough to foster conversations between and among its customers and constituents, moderators should edit or spike certain posts for civility and topics alone, not for content or even opinion.
But there's an upside to this bravery: It demonstrates transparency and authenticity - two traits that make your brand community believable and credible to consumers.
These are important planning considerations to have when developing the content and functionality of your social media, especially when carefully choosing the initial, targeted seed audiences as well as the networks where you'll be serving or distributing content.
If your digital strategy rests on driving all the potential users or customers you're seeking to engage to your Web site alone, it will fail. A significant portion of your engagement strategy should focus on delivering experiences, content, functionality — also known as engagement — to your potential customers where they are actually spending their time online.
These distributed digital assets can be used in very unique and powerful ways. Whatever the content, however, consider what is possibly the most portable, measurable and engaging vehicle available: the widget.
Piece of owned properties
Think of a widget as a piece of your owned properties, such as a Web site or landing page that can be untethered from the mother ship and unleashed into the digital wild.
Deployed smartly, targeting the right audience with the right content, widgets, and the rich media ad units that can spawn them, can be essential drivers for engagement, awareness and referral. What's more, they'll ultimately direct traffic back to your owned media platforms.
Widgets can be shared with friends via e-mail or saved to a desktop, personal homepage or blog. Give users a reason to share your widgets with friends or place them on their Web sites and you'll establish an organic network of extremely efficient digital distribution.
A truly successful social media strategy always must start with listening. Why? Because a full and complete understanding of the social media ecosystem where your brand lives and breathes out there in the wild is essential for your integrated social media strategy.
A single social media element
But brands shouldn't confuse having an integrated, ROI-driven social media strategy with a mere process for measuring the mention of their brands and products. Certainly brand tracking and trending in the digital wild is important, as is the reputation management program it might inform. But it should be only one element of your informed, integrated social media program.
When developing your social media strategy and program, it's important to start with a considerable amount of patient and analytical listening. By listening in this fashion, you'll not only be better able to map the language of your brand to specific targets, but also your analysis of the social network landscape will provide a detailed map of the relevant conversations and the potential influencers out there — two important elements of a robust social media strategy.
The second part of this series, which will appear in our January/February 2009 issue, will explain a social media planning framework.
Thom Kennon is vice president and account director at Wunderman, a New York-based marketing services firm. Wunderman, part of Young & Rubicam Brands is a member of WPP. Reach Thom at firstname.lastname@example.org.