There's no escaping it, marketers: Amid a flurry of headlines, bestsellers, and reports documenting social media's meteoric rise to the mainstream... the future has arrived.
But for a B2B executive tasked with making sense of wikis, WOM, blogs, and buzz, wouldn't it be nice if the future came with a road map?
Follow this 10-step guide to ensure your social-media program starts smart, launches strong, and allows you to get the most out of these new media.
1. Determine program goals
Though it's a brand new era, the place to begin is with the age-old exercise of goal-setting: Will you be working to generate new leads and sales, increase awareness of your offerings, decrease marketing spend as compared to traditional media, ensure the relevance of your company, decrease purchasing cycles, extend the reach of your market footprint... or achieve other goals?
Remember, you'll be investing time, budget, and resources into your social media programs, so the first step is to determine exactly what you're seeking to achieve in return.
2. Conduct three-point research
A well-planned initiative always involves research at the outset, and with social media there are three key types of research that you'll need to conduct—customer, competitive, and community:
- To ensure that your programs deliver a high level of value, identify your customers' business needs, challenges, and technology preferences.
- To differentiate yourself from your competitors, understand which programs, tools, and content they are (and are not) employing.
- Learn which online professional communities—and influencers—are relevant to your business sector so that you can start building relationships with them.
3. Set a strategy
Now that you've determined your goals and done your research, you can move on to setting your strategy.
A (very) common misstep by marketers starting out in social media is that they identify a tool before setting a strategy: They just know "we need to get on Facebook, stat!"—but don't know why they should, much less how they'll use their presence to achieve business benefits.
Once you've set your strategy for reaching your goals, the set of tools you'll need becomes very clear—whether your strategy is to educate your audience on a business subject, produce an outlet for like-minded professionals to network, initiate a new communications channel or application that saves executives time and solves business problems, or create a new outlet for crowdsourcing product development.
4. Identify your Marketing 2.0 toolset
Providing an unprecedented array of tools, technologies, and platforms, social media offers B2B marketers more choice than ever, at the most affordable costs. So choose wisely and make sure that the tools you choose support your strategy (step 3) and map to your audience's comfort levels (step 2).
Some professional audiences are more comfortable participating in online forums than they are using Twitter or Facebook, whereas others might prefer content delivered in text, such as in the form of a blog, rather than via audio podcasts or online videos.
5. Define ROI metrics
Now that you've designated your goals, strategy, and tools, it's time to define a set of metrics to evaluate your program's ROI.
Depending on your goals, metrics might measure the number of leads generated, increase in sales, the number of brand mentions and whether they're positive or negative, improvement in search engine rankings, level of user engagement, and so on.
The point is that you'll need to closely track progress, so you'll want to define which metrics you're assessing, how you'll assess them, and how often. And you won't only need them for your own department... Trust me, your boss will be asking for them, too.
6. Train your people
Because these two-way tools give rise to powerful, customer-led communities, many marketing practices have drastically changed. The BIG action point here is to not only prepare your social media program but also prepare your people for social media.
Ensure that everyone involved with the program understands the fundamentals of marketing and communicating with these new media, practices that increase success rates, and what practices to avoid in order to decrease risk.
7. Create content processes
Social media programs don't have specific start and end dates—once they're launched they keep going and need constant attention and care. Far too many marketers create the program, but not the processes needed to support the program.
Creating processes is key in ensuring that your programs remain "fresh" with new content and are managed by resources that can answer users' questions in a timely fashion, interact with the community on a regular basis, and take care of issues when they arise.
8. Implement monitoring systems
In this new world order—where everyone has a voice and everyone is empowered with the tools to amplify their opinions, preferences, and ideas—monitoring online conversations is not a luxury, it's a priority.
Whether a customer is expressing a compliment, voicing a complaint, or offering a suggestion, you need to know about it, no matter where on the Web it's being mentioned.
There are plenty of free and paid services that will enable you to monitor online mentions; you'll also need to identify which resource will be tracking brand mentions and responding to feedback when necessary.
9. Launch... and promote!
Now that you've done the upfront work, built your program, created your processes, trained your people, and instituted brand monitoring systems, you're ready to launch.
But just as we learned during the Web's early days, the "build-it-and-they-will-come" mentality is a surefire way to fail.
It's a good idea to stay in beta (or soft-launch mode) for a couple months to ensure all features and processes are working optimally, but when you're ready you'll most definitely want to promote your new program and have a plan for doing so.
10. Facilitate internal communications
Once you've shared your program with the world, share the lessons learned and the progress of your social media programs with other departments and groups in your organization that would also benefit from those insights—such as Management, Customer Service, PR, Sales, and R&D.
You might distribute monthly reports, or make a quarterly event of holding brown-bag lunch briefings where you invite representatives from relevant departments to discuss findings and next steps—and let social media be a way to open up conversations within your own company, too.
Ready to create a strong social media program? A Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Social Media Program teaches you everything you need to know about building a successful social media strategy, policy, and team.
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