Monday, December 1, 2014

Taking a Strategic Approach to Social Communications:

Social marketing communications are often approached as an add on media channel for messaging. Communications are posted across platforms and audiences to increase message reach. Planning and measurement is part of the communications matrix and therefore does not have a focused strategy and approach on it's own. Many organizations are passive about their approach to social channel marketing, while they are utilizing the channels they do not formulate objectives or take the time to understand how each platform in terms of audience or engagement relevance. The end result is organizations talking at audiences or using social media like a dynamic message board.

Building a strategy and plan sounds like an obvious suggestion, yet it is often not a focus. It will will change the way you 'go to market' with communications to each channel. Simply because when you view each social platform as a unique media channel that attracts a unique audience it will focus messaging.

Time and internal commitment are the key barriers, and sometimes there is internal push back with social media being viewed as 'something we need to be in. It is treated as an add-on communications tool. Recognition that it needs to be part of the MarComms mix is a positive foundation to build on.

There are areas of consideration that will assist in defining the role and approach to social communications. Developing a strategic approach will help bring others on the journey as there are still a lot of organisational skeptics, fanciful expectations around what is achievable, and lack of knowledge about how it works and what can achieved.

1) Strategy - Define a 'stretch yet achievable' 3 year social media vision statement. It must fit with the overall business and marketing plan so there is clarity on it's role and contribution. The reason this is important for social media more than other marketing communication channel is that it is still unfamiliar to many business leaders. A vision provides a guide to benchmark success against which builds credibility over time.

2) Brand, Design & Consistent Voice - Social media channels are often where  brand inconsistency and image damage occurs. This is because it's often viewed as a channel where the brand needs to change to fit in, rather than a place for the brand to reinforce it's values and personality. 'A too cool for school' mentality. 

Think about what your brand values are and what tone of voice is relevant in social media channels. Often you can be more approachable and even 'a little cooler' with brand messaging due to the nature of the medium. It's important to be true to the brand and consistent. 

One of the most exciting areas of social media is the focus on design and creativity. Thinking through design elements is an important part of the planning process. Meme's, graphics, colours and feature designs stand out. Changing design elements will engage audiences by surprising and maybe even delighting them. Even if you have a serious product benefit message or are a conservative brand, there are design elements you can vary to show the audience that you are attentive and not rigid.

3) Audience Mapping: Identify which audiences you want to reach and which channels are the most relevant to them. Take a segmented approach and remember that most audience members are using more than one channel. Also, this helps identify which audiences are less likely to be reached on-line, which platforms to ignore and which ones to focus your efforts on.

Once you've identified this, the next step is to identity which type of content and messaging the audience will be interested in. This is likely to challenge the need to blast the same piece of communication out on every social media channel you have a presence on all the time.

4) Objectives by Channel: Once you know what audiences you want to reach and which channels are relevant, it is worthwhile identifying what the engagement objectives are for each channel. Is it to build a community of endorsers? or Position the brand to a new segment?  Whether you grow, incite to action, reward, inform, interact with, utilise the knowledge of a community...engagement objective setting shape and direct your communication efforts.

5) Image vs Promotion: One question that deserves some thought is whether the key objective relates to brand image or brand promotion. While these areas are not mutually exclusive, there is a lot of community building through promotion without an ongoing community engagement plan. Brand image, values and benefit reinforcement gets overlooked. 

Not every community member will be brand loyalists or even interested, however they will take notice of good content or relevant messaging when it appears. Otherwise the pace of social is such that audiences forget quickly and look to the next brand or promotion of interest.

 6) Conversational vs Informational: As above, both styles can work together however being clear about which voice leads by channel and for the brand helps direct content development. 

 7) Organisational commitment:  It is important to consider how much commitment there is before launching into social channels. Social media content is becoming more sophisticated, so being realistic about what is achievable in terms of content generation is a smart approach. 

Is your organisation ready and committed to blogging? Are there internal resources allocated to develop videos, tweet, monitor community comments, respond to service issues or requests, or share news and stories?

Going it alone can become a frustrating task without internal commitment to generate content. 

Developing a strategy and plan will assist in getting organisational commitment.

 8) Practical tools: Producing a 'one page' matrix of channel, audience, objectives, key messaging and measures will guide annual execution. 

Identifying key initiatives on a marketing calendar as a seperate social media plan assists in giving this area a seperate focus so it is not lost in the marketing mix. 

 9) Be weary of the term VIRAL: There are high expectations around this promise and great disillusionment when it doesn't happen (which is unlikely after all given that there are few content pieces that ever go viral). By all means state it out  loudly if it is a true campaign objective with the creative input and flair to achieve it.

These are a few thoughts and guidelines. Undoubtedly there are are more.

Do you have any more considerations and guidance to share?

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