By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

I’m morbidly fascinated by failure.

As of late, I’ve been scouring the web looking for failed social media programs. Unfortunately, I can find plenty of victims in the corporate world.

When I see the telltale signs of a failed effort – inconsistent publishing, abandoned Twitter accounts, and Facebook ghost towns – I zero in and start picking over the dead program’s bones.

In every case, I am looking for something specific. I want to know why the social media program didn’t live up to its promise.

Like a diligent archaeologist, I scribble what I find in moleskins that litter my home office.

Over the last month, I’ve been going through these notebooks looking for a common thread, a Rosetta Stone that will help me decipher the steps that lead to social media failure.

It’s been an interesting journey.

First, I started with the “How” of social media.

The “How” of social media is all about techniques, strategies, and clever tricks to get from A to Z a bit faster than the rest.

“How” disciples quickly diagnose a social program’s failure by pointing to its lack of post frequency, failure to use power words in retweets, neglect of sure-fire Facebook apps, and other tactical oversights.

Since I am a “How” blogger, I can’t resist attributing failure to not manipulating the tools correctly.

The problem is that I see many blogs, Twitter users, and Facebook mavens do the right things but still fail to build a sustainable social program.

I moved on and began looking for the “What” of social media.

Investigating the “What” usually uncovers strategic errors.

A business, for example, that decided to do social media because it was the new thing to do. It saw its competitors doing it and didn’t want to be left behind.

Diagnostic questions are usually…

  • Did the blogger pick the right niche?
  • Did the business match the right social media platform with the right objective?
  • Does the blogger use the right type of content to attract visitors and build reach?

Even though these “What” questions are extremely helpful, they aren’t critical.

In the end, I settled on something so obvious that it’s easy to overlook. It’s a simple question that great businesses AND great social media practitioners ask:

Why?

Every failed social media effort did not answer this question:

“Why are we communicating with our customers?”

One must-have ingredient in successful communication of any kind is authenticity. Authenticity is born out of a clear vision and purpose. Businesses with a clear reason “Why” ooze authenticity.

  • Their customer service has a sense of purpose, with an unmistakable air of genuine concern.
  • Their blogs tell compelling stories that turn strangers into believers.
  • Twitter becomes a steady drumbeat of “proof” that they are focused on helping their customers.
  • Facebook becomes the headquarters for a vibrant community of evangelists who support and spread the cause.

Social media for these businesses is an easy extension of what they already do.

Incredibly, businesses and individuals who know “Why” they are using social media grow even if they overlook the “What” and “How”.

How to Find Your “Why”

You might be shaking your head and saying “easier said then done.” I agree with you. However, you can take some simple steps to move your social media effort in the right direction.

Create a Manifesto

Successful social media players such as Ford, Best Buy, and Dell have created a clear manifesto for their social media programs. You get the sense that they know where they are headed from reading their social media policies, which are easily accessible on their websites.

Create your own manifesto and work to gain consensus around it in your organization. If you are a solo operator, spend the time to create a manifesto that captures the fundamental values of your business.

Focus on Specific Customer Interactions

Imagining a specific customer interaction makes it easier to understand why you are using social tools.

For example, list 5 aggravating customer service issues; now decide why you need to handle these issues. If your goal is to turn detractors into fans, then your social media effort will look much different than if your goal is to simply contact upset customers quickly.

Working through how you plan to use social tools to interact with customers will help focus your “Why” and give you a jumpstart on selecting the right strategies.

Make Sense?

Are you struggling with “Why” you are using social tools? What challenges have you faced in creating your manifesto?

Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass.

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