Summary:Written for both individuals and organizations, this post provides high-level guidance for rookies who are just getting started with social media, as well as those who are looking to add more structure, focus and discipline to existing initiatives. Maximizing social media engagement requires setting goals, assessing the operating environment, conducting a communications audit, developing a plan of action, acquiring knowledge and skills, incremental implementation, and managing time and information.
I am constantly reminded that in spite of all the media hype, the vast majority of professionals are still social media rookies. Many people are still grappling with basic questions like:
Others have implemented specific initiatives, but their approaches have been tactical rather than strategic and have produced mixed results. Both individuals and organizations have encountered challenges in terms of efficiency and effectiveness and have struggled to manage the necessary time commitments. Organizations face additional challenges because their fragmented, siloed efforts often result in stakeholder confusion and frustration, as well as frequent cannibalization of their own digital properties. In other words, they have a mess on their hands!
As much as people would love to find a silver bullet or killer app that will solve their social media challenges, one doesn’t exist. There is no “one best way” or simple formula for effective social media engagement. Like many other worthwhile activities, it comes down to dedication and hard work. But there is a set of best practices emerging, many of which reflect the same fundamental principles of success in other endeavors.
Here are my top seven “working smart” principles, which are applicable to both individuals and organizations. I also suggest taking a look at The SAPLING Approach to Leveraging Social Media, which offers a complementary set of recommendations.
It’s such a basic consideration, but it is all too-often overlooked. Given how time challenged we all are, knowing what you want to accomplish is paramount to determining how you should focus your time and attention. All forms of media – including social media – are means to an end rather than ends in and of themselves. Before you can determine whether investing in social media is worthwhile, you must know why you might make that investment in the first place.
Remember to unpack your goals. It’s not enough to make no-duh statements like “I want to get a (new, better) job” or “We want more clients” or “We want to increase revenue.” For the goals to be effective, they have to be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Before you do anything else, either create some goals or revisit the ones you have to ensure they offer the kind of behavioral guidance you need.
Finally, in identifying your goals, remember that “less is more.” Your goals should serve as a beacon, a guiding light. More than three will probably confuse you. Having one that trumps all others will help you manage conflicting priorities and make tough decisions.
Although social media platforms and tools are available to anyone who wants to use them, their value varies widely depending on a number of factors. Make the time to understand the digital landscape in which you’re operating, by researching the answers to questions like:
Too often, social media is an answer in search of a question. Rushing into engagement, impulsively jumping on the bandwagon, or being a fad follower usually results in failure – or at least disappointment and frustration. Your efforts are wasted if they don’t enable you to pursue your goals and/or don’t make sense given your operating environment.
Keep the following in mind when determining whether social media makes high-level sense:
Once you’ve determined social media’s high-level value, you will want to do a more granular evaluation focused on specific platforms and tools. This assessment should also include a critical assessment of traditional media and current practices. Given limited resources, you may find that you should replace traditional approaches (e.g., snail mail, trade shows) with digital ones because they are more economical, effective – or both. At a minimum, you will want to integrate traditional and new approaches so you don’t unnecessarily duplicate efforts across multiple channels.
If you’ve already dabbled with social media but have your doubts about the effectiveness of your efforts, it might be worthwhile to conduct a communications and engagement audit. Though you can do this yourself, it’s probably better to hire an outsider who has digital expertise and can offer an objective and independent perspective. Regardless of who conducts the audit, it must be framed in terms of your goals and operating environment, and must make sense for your individual or organizational brand. In addition to critiquing current practices, the audit results should include a specific roadmap of possibilities and targeted efforts.
In addition to conducting an audit, organizations should also solicit input from their key stakeholders, both formally and informally, to ensure they understand the preferences, habits, and digital savvy of the people with whom they want to engage. Too many organizations have learned the hard way the risks of making decisions in a vacuum.
When it comes to social media, most people “don’t know what they don’t know.” At the same time, many social media rookies are more digitally engaged than they think they are. I am reminded of both of these truths whenever I administer the Social Media Quotient (SMQ) Quiz during presentations and workshops.
Every rookie can benefit from educating themselves about social media and/or undertaking training that is appropriate for their role/position. Although many early adopters and social media devotees will advocate “learning by doing,” that approach is neither as efficient nor effective as being guided by someone who’s already climbed the necessary learning curves. It’s also fraught with unnecessary risks. Even if you already have well-developed knowledge or skills, you must remain committed to continuous learning to keep up with the constantly-changing digital landscape.
As with other aspects of your social media engagement, your efforts here should be guided by your goals and operating characteristics, as well as the plan of action you’ve devised. You need to learn smart in order to work smart.
It’s incredibly easy to become overwhelmed by all the things you should be doing, and failures often result when people try to pursue a variety of initiatives simultaneously. An effective roadmap will lay out specific steps within specific windows (e.g., 1, 3, 6, 9 & 12 months), based on your defined priorities. If you stay focused and disciplined, you can transform your digital engagement from anemic to robust in a year or less.
In addition to implementing a plan of action, organizations should also address related issues like:
Discipline and focus are also critical to successful engagement. Don’t underestimate the ongoing time commitment you have to make to social media, and be sure that you are able to stay consistently engaged over the long term before you begin a specific initiative. Also remember that quality is much more important than quantity. Don’t feel pressured to engage constantly, and make sure your engagement is viewed as valuable signal rather than noise.
Specific considerations include:
I would love to hear the rules other people recommend and/or follow to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of social media engagement. And as always, I welcome questions and comments.
Learn more at the Denovati SMART Blog.