3 Social Media Best Practices that TRULY Matter
Most firms are expected to significantly increase their spending on social media over the next 18 months. However, managers need to ask themselves if they have the capabilities to exploit its potential? Our experience and industry research suggests that many companies are ill-prepared to leverage social media. They will first need to optimize their organizations and then get three best practices right.
Social media is clearly near the top of the corporate agenda. According to a 2011 Booz & Co. and Buddy Media survey of 117 companies, 40% of CEOs reported that they will be increasing social media’s priority within their firm. About 95% of the respondents indicated that they will invest more in social media. To efficiently and effectively scale up this investment, firms must make certain they have the right organizational design and the requisite capabilities, including the ideal combination of people, skills and technology.
Given its relative newness, social media’s place in many companies’ structure, workflow and culture is unclear. As a result, the first step for any CEO is to communicate down through the organization why social media is a strategic priority and how it supports key corporate priorities like new business acquisition, customer satisfaction and project execution. Secondly, the CEO must ensure that all functional groups and business units are aligned to this mandate and provide the necessary input and support. To guarantee brand consistency and integration, CEOs should make certain that the marketing function has clear responsibility and accountability for all social media efforts and budgets.
Once their organizations are optimized, firms must build and excel at three foundational competencies: 1) content creation 2) community management and 3) audience analytics.
The unique format and culture of each social media platform – think Twitter’s 140 character limit – requires a completely new kind of creative execution and campaign development. Compelling content is social by nature, unique and relevant to the community. It incites engagement (i.e. having conversations, sharing stories) and is always focused against the brand strategy and key marketing metrics.
To deliver this, firms need to cultivate and attract ‘social creators’ with strong writing, editorial and listening skills. Prudent firms are already bulking up. According to the survey, 49% already have internal creative talent while 35% are building their bench. Of those planning to hire, 72% are prioritizing creative talent (producers and editors) above other requirements. To ensure that their content is fresh and innovative, companies should regularly engage with creative outsiders. Given content’s vital role, it would not be surprising to see flourishing social media practitioners evolve as mini-publishers of different types of content and innovative tools.
Developing great content for your brand followers is just the beginning. Companies need to cultivate these fans by effectively managing them ‘24/7’ within a community across multiple social media and offline platforms. To do this, firms need to excel at listening to their followers, overseeing their actions, rewarding their brand-reinforcing behaviors, and bringing new content and tools quickly to their attention. However, this can be a challenge, requiring the skills of unique individuals and teams who wear many hats – part social media connoisseur, part brand champion and part analytics expert.
Some firms, like Microsoft, already get this. "Our strategy," says Grad Conn, chief marketing officer at Microsoft U.S., "is to evolve from ‘social marketing’ which simply pushes a message through social networks to a ‘social business’ approach where we use social networks to build relationships and foster conversations with our audience through listening engagement." Managers recognize this internal gap. Approximately 50% of the survey respondents indicated that insufficient community management capabilities represent a barrier to social media success. Importantly, 55% of respondents worry that they will lose control of their brand messages in a dynamic social media environment.
There is no point in bolstering your content and community capabilities if you cannot evaluate the results and course correct quickly. At the most basic level, marketers must be able to measure the reach of their initiatives, for example, how many visitors, likes, comments and shares are they getting. Moving forward, managers need to understand the ‘why?’ behind the numbers. For example, why does some content get shared over others? Or, why do some communities participate more than others?
The real interesting insights come when firms can understand which fans or magnifiers (i.e. those that share content outside of the community) are strong brand advocates, and why they do that and influence others. Getting to these nuggets will require good qualitative and quantitative research competencies as well as social monitoring tools. That’s a focus area of Microsoft. According to Conn, "Good content still rules, but now we know what’s good much faster as a result of social monitoring." Ideally, this analytical approach will lead to marketing’s Holy Grail – the determination of social media program ROI.
Social media has the potential to transform a company’s marketing effectiveness and its relationship with its customers, if management has the foresight, ability and fortitude to build out their capabilities.