How to Save a Sputtering Social Media Program

By Stanford Smith, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I pray that you never find yourself in this position but I suspect that many “community managers” find themselves in a dire situation.

The numbers don’t look good. The social media conversation around your brand looks worse.  Even though you’ve put in a herculean effort, you always run out of time, money, and people.  The management team, already dubious about social media smells blood in the water.

How do you turn the ship around?  What can you do now that demonstrates that you have a grasp on the realities of your program and have a realistic strategy for getting back on track?

The first step is to understand why social media programs fail.  After you identify the pitfalls, you can devise a response.  Let’s start with the pitfalls.

Why Programs Suffer

Social Media programs sputter and fail for a variety of reasons.  There are several factors that are particularly lethal:

Checking the Box

There is tremendous pressure for businesses to “do something” with social media.  Marketing teams are forced to create platforms to check off their social box.  This often leads to fancy social profiles on Twitter and Facebook that lack meaningful content.  Worse sporadic updates to the platforms communicate the organization’s lack of commitment.

Wrong Objectives

Social media is still a relatively young discipline.  This makes it difficult to properly align social media’s capabilities with an organization’s objectives.  Often, the marketing team lumps social under a vague “brand awareness” goal.

This lack of clarity leads to confusion about content creation. Worse, wrong objectives often leads to poor (even unfair) evaluation of social media’s performance.  Bad evaluation leads to poor decisions creating a program death spiral.

Scarce Resources

Social media is resource intensive.  A well-resourced program includes copywriters, designers, metrics analysts, along with  support from other departments such as customer service, product marketing, etc..  Unfortunately, poorly performing programs are often staffed with junior-level people who lack broad marketing expertise and little authority to get management level buy in.

Crippled Content

It’s important to understand that social media is a tactic in an overall content marketing strategy.  Content Marketing relies on creating a steady flow of high-value information designed to build rapport, establish thought leadership, and pre-sell products.  Sporadic or non-existent content results in an anemic social program focused on rehashed information and generic updates.

A heavy reliance on social chatter tactics like facebook updates and Twitter tweets is a  tell-tale sign of a content starved social program.

What You Can Do Today

Find What’s Working

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  Look through your metrics and find areas that show promise.  Look for social platforms that are delivering high-value traffic to your ecommerce and/or conversion pages.

Over the long-term it’s wise to rely on social platforms that you own such as your blog.  You have direct influence on a blog’s content and can quickly optimize its performance.  From there you can focus social platforms that generate high-value traffic.

Double Down on Success

Once you find an opportunity, dedicate resources (people and budget) to increase performance.  For example, if Pinterest drives high-quality traffic to your ecommerce website then increase content production for this platform.  Realigning your resources will boost traffic and offer more data for testingand optimization.

Sacrifice the Good to Promote The Great

Have the courage to pull resources from areas that are not working.  It’s important to focus your best talent and resources on platforms that deliver results.  I know from experience that It’s tough to postpone work or abandon a platform.  However focusing your team will create the performance required to lobby for additional resources and budget.  You’ll also gain valuable expertise (i.e. content production) needed to improve other social programs.

What You Should Do Tomorrow

I’ve learned that frank conversations with the management team is the only way to save a floundering social program over the long-term.  Many times the management team harbors misconceptions about the capability of social media.  Other times, C-Level executives are genuinely interested in social media but don’t know what it takes to create a successful program.

In both of these situations, you will need to commit to educating management and your peers.  Your initial efforts will consolidate resources and create successes, use these wins to gain credibility for future improvements.  I know of a social media manager that created an internal blog geared towards educating her team and management.  This effort was invaluable for building support, patience, and enthusiasm for her efforts.  You could do the same.

Your Turn

Which of these problems are crippling your social program.  Which of the solutions makes the most sense for your organization?

Contributing Columnist 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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  • Pavel Konoplenko

    This is a great post! Thank you for writing this. As I’m sitting here, creating a social media strategy at my first ever full-time job, it’s essential for me to be mindful of how social media campaigns can fail. I realize more and more how important it is to be adaptable, so you can leverage opportunities which are working and change those that aren’t. As in all things, practice and hard work makes perfect.

  • This is very helpful advice Stanford. As a B2B marketing agency, my team is expected to excel at our social media program but it takes a lot of work. It also helps to apply a fresh perspective from time to time and that’s what your article is all about.

    As much as I Iearn from others via social media, sometimes I have nothing to add. Thankfully we have a team that contributes and I’m not the only one. Because we practice what we preach about social media, we’re more understanding of how challenging it can be for our clients too. I think you’ve outlined some great ideas for refreshing any social media program – including ours!

    Thanks for the great post Standford!

  • Great point Stanford, and yes there are times when things take some time and some further manipulation to get traction. I will admit that Pinterest has “bailed me out” on more than one occasion. It’s amazing how nothing works the same for every situation. I have had similar brands and had to design what turned out to be two very different strategies. I think you hit it correctly when talking about patience, it takes time to build a social community around a brand, that is something I make any and all perspective clients understand for the first step.

    Nicely done Sir and thanks…

  • Stanford,

    Great stuff dude… I definitely believe that way, way too many businesses come into social media with the wrong objectives.

    They don’t set up the proper internal tracking systems to determine true Revenue ROI so they focus on Likes and Shares and BS that doesn’t matter… And they fail.

    Thanks for a great article!!

    Ryan H.

  • Lana

    Hi Stanford,
    Being fairly new to social media for our business this sounds like exactly what I need. We get calls from telemarketers saying they can get you on the first page of Google, but don’t trust their methods. I am going to get your info on How to get your first 1000 readers.

  • My apologies, I am a little behind on my blog reading and thus just getting to this now. 🙂 I love that you recognize that it makes sense to abandon platforms that are not performing. Too many times I feel the pressure to be everywhere, but it simply isn’t possible right now. Rather than spreading myself thin, I’ve decided to concentrate on just a few networks and really “work” them rather than trying to be everywhere. It’s working so far, but there is always that little bit of guilt when I read something cool about a network that I’m not “working.” Your post made me feel better about that!

  • Steven Wright

    There are a lot of videos that can get people excited in a tangible way without having to have faith in numbers they cant process.

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