No. 1 Social Media Mistake: Starting with tools instead of strategy

Friday, December 04, 2009

Strategy often overlooked in social media

Set your goals from the start to avoid having to clean up a mess


Sacramento Business Journal – by Debi Hammond, Contributing writer, Marketing

Social media, the marketing buzz phrase of 2009, finally is being embraced by small and large companies alike. But for some companies, their late entry into the social media space has left them trying to clean up messes created by their “wait and see” mentality.

What they didn’t realize is that while they were “waiting to see” what this social media “thing” was all about, their brands were being altered, and in some cases, stolen, online.

We have spent the past few months flying all across the country taking clients through an in-depth social media training that is focused, not on the tools, but rather on the strategy behind the utilization of those tools. The difference between strategy and usage is extremely important.

Companies spend a fortune in both time and money hiring advertising and public relations professionals to manage their brands, yet when it comes to social media, they tend to pass those responsibilities on to the first intern or GenY employee who has a MySpace or Facebook account — thinking that the ability to use social media tools is the same as the ability to use them strategically.

Stay in control

So, what can really go wrong in the social media space by having just anyone manage it for you? A lot. Here are just two examples.

First, and probably most important, someone else will own your profile names. This means, for example, that your official business name on Face­book or Twitter could be tied to an intern’s e-mail address and when that intern is gone, so is your ability to manage (or own) that account, or the name on it. A huge loss for your business and your brand.

Second, you can lose control of your brand message. Every tweet, post and comment counts when it comes to your brand. What is really being said about, and by, your brand online? Something as important as your brand should be managed by those who truly understand it.


How can you avoid having to clean up a social media mess? Review these guidelines before ever starting a social media campaign.

Create a strategic plan

When you launch a new advertising campaign, you have a well thought-out strategic plan. When you launch a PR program, you develop a strategic plan. Yet, somehow, when companies launch a social media program, they do it without a plan. You know the old saying: “Fail to plan and you plan to fail.”

Develop guidelines

A lot of large companies are grappling with the fact that their own employees are talking about, representing and in some cases “owning” the company’s brand online. They’ve created fan pages and blogs dedicated to the company. They tweet on behalf of themselves and the company, using logos, branding elements and messaging that is often out of context and off message.

It’s not that they are doing anything wrong intentionally. In fact, if anything, you want to encourage their enthusiasm.

So how is it that the company can lose control online, even to its best brand fanatics? It’s because the company did not provide the guidelines needed to harness the enthusiasm from the beginning.

A simple set of social media guidelines can go a long way in unifying your brand online and/or saving you the time and heartache of trying to reel in and rebrand what 10 or 10,000 employees already have created online.

Hire or assign a strategist

Once again, almost anyone can use social media tools or teach you how to create a Twitter account. However, what’s important is that they understand how to use a Twitter account (or any other social media tool) strategically for the benefit of your brand and business. It’s imperative that the person who manages your social media program understands the traditional principles of marketing while fully embracing the untraditional principles of the Web.

Hire a social media strategist and watch your brand grow online.

Provide human capital, resources

Most people think social media is free, when, in fact, it’s quite expensive when done right. Yes, the tools are free, but what you need to implement a successful social media campaign is a team with time, resources and a strategic approach. It takes time, dedication and resources to create rich content, engage in meaningful conversation and monitor your brand online.

Without a social media team, you’re without the resources necessary to do it right.


Put social media in its place

Many elements fall under the marketing umbrella including advertising, public relations and creative development. Yet, somehow, social media is often considered an add-on — a free marketing element that doesn’t deserve the same time, planning and strategy as the other disciplines. Well, social media is an integrated discipline and needs to be elevated and positioned equally to all other disciplines under the marketing umbrella in order to use it successfully.

So, whether you’ve already implemented a social media program or plan to in the near future, be sure to follow the guidelines outlined above so that the buzz you create online supports your brand and your business.


Debi Hammond is president and chief executive officer of Sacramento-based Merlot Marketing Inc. Reach her at . Click here for original article.

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