Social Media best practices

As companies and brands continue to develop their social media strategies, the question “what are best practices” is often asked.  Many marketers are feeling pressure to create a successful campaign using this innovative medium, which does not completely fit within traditional rules of advertising.  Others may think social media is somewhat trendy, but it is here to stay and is quickly evolving into an essential part of the overall marketing mix.  To keep things in perspective, social media is still relatively new so there is not a long history to draw from and it is a stretch for anyone to really claim they are an expert.  However, when looking at brands that are experiencing positive results you find there are some commonalities to their approach.  Here are five aspects to consider. 

1)      Social media is a two way conversation.  The best brands not only listen to what their consumers are saying, they also respond with answers or feedback.  The key is being part of the conversation and forming a stronger connection with consumers.  Some brands proactively ask initial questions to get the conversation started while others let the consumers lead the way.  Unlike traditional advertising, this may not be something you can totally control so it requires some flexibility and letting go.  In any case, this is a very powerful way to influence a consumer’s attitude, affinity and behavior. 

2)      Content is king.  As with any form of media, there needs to be a compelling reason to pay attention.  The top brands are providing relevant, engaging and useful content.  It doesn’t always include a brand message or promotional offer, but it must be viewed as worthwhile.  Some brands focus on humor while others showcase sports videos like Red Bull(20.7 million ’likes’ on Facebook).  Some highlight user generated content such as Nabisco’s Oreocookie brand (21.5 million ’likes’ on Facebook) where fans share photos, video and stories in the Oreo Moments Gallery.  The ConverseAll-Star brand (19.6 million ’likes’ on Facebook) is opening a recording studio in Brooklyn where upcoming musicians will be able to record their music for free and then feature it on Facebook.  Whole Foods grocery store has close to 2 million followers on Twitter where they provide recipes, cooking tips and nutritional info.  Whatever the direction may be, it needs to resonate with consumers and be something worth sharing with others.

3)      Focus on building brand advocates.  Generating a large number of followers or “likes” alone is not the endgame.  It is an easy measuring stick, but the best results are found in the level of engagement.  Looking at how often something is shared on Facebook, retweeted on Twitter or viewed on Youtube will tell the full story.  These factors show others are spreading the message and are interacting with the brand.  Consumers are also strongly influenced by recommendations from others.  Research shows a friend’s opinion or referral is much more persuasive than advertising. 

4)      Dedicate resources.  Social media is a 24/7 engine that can’t rest.  Someone needs to keep an eye on what’s happening at all times.  Floating in and out of the conversation doesn’t work.  People expect quick responses especially in today’s world of instant gratification.  Looking at how Jet Blue responds to their 1.6 million Twitter followers illustrates the level of customer service involved.  Content also needs to be refreshed.  Companies and agencies are quickly creating departments to manage everything from strategy, content development, production and communication.  Social media is all encompassing so it should not be an isolated function of PR or Marketing.  Ideally it is a specific department or position focused on this discipline to coordinate these efforts and is also integrated throughout the company to support overall initiatives. 

5)      Manage expectations.  As with most marketers, the ultimate goal is to drive sales.  However, it may be difficult to draw a direct line between social media and revenue.  Social media does provide significant metrics not found in traditional media so there is plenty of data available to measure results.  There are also some effective software tools available to monitor and analyze what is happening such as HootSuite, Google Analytics and Radian6 to name a few.  It is fine to set goals to grow the number of followers and fans, but also try to gage the level of activity.  If you are able to form a connection, provide value, facilitate engagement, build brand advocates and be relevant then the sales should follow. 

The best brands are using social media as an integrated part of their overall marketing and communications plan.  It requires dedicated resources and attention, but should not live in a vacuum.  This will continue to quickly evolve so maintain a flexible and creative approach.  Here is a link which shows where brands and companies rank regarding total number of Facebook and Twitter followers.  http://bit.ly/bpA3wY   If you click on a brand, you can easily see a snapshot of their Facebook posts and most recent Twitter stream.