(Editor’s note: Brian Solis is the author of Engage, a new book focused on the social web. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Unless you literally run your business with your ears plugged and your eyes covered, you are aware of the importance of social media and its impact on both brand and bottom line. However, while social media is the topic du jour in mainstream news, on blogs, in books, at conferences and at your local Starbucks, we may still underestimate its overall promise and potential.
The socialization of business is comparable to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland or the red pill in the Matrix. If ignorance is bliss, awareness is awakening. Where there’s insight, there’s opportunity – but with opportunity, there’s also a cost. In this case, that cost is financed through learning, change, adaptation and innovation.
Social media is deceptive. It appears easy, free and yours to own simply for the price of admission and engagement. If this post were to live up to an alternate headline, say the “5 Easy Steps to Managing Your Brand Online,” the list might look a bit like this:
- Monitor and listen to conversations related to your brand and competitors
- Start a blog, create a Twitter profile, set up a Facebook brand page and broadcast a YouTube channel
- Draft social media guidelines
- Be transparent and authentic
- Ask questions, introduce polls, curate interesting content and have fun
It’s not that the list is untrue or menial. In fact it’s where many organizations begin their journey towards a new era of discovery, relevance, and earned prominence. Keep in mind however, that as social media matures, consumers are becoming increasingly discerning.
They are mastering their social domains and experiences and, as a result, their attention is not only thinning, it’s focusing on the relationships and information that’s most beneficial to their regiment.
Rather than looking at the easy ways to use social media to manage our brand, let’s examine five next-level steps for managing and ultimately defining your brand online.
1. Listen and learn – Listening, monitoring, and reporting are obligatory cogs in the social media machine. Gathering intelligence to inspire meaningful and actionable social programs is, on the other hand, priceless.
Measuring share of voice and frequency of mentions is helpful in understanding what is happening in and around us. But if you expand your horizons to surface the share of all conversations related to your market and position within the broader landscape, you also discover missed opportunities and inflection points – along with areas for improvement, innovation and expansion.
2. React to and lead conversations – While many organizations monitor conversations related to keywords or respond simply to those who invite participation, the prospect of social media lies beyond first-degree dialog. This is a chance to leapfrog conversations by learning what it takes to lead them and then embodying the position you wish to gain.
Responding to relevant commentary is only the beginning. Introducing social objects that address needs or direct actions in the form of posts, videos, imagery and other commentary to demonstrate passion, expertise and leadership ensures a comprehensive rotation of inbound and outbound marketing, service and communication.
3. Divide and conquer – What becomes clear in those first points is that no one department owns social media. Depending on the industry, conversations usually align with distinct facets of business including service, marketing, product/service, HR, finance, etc. This is the beginning of the socialization of business. As relevant conversations and the information present within them are scrutinized, it becomes clear that they feed and are fed by distinct information. Prioritize and assign inbound and outbound activity based on a conversational workflow that reflects the nature of organized and relevant long tail discussions.
4. Adapt – Reactions to negative experiences don’t scale. Identifying recurring patterns of negative experiences and connecting emerging themes to those responsible in order to develop targeted and sweeping fixes negates widespread negative sentiment and alleviates unfavorable publicity. But it also does something more.
The acts of listening, responding and solving make for an adaptive organization. The process transcends lip service to action. As we all know, actions speak louder than words.
5. Design metrics into campaigns and measure performance – One of the primary reasons discussions around metrics and return on investment in social media are hotly debated today is because many of the examples we hear and see are designed without an outcome or measurable success designed into the program. That’s not to say that they’re any less important, however.
Metrics, by nature, are devised to document movement. As such, KPIs and ROI should get factored into the planning process of all social media programs. Introduce clicks to action, conversion opportunities and experiences with desirable outcomes, then compare activity and results to other programs to learn, focus resources and evolve with the market.
Social media is as dynamic and expansive as it is simple and complex. At the very least, the socialization of business is aspirational. We are competing for attention, affinity and commerce in forums where quick start guides and instruction manuals are in process of development and may never in fact, materialize. What’s clear, however, is that we are competing for both the present – and the future.
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