Social media. The elephant in the room? 16 November 2012

Social media… two words that are guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of many a communications director or chief executive. For some it’s the elephant in the room – they know its there but they’re trying hard to ignore it. For others it’s the holy grail of audience engagement.

These two extremes illustrate precisely the dilemma facing many of our clients. Do we Tweet? Why Facebook? Should we get LinkedIn? To help you assess the opportunities – and the pitfalls – presented by social media we’ve created this handy guide.

Tip 1: What are they saying about you?

The first thing you can do is easy – just look and listen. Source, track and monitor the social media discussions taking place within and around your industry. What are people saying about your business or your sector? Where are they saying it? Who are they talking to?

Informally, try it for yourself. Search out a few competitors, run a few search terms. More formal social media monitoring can be easily achieved via tools such as Radian6, Trackur, Btrandwatch, Hootsuite and NewsRokit.

You can then use this valuable data to help plan your strategy, to go where your audiences are, pick the right channels; LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter? Or a combination of all three?

Tip 2: Set your strategy.

A social media strategy is like any other communications strategy; it’s about the same four things. Objectives. Audiences. Channels. Messages.

Set your social media strategy firmly within the context of your overall communications strategy. What are you looking to achieve for the business? Who do you want to reach? Which channels can help you reach them? What do they want to know?

Then, set specific social media objectives against every campaign; target a number of Followers, Discussions, Likes and Conversations. Gather this data on a project-by-project basis - analysis really does improve performance.

Remember the (other) golden rule of social media. If you are not prepared to engage in a conversation... do nothing. Say nothing until you are prepared to respond to what people may say and you have a plan in place to answer questions or to counter the critics.

Tip 3. Seek permission - NOT forgiveness.

With endorsement and support from the leaders at top of your business you are more likely to achieve success. Gaining this support may require you to change a few mindsets – much easier said than done – so offer to run a test phase to prove your theory and gather some evidence.

And because social media is a very public, and very instant, form of communication it’s vital that the key stakeholders in your organisation know what you’ve planned and what you’re planning.

Just as importantly these people will be valuable sources of content, so involve them from day one rather than apologize on day ten.

Tip 4. What’s the risk?

Ignore your compliance team at you peril. If they are onside from the get-go they will prove a valuable source of support and content. Don’t start by asking them what you can’t say – ask them what you can say – find out what’s possible and you may well be surprised.

Share with them the whole story; your aims and ambitions, ask them to help you create a framework for communication and messaging and a process for content approval. Of course, if your organisation already has a social media policy in place, use it to help define the parameters within which you can operate.

Finally ask yourself, what are the risks to your business if you don’t do it?

Tip 5. Look who’s talking?

As part of your strategy you will need to agree who says what to whom. Are your social media communications restricted to an anonymous corporate voice or will you encourage individuals to contribute?

Will your campaign feature a lone spokesperson or a team of spokespeople? Make sure you decide in advance as part of your strategy then train and brief them, and agree some guidelines on schedules and maintenance.

Remember, being a spokesperson isn’t about ownership – your audience owns social media… not you!

Tip 6. Content is king.

Content is your greatest asset. Content can be developed into stories and storytelling and is a great way to engage people. Without a depth and breadth of content your Social Media campaign will be purely reactive.

However, just because you have something to say doesn’t mean that people will listen. Make sure your content and your messages are relevant to your audiences; Keep them local – country-specific, keep them light – a conversation, not a broadcast, keep them little – snippets with links are more likely to last and information graphics are more likely to be shared.

Once you are up and running you can create your own forums, topics and debates and invite your contacts to join. Did you know that on average LinkedIn users have 150 contacts?

And finally, don’t worry, repetition is fine.

Tip 7. Talk little and often.

Social media success is about telling a story as it happens. If you wait for the end of the story before you tell it, the story will be over – history.

It pays to understand a unique contradiction at the heart of social media planning. While it is a long-term commitment that needs attention and forethought it needs also to become part of the developing news story of your company’s everyday life with a focus on the day-to-day events and issues that will spark spontaneous comments and conversations. Use it to comment on industry issues, events, regulation… be timely!

Tip 8. Walk, don’t run.

Rest assured that by picking up this guide and even thinking about social media you are already one step ahead of many of your peers and competitors. We are all learning new things each and every day about this incredible new communications opportunity. Think small and take it slow. As the proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

One way to begin is to run a pilot program for each different social media channel. Perhaps you could create a private forum where you can test your approach in small groups? See what does and doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, close it. Have no fear – we are all learning and no one has all the answers, even your boss.

Tip 9. Tell, don’t sell.

The worst form of selling is selling. Use social media to exchange your company’s ideas and experiences but not to sell your business or your products. Think about how conversations work and how we tend to switch off when someone is all “me, me, me”. Keep in the front of their minds and they will come to you when they are ready.

Be fair, be clear and do not mislead. “A lie will find its way around the world before the truth has even got its boots on.”

Tip 10. Measure, manage, measure, manage...

As with most digital marketing channels, you can measure your progress against your targets with several benchmarks:

Distribution. Look at each channel you are using and count its Followers, Likes, Fans and Mentions.

Interaction. Via your online measurement tools count forwards, shares, comments and measure sentiment.

Influence. Look at your reach and credibility. Are you achieving ‘earned content’ – other people discussing your content

Action. Track how many leads, conversions and sales come from social media. Ask your clients how they found you and if they were influenced.

Armed with this useful data you will be well equipped to measure progress against your initial objectives and report back to senior stakeholders on 'ROE' – Return On Engagement – the opportunities generated by the responses and the audiences’ engagement versus the investment. At Living Group we believe that the question about utilising social media in your corporate communications now revolves around ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. 

Whenever the time is right for you to look at how your business could benefit from social media do get in touch with Abigail Vyner in London on +44 (0)20 7739 8899 (abigail.vyner@living-group.com) or Melanie Osborne in Hong Kong on  +852 3711 3092 (melanie.osborne@living-group.com).

Elephant in the room