The past several weeks of my professional life I have been reflecting on the ever elusive term “Social Media” and its growing role in business communications. I have found myself wondering what it is about technology or hype, or in this case the hyped technologies of Social Media, that makes many experienced business decision makers throw common sense by the way side. Organizations can significantly benefit from a well thought out Social Media strategy. I also agree that the future foundation for online communications will be heavily reliant on social interactions. Neglecting to address Social Media leaves you in a potentially vulnerable position to the competition.
Despite email continuing to be the primary form of communication, there is still good reason to include social media in your web strategy. Its growth is staggering and it is way past the time when social media can be ignored for any age group. Pew Internet research shows a rapid growth rate over the past year for all ages, resulting in growth rates for ages 50 and above at 42%, ages 30 – 49 at 61%, and 18 – 29 at 86% using social media (see Pew Internet diagram below). What’s impressive is that there is still significant room for further growth in regard to frequency of use and multiple applications.
With more balanced audiences, increasing adoption and education, where do companies spend their valuable resources of time, man power, and money? Unfortunately there is no single panacea. Social Media needs to be viewed as a suite of tools that are available to businesses. Some will be extremely relevant and some will fall quite short of your expectations thus resulting in a negative experience. A parallel I have used is the Microsoft Office Suite: Have you ever tried to create a presentation in Excel? Write a letter in PowerPoint? Perform financial spreadsheets in Word? In my title I refer to the age old expression, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” You might be able to accomplish your goal using the wrong tool, or even worse reshape your goal to meet your tool. It is simply more efficient and straight forward to use the proper tool for the job once the goal has been established. This same methodology holds true with a Social Media strategy that potentially leverages Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp, LinkedIn, Digg or any other tool.
To implement a successful Social Media strategy there are three basic rules:
- You must identify what you are trying to accomplish and set goals. When there are only three steps it is hard to say one is more important than the other. However, this step is the foundation.
- Understand the tools that are available to you and your internal capabilities. Several months ago, I read an insidecrm.com article about social media that listed off 50 Social Media outlets for businesses. What has impressed me most about this article is that it was dated 4th Q 2008. The Social Media landscape is still evolving so quickly, you need to be selective where you place your resources. This is where you might need objective help kick starting your Social Media strategy. Many companies, including Kishmish which specializes in web strategy and development, provide perspective and innovative thoughts in goal setting with a contextual understanding of Social Media.
- In the planning process, build in metrics for measuring towards your goals. A few months ago Mashable had an article on Social Media monitoring that reinforces the “listening” as an important part of the process. Much of your feedback will be qualitative and you will have to use creative filters to establish value.
As many people have already figured out Social Media is here to stay. Allowing people to share what is important to them such as likes, dislikes and opinions is not a fad. However, as a business it is important to identify what is noise and what is a relevant signal. It might be important for a person to share their dinner plans and movie schedule with friends and family. Is that useful to you? Maybe. Successful Social Media strategies find ways to refine this raw information and turn it into valuable relationships and business insight.
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