japanese bridge

If you made ladders for a living and sold them to big chain stores, how much of your budget should you spend on social media marketing?

Should you step it up? (Sorry, I can’t help myself sometimes).

This was a real question posed to me by a reader last week and as I walked her through the six key questions that lead to social media strategy I thought this would be useful information to share with you.

Undoubtedly, most companies should have a social media presence today.  I recently wrote about these solid reasons in a post called why you need to be  in social media even if the boss says no! I also covered some scenarios where you actually don’t need a social media strategy (featuring Pee Cola no less!).

But let’s assume you’re like 95% of the businesses out there: You need to do it. You want to do it. You don’t know where to start.

When I’m working with new clients, the roadmap basically boils down to following the line behind six essential questions. These are not easy questions, but if you really work it, your social media plan will become self-evident.

Here we go …

1) Can you finish this sentence? “Only we …”

This is the most difficult task in business. It forces you to figure out why you’re distinctive, why your customers love you, and how you fit in your marketplace.

Are you the fastest, cheapest, highest, lowest, most convenient, most colorful, most … what?

Are you unique because of your experience, your location, your service or your flavor?

Do customers keep coming back because they love you, they’re obligated to you, they emotionally relate to you, or they have no other choice?

The surprising thing is, I rarely have a customer who can easily answer this question in our first meeting. Do the work upfront. I guarantee it will help!

2) Can our culture nurture and sustain a social media transformation?

I’ve written about this extensively and will conclude this section with blog posts for further reading if you are interested in this. But the short explanation is, budget, content, resources and vision will not determine your success if you don’t have a company culture to nurture and sustain this change.

Is your company prepared to publish? Take the heat of negative comments? Entertain and inform?

The tone of your company will show up in your social media presence. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or a disaster waiting to happen?

Other blog posts on this topic:

The Social Media Minefield: Five Factors Blocking your Success

Five steps to establish a content-creating company culture

3) Are we a conversational brand … or could we be? At what cost and risk?

Here is the business case for Facebook in one sentence: “Come waste time with me.”

Nobody HAS to be on Facebook. People pile on there to play Farmville or see pictures of cats. Why in the world would they pay attention to you?

If you work for Disney, Nike, or Coca-Cola you have nothing to worry about. You have a beloved, conversational brand.

But if you’re selling ladders? Maybe not so much … unless you can MAKE yourself into a conversational brand.

There are many famous examples of this, most notably the Blend-Tec “Will it Blend” video series. Yes, they actually made blenders conversational. And you could probably do it with step ladders, too.  But let’s be real here. That is not easy, and it’s probably not cheap so you have to weigh the risk and investment with your other marketing options.

4) Where are our customers and competitors?

This seems like such a basic question but it is often overlooked. Doing just a little market research can be extraordinarily revealing.

I am working with an awesome new medical center. Their competitors can brag about their great equipment, compassionate doctors, and beautiful facilities. So how can they stand out?

A careful analysis of competitors showed that there was a wide open opportunity to create an effective social media presence. They can actually use their marketing platform as a point of differentiation.

Your industry structure and terms of competitive engagement almost always have a powerful impact on your marketing strategy. It makes sense to analyze this area carefully for potential leverage.

5) What is our source of rich content?

Many companies are generating social media activity for the sake of activity. This is rarely a good idea. It means you’re checking a box but probably not creating any real value.

Here’s what I mean. If you’re going to create value, solve problems, establish a leading voice of authority, build new business relationships, and engineer opportunities for massive reach, you’re going to have to do something more than tweet now and then or update your company’s LinkedIn profile. You need to have a consistent source of “rich content” that fuels your social media presence.

Rich content is in-depth, searchable, quotable and evergreen (meaning it can be relevant for months or years). Generally this means you need a blog, a podcast or a video series. How will you consistently, effectively fuel your social media strategy with content?

6) What does success look like?

My friend was lamenting that the owner of the ladder company was growing impatient because he wasn’t seeing any financial results from the social media activity so far. He is correct to be asking that question, but a good plan would have set forth the expectations and metrics ahead of time.

Activity might be generating conversations, but to what end?  Engagement is not a strategy.

When you are starting out, ask your sponsor … “If we sat down a year from now and this was a great success, what would have happened?”

Are the expectations realistic? Achievable? Focused? Or, do you need to step back and consider if you are on the right path?

As you consider your measurement alternatives, don’t overlook the importance of simple social media milestones to provide momentum, as well as qualitative measures.

So now what?

Whew.  That is a lot to think about. But I believe thoroughly considering these six questions will lead you to success, or at least point out the problems you might face with a customer or with your organization.  How does this land on you?

Illustration: Shinkyo Bridge, near Niko, Japan photographed by Mark Schaefer in 2013

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