Setting Expectations for Social Media

originally posted on Concept Hub

Social Media has been hyped so much in the media and by consultants that many people believe that “if you build a site, they will come.”  A social media site, whether it is a blog, video, podcast, or social network, should not be treated like a corner lemonade stand. The reality is, just like any business strategy,  you will get out of your social media strategy what you put into it. You also have to start with the end in mind, you have to know what return you want to receive from your efforts in social media.

A business, even a business selling lemonade, cannot survive by acting like a lemonade stand. What do I mean by that? I mean, you can not set up a stand on the corner, hang up a sign and look cute and expect to make money. Because that same corner has every other product and service looking cute to attract the consumer’s attention. You have to search out and identify the thirsty people, the people with a need, and you have to engage them in dialog, help them recognize their problem, – yep even a thirsty person sometimes is too busy to recognize that they are thirsty. Then you have to lead them to want to drink. You can give them a drink, but then you solved their problem with no return for you. You have to make them want to solve their problem and see your lemonade as the solution. Then simple economics comes in to play, the price you ask for that lemonade must be at the same point on the graph as the price they are willing to give up to solve their problem.

In social media, that price is their time, their attention, their content, and their referrals.

The Internet has given us a bigger market to play in, but it has not taken away the need to know and interact with our target audience. The good news is that the Internet has rapidly given us the ability to interact with our audience no matter where they are located. But to succeed you must participate, not just hang up a sign.

This week I have participated in several meetings where we discussed various success measures of a social media effort. We discussed the ability to bring an experience to others who can not come to you, to create a platform where the action is a greater measure of success than participation, we explored measures of success based on traffic, based on user-generated content creation and response, and based on memberships.

Whatever success metrics your organization decides upon, your next effort needs to be to decide the strategy, action steps, and team that needs to be deployed to achieve your goals.

The challenge for most organizations is that the consequence of a failed social media effort is perceived to be not that detrimental. A blog that is launched and then abandoned does not seem to affect the bottom line. A video on YouTube that no one watched, no big deal. More than once, actually far too many times, I have seen organizations jump on the social media bandwagon without prior planning and appropriate training, see it fail, and then abandon all efforts or put them off for another day. People within the organization will no longer believe in the hype, which is a good thing, but they also are no longer ready to embrace the reality that competing organizations that are diligent and effective in implementing a social media strategy are increasing their connections, increasing their knowledge of the needs of the market, communicating directly to their relevant audience and gaining more and more attention of the marketplace. Basically, the hidden costs of a poorly executed social media strategy or an effort that is launched with unrealistic expectations can be much higher and have longer lasting effects.

To avoid such an outcome, the top five expectations that an organization needs to insist upon are:

1. Flexible Technology: Today’s world we are faced with open technology and mash-ups that have enabled trends and tools to change on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there are a few dinosaurs still hitting the pavement convincing organizations that they have a “social media” platform that is reliable based on the fact that they have been around for so long… What happens is the organization gets stuck with a tool that can not integrate with other platforms and does not evolve as the world around them evolves. So, expect that the technology you deploy, all of the technology you deploy from now on, is agile enough to change in a rapidly changing world and is friendly enough to play well with other emerging technologies.

2. Content: When you launch your social media strategy you will be responsible for setting the tone or the atmosphere of your space. When people visit your space they need to know immediately what to expect, what value your community offers, and your level of consistent commitment to the community. The worst thing you can do for your brand is to launch a community and seed it with content only to be distracted and ignore your community and then attempt to relaunch it again. It is like the neighborhood restaurant that could not properly serve their customers when they first opened their doors, once they turned people off it was impossible to get them back, and the doors had to close.

3. Focus on Community not on Traffic: So what if your site gets 100,000 people visiting each day if no one is participating. Even in the old e-commerce days, traffic did not mean anything if it was not converting to action. The same holds true with a social media effort. If you have a site only attracting 100 people a day, but those 100 people are contributing to the site and telling their friends about it, you are more successful than if you had 100,000 people who stopped in for a little window shopping. Give people a reason to be part of the community.

4. Be Sticky –  Make them Want to Come Back for More: When you are watching your stats, watch for return visitors. I have put visitors into 3 categories;

  1. Passing by
  2. Regulars
  3. Addicts

You will have many more people passing by than regulars or addicts and you will have many more regulars than addicts. But to get the regulars and addicts you have to give them a reason to come back for more.

5. Do Not Develop Your Strategy in a Conference Room: You need to let your community develop your strategy with you. Believe it or not, online communications is no longer about you and your brand, it is about your community and what they want to do with your brand. Consider the phenomenon of the Diet Coke and Mentos video or more recently the amazing video that Stride Gum sponsored that went viral overnight. This video is about people, not gum, and that is why it was such a success. Let your people decide what will move them.