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A potential client called me about adding social media to his service launch. He talked enthusiastically about employing social media to create buzz. He was sure that if he got a celebrity endorsement and had a Facebook page, he would be launched. Sales would pour in.

I asked him about his current Facebook page and what he was doing with Twitter. "We have Facebook, we have Twitter," he assured me.

I looked up his accounts. Yes, he had both. A live Twitter feed on his website was displaying tweets that didn't support his brand. His Facebook presence was more confusing: It was impossible to make a connection, real or implied, to his website and brand concept.

OK, I thought, taking inventory. He had a presence based on his company and website name. He also had many competitors with a similar idea; he was nevertheless convinced his idea would prevail over the others. He was sure "social media" would broadcast his concept to the right audience (which he could not define).

I took a deep breath. "What's wrong with this picture?" I asked myself:

  • No business or marketing strategy
  • No integrated marketing solution in which social media is a component
  • (On the plus side) An unwavering belief that buzz will work

I cautioned him on moving too quickly and suggested that he step back and rethink the timing of his launch plan. In essence, then, I advised him to look at the basics of his business and at the destination for any social media tactics.

It all comes back to his website. His website was the sole distribution channel—the only venue for prospects to experience his product and make a decision to buy.

His website was like a retail store for his consumer product. To encourage future sales, he needed to create an inviting shopping experience in his virtual store, making it easy for customers to find his products "on the shelf." He needed a customer-focused, friendly, easy-to-navigate website that clearly described his products.

But, instead, he was depending on social media (and buzz) to compensate for the lack of a business model, a well-articulated brand, and a distribution strategy.

It was time to return to the basics. I advised my potential client to answer the following questions before launching into social media.

1. What business are you in?

Before embarking on any marketing strategy, you need to know what business you're in. Are you in the "feel good" business, delivering a catchy phrase to make the buyer happy? Are you in the business of selling products that carry your company name? Are you selling a service or a physical product? Are you selling events to sponsor your products?

Until you can say what business you're in, your vision remains a mere dream of what might be.

2. What's your business model?

After determining what business you're in, your next step is to determine how to create and deliver your product or service.

First, what are your products and services? Even if they're intangibles, they need to be translated into tangible terms. Are you B2B? B2C? Will you sell products or services solely via your website? Will you partner with other distributors to sell product? How will your business make money? Will you generate revenue by creating demand and drawing clients to your website, or do you have another plan?

3. How are you going to build your business from that model?

My potential client's business concept relied on a logo that invoked a "feel good" response. The logo would be on various products—T-shirts, mugs, baby items, stationary, among others—available for sale on his website.

Partnering with affiliated businesses would increase his product distribution and provide a revenue stream parallel to Web purchases. However, building partner relationships requires a well-articulated business model and marketing strategy.

4. Who is your target market?

Once you have a business model in place and you've made a decision about what products and services you'll offer, you need to answer the question, Who is the target market?

Surely, a product or service is developed with a buyer in mind. Categorizing that buyer as a demographic segment with specific buying habits, time-of-life needs, etc., will begin to define the target market.

Knowing the who is quickly followed by knowing where (to find them) and how (to reach them).

5. What is your strategy to generate demand for the service?

Directing customers to a website requires that they know they can buy your product there and that they understand what the product is and why they want it.

This is where social media comes in. As a marketing tool, social media uses many tactics to generate demand. It enables you to convey the value of your product or service via tweets, strategically placed ads, product descriptions, Facebook post and links, and testimonials by happy customers and product partners.

To create buzz, my potential client wanted to rely on product placement (in TV programs and films) and celebrity sponsorship. Though celebrity sponsorship is a great tactic, assuming you can get a celebrity on board, be aware of the complexities of collaborating with celebrities. Make sure that your monetary return and percentages are well defined.

6. How will you get the product to the customer?

Plan for success. Be prepared for double- or triple-digit orders. When the orders come in, you will need to deliver on your promise to fill them.

If a customer has difficulty placing an order via your website, he'll give up and go elsewhere. If a customer has to wait two weeks to receive an order, he'll place an order once—but probably won't be back.

Your back-office operation must be in place before the launch. Make sure it is capable of handling high volumes after you set off a social media blitz to generate demand.

* * *

In summary, I told my potential client to first tackle the basics and only then rely on social media:

  • Know what business you're in and what your business model is.
  • Define your product or service model.
  • Be able to describe your target market and how you will reach it.
  • Have a demand generation strategy and know how social media fits within it.
  • Have a fulfillment strategy for when customer orders pour in.


(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Pizza.)

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Donna Bletzinger is the founder of Dyer Stephenson, a San Francisco Bay Area thought leadership consultancy that offers business and career coaching for executives who are looking to launch new products, new services or new careers.

LinkedIn: Donna Beltzinger