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April 9, 2008
Size Up Your Social Media Commitment

There’s definitely a lot of talk around social media marketing. If you look in some circles, it seems “everyone is doing it.” But, not everyone is – yet – nor should everyone be active in it.

Like any other marketing or business aspect, you need reasonable justification to recommend social media marketing as a tactic to back up strategy.

In social media marketing, there are essentially two aspects: listening and talking. With few exceptions, every organization should be listening – that is monitoring social media. As noted, you need to weigh how much you want to invest in it. But, don’t be fooled. No matter what your company or your client does, there are online conversations occurring about it. Be aware of them. For a rundown on some free and full-service social media monitoring tools, see a review I did that CustomScoop’s Media Bullseye published.

To decide whether you should talk – that is be active in social media – here are questions to ask yourself and your client or company.

Sizing the marketplace

First, size up your market and see if there is opportunity to actively engage enough of your market in social media.

  • Who are you trying to reach: Large demographics like moms or teens, or more niche or trade oriented like utility personnel or plumbers?
  • Do your customers, prospects and other key decision-makers use social media technologies to research, interact with others, shop or buy?
  • Are there already active blogs, discussion forums, groups or list servs used by your audience?

Sizing up the benefits

There are a variety of reasons and benefits to starting a company or association blog or be active on boards and other online communities. Any or all of the below can be valid reasons to be active in social media – depending on your answers to other questions in this column. Of course, your activity can have more than one benefit.

  • Are you looking to be active in responding to questions about the company, products, etc.? Whether you’re there or not, questions will be asked. Someone should answer them.
  • Are you looking to initiate conversations regarding industry issues, trends, product feedback, future needs, etc.?
  • Are you looking to strengthen the company or a product’s brand?
  • Are you looking to increase your search engine rankings simply by being “out there” more on the Internet?
  • Are you looking to establish yourself as market leader by showcasing expertise?
  • Are you looking to improve your offline and online media coverage?

Sizing your company/client

Okay, so you’ve reached the point where things are looking good: your audience is involved in social media, you’ve determined benefits and objectives. A third key consideration is, do you have the commitment?

Typically, social media activity is not a short-term deal. Yes, there are short-term efforts tied to movies, special promotions, etc. However, for the most part and for maximum benefit, you need to commit time and money. Assuming you have the proper upper management approval, size up the following:

  • Time: Social media is about relationships. More often than not, you’re dealing with non-professional, every-day people who are passionate about a topic, issue, cause or industry. You need to invest in researching, getting to know and interacting with your audience – on a regular basis. You often need a “champion” to drive social media marketing.
  • Other than paying for your time, money is typically not a big commitment. However, depending on the type of social media marketing, there may be technological costs involved (hosting, programming and design costs, monitoring services, etc.).
  • Can you deal with negative comments? They are already being said; just because you’re involved in the conversations, it doesn’t mean they will stop. Some comments may be justified – see them as an opportunity to clarify your position or reexamine your operations. There will always be those who you cannot rationalize with. Weigh the risk-reward of responding to them.
  • Are you ready to open up? Transparency is a must for social media success. It’s part of the established ground rules. Transparency simply involves being honest and open. Not fluffy marketing speak, “PR spin” or hiding behind anonymity. You don’t have to give out company secrets. You do have to treat your audience like people.

These are initial questions to ask yourself, your colleagues or your clients to determine what level of social media marketing you need and can commit to. Whatever you decide, know what and why you are doing. Don’t just do it because you think everyone else is.

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Michael  Driehorst, president and founder of Diamond Communications, is a proven public relations professional who knows how to develop the right set of strategies and matching tactics to achieve communication objectives for the right target audience. After an early career as a newspaper journalist, Mike has worked in public relations and marketing communications since 1994. He has been active in social media marketing since 2005; read his blog.

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