How to Avoid Missed Oportunities and Wasted Effort

originally posted on Concept Hub

Every day I am seeing more and more people, organizations, and brands embracing social media. Over the past week, I have taken a huge step back to get an overview of the types of patterns that are emerging in this space, to note what is missing or how things are evolving, and to get an idea of what is working well and what might be causing some frustrations.

I have found that the adoption of social media seems to be following a three-step process – or going through three different phases;

1. Learning the tools

2. Figuring out a strategy

3. Running a campaign

My first concern is the emphasis on the tools of social media that so many people seem to be focused on. It seems in many cases that a “social media strategy” is simply starting with a list or “shrink-wrapped package” of the most popular tools and communities;

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Flick
  • MySpace

Content is pushed into these communities and then there is a promotion to get people to consume the information. It seems to be simply traditional messaging within new online communities.

There are several problems with focusing on the tools.

First, technology is not developed and rolled out the way it was only a few years ago. It is no longer R&D, and then marketing and sales, followed up by training and implementation that will stay in place until the next version is rolled out and the users are re-trained on the upgrades.

As many people who are on Facebook have noticed this week, the tools that power our social networking activities simply change one day and it is up to us to figure out what is different and how to adapt. Beyond that, many people trying to learn how to best use Twitter may be realizing that Twitter is enhanced by the many other tools that developers have created to customize their Twitter experience. The technology we use today will change tomorrow, whether it is because of an enhancement to that tool, or a shift in talent that causes a once respected and useful tool to become unreliable and unusable.

Those who are stepping into social media and focusing on what the tools are and what they can do will find that they are sinking in an ever-changing rabbit hole of options.

What has enabled this ever increasing accelerated change in technology and low barriers to develop added enhancement tools is the open source culture as well as access to an unlimited amount of information. No longer do people need to resign to the confines of what technology can and can not do, people can now decide exactly what it is they need the technology to do and customize the tools that exist to meet those needs.

This means starting with what it is you want to do, who you want to impact and how you will measure success.

The best way to avoid wasted effort that comes from trying to keep up with the tools is to first decide what you want to do and then decide the tools you will need to do the job, and then design your efforts and customize or find the right enhancements for those tools to best optimize your endeavor.

But beyond getting caught up in what is the right tool to use or the right community to join, I am concerned that most of the strategy being developed is focused on either getting a message out or reputation management. The goals of social media are still predominately self-fulling.

Recently I was invited to be on a BlogTalk Radio Show with Sales Coach Kenneth Brown. I was the 3rd or 4th person on the show, which gave me the opportunity to listen to what the other professional salespeople had to say. Each statement had a few common themes which were

  • get to know your clients,
  • focus on solving your client’s problems
  • make your clients lives easier
  • let your client be the hero

If a salesperson can accomplish these tasks they will find that they have shorter sales cycles, loyal clients and lots of referrals. But to accomplish such tasks requires listening to our clients and paying attention to their world! It is not about our preconceived messaging or preconceived ideas of what our clients need.

Online communities and social media tools give us the ability to listen and learn and respond. A number of times we have created Social Media Business Plans where we have spent several weeks listening to the communities online, observing where people go to get answers to their questions and documenting the challenges and the overall sentiment that they are expressing. From this information, we have identified new market opportunities for our clients and new ways to engage clients.

An effective social media strategy should be at least 80% spent on listening and observing the community and then a focused 20% spent on providing the solutions that will have the greatest positive impact to their lives.

An organization that takes the time to understand their audience can then use the right tools and add the right ingredients to create a successful campaign. Over the past several months there has been story after story of  social media campaigns gone wrong;

Skittles’ Web site redesign via Twitter put the colorful coated candy in the spotlight, but the company pulled the campaign on Tuesday after pranksters started tweeting profanities that ended up on the company’s homepage.
The corporate world of advertising should know something about their respective marketplace, at least one would assume. The Motrin Pain Reliever has a video on their website about “wearing your baby” is a fashion trend and that it causes extreme pain. Being a Pain Reliever Company the Corporate Big Wigs a Marketing “Mad Men” seem to believe that where there’s potential pain there is a potential market to hawk their pain reliever.

And the list of examples of the community reacting in outrage to an unintentional vexed campaign, or a campaign that turns into the wild, wild west of slander and graffiti or one that results in wasted efforts in creating a campaign that gets ignored will go on as long as those who are designing the campaigns do so while sitting in a conference room as opposed to working in the trenches with the communities of people they are trying to reach.

How can this be accomplished?

1. Start with a goal in mind (what do you want to occur?)

2. Match your needs and offerings with communities of people that have complementary needs and offerings – (You want to sell tickets to an art show, there is a community of people looking for something to do the night of your art show.)

3. Decide the best tools and online communities to use and how to best optimize those tools and communities to reach your desired audience.

4. Be sure your actions and engagement strategy sets the tone that helps people know what is expected of them and what they can expect from you.

5. Give people a reason to talk, share information with your audience as opposed to pushing information at your audience.

Most importantly, to avoid missed opportunities and wasted effort you must stay relevant. This space changes every day and you have to be prepared to change with it. This means finding new ways to keep your finger on the pulse and to enable your team to constantly learn from their shared knowledge and experiences.