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Jumping Into Social Media Without Strategy is Preparing for Doom

Dan Schawbel‘s post “6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Brand Yourself as a Social Media Expert” is the most poignant read I’ve come across on social media in months.  Everyone from PR, marketing to advertising is bottlenecking at the turnstile to hitch a ride on the social media expertise train.  What we end up seeing is rhetoric and puffery about Twitter and Facebook, and who knows what we’ll hear about Bing down the road. It frequently makes me wonder about the charlatans and snake oil salesman coming into the saloons of the Wild West.

I’ve been in this business nearly 20 years, and every five years or so there’s a new toy for industry to fawn over like hatchlings chirping for the next worm. Sooner or later, the toy just becomes part of the arsenal, and it’s the strategists – not the purported toy experts – who figure out the best means by which to utilize it to meet objectives.  About 15 years ago, it was Web sites. The necessary evil, every company, brand or product had to have one.  No one really knew why, but it was cool and everyone else, including the competition, was doing it – even if they were carbon copies of sales kits.  Web experts were as common back then as pollen in New England.  Years later, strategists figured out how Web sites served as an effective communication, marketing and sales tool.  The same is becoming true with social media.

That doesn’t mean we sit back and wait, but instead have a clear understanding of strategy.  Regardless of the wide range of communication and marketing tools at our disposal, strategy must still drive everything we do.

Everything hinges on strategy – from planning to execution.

  1. If it’s a new-age tactic (Let’s get on Facebook because it’s the cool, new thing!) or an old-school approach (Let’s just write a news release and send it to the trade journal because they run your content), include it in your outreach arsenal only if it helps you support strategy.
  2. Eliminate any tactic that doesn’t support strategy.
  3. Traditional and new media aren’t mutually exclusive.  Traditional media are becoming savvier in new media and are  more engaged in the new media landscape, and they can help drive stakeholders to your new media tactics.
  4. Randomly cherry-picking tactics for implementation (We’re on Twitter!) is preparing for doom.  Plan on a fully integrated approach with a mix of traditional and new media.
  5. Building a Web site or social media platform is an accomplishment; getting people to visit your site, come back and motivate others to visit is a monumental achievement.  Is it built on strategy?  Have you talked with key audiences before planning your program?  Are you capturing data and using it?  Are you building loyalty and enthusiasts?  Is your site static or two-way?
  6. Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace are a terrific means by which to engage with audiences, but like all other tactics, it must support strategy and not be created because it makes you look hip.  It’s an investment not just in dollars but more in time and resources; you can’t build it and expect people to flock to your page.  How open are you to criticism?  If you’re not, you’re social networking efforts will fall flat because you have to go with the good and the bad, and turn negative comments into opportunities.  What are you doing to motivate people to come and tell others?
  7. Internet video sites like YouTube attract a tidal wave of visitors  How can they find your video?  What are you doing to drive people to watch your news?  What are you asking them to do once they view it?
  8. E-communities can help you capture vital data about your most loyal consumers and brand enthusiasts.  Engage them; don’t just talk at them.  Allow them to help shape your brand and products.  Motivate them to share your news and tell others.
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