“To be successful and grow your business and revenues, you must match the way you market your products with the way your prospects learn about and shop for similar products.” Brian Halligan, from the book Inbound Marketing

“Social Media”, “Social Engagement Marketing”, “Relationship Management”, “Inbound Marketing”, et all. While these are all derivatives of the primary driver for web 4.0 (depending on who holds the score card), they each affect the fundamental strategy of owning your digital identity and directing the public perception of your brand. “Social Media” is the news media’s favored term for the online ecosystem of social sites, platforms and destinations for Juan Q. Public’s digital experience, while the other terms surfaced as businesses began to develop practices to leverage the many social platforms to engage the millions of potential customers using those platforms. Ok, that’s the easy part.

“Social Engagement Marketing” and “Inbound Marketing” are synonyms, and they are the terms you must come to understand, practice and ultimately master. The quotation above is from a great book called “Inbound Marketing”, and it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for greater detail about the science behind these new marketing terms. But let me summarize this way: create content that is relevant and engaging in order to influence inbound inquiries from your social audience online.

The big names we are all now familiar with like FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+ are ideal destinations to establish a presence if simply for the enormous numbers of people using the platforms. But beyond these “brand name” sites, we advise researching and locating other social sites, perhaps industry-specific sites, sponsored enthusiast sites or even fan sites. Identify those sites relevant to the ways your customers research and purchase products/services like yours, and begin to establish a presence there with engaging content.

Given the changing nature of the social experiment online, and the inevitable turn-over of your team members, it is crucial that you leverage my other favorite technology to document your presence in social media: an enterprise wiki. If your company or organization does not have a wiki yet, shame on you. Seriously. There is no greater business continuity tool and knowledge-sharing incubator than a well-deployed/managed/maintained wiki. But we’ll cover the details in another post. For those that already have wikis (and I’m sure most of you do) carve out a space to (if nothing else) document WHERE you have presence, WHY you have these profiles online, and WHAT the business goals are that affect the company’s efforts there. Don’t let all that valuable information end up in meeting notes somewhere, or worse, in Jane Doe’s head who later leaves the company and you have to pick up the pieces or re-interpret what was done.

The “business owner significance” of documenting the high-level details of your company’s social media efforts must not be overlooked. Not only will it provide useful business continuity documentation, it will allow you to regularly compare your team’s implementation against the direction you’ve set for the endeavor. Plus measuring progress and success with “social engagement media” cannot yet be encapsulated by simply counting likes, re-tweets, visitors, etc. You MUST decide how you value social-engagement-media lest you be swamped by the deluge of media catch phrases, metrics unique to each platform, and measurement analytics that sometimes do not result in immediate P&L value or cash-in-the-bank. This is particularly true when you start establishing presence online beyond your primary web site.
Which Leads us to Your Brand…

Begin with your brand. Because your Brand is never static. Your Brand is either improving vs the competition or being reduced by the competition.

For small and medium business this is harder than you might think; so much to do, so little time and few resources to do it with. But your brand goal(s) will not only be your “compass heading” online, but Brand represents your implicit promise to customers about your quality of service, credibility, and viability. Brand optimization begins with your reputation, since ultimately the public’s perception of your company = your reputation. But this is where small and medium business can see enormous value leveraging social media! You can do in an astonishingly short period of time what larger, bureaucratic organizations take months or years to pursue, and if you produce engaging content, you can gain advantage and tangible results.

Because one of the most profound aspects of these tools/tactics is the ability to enhance your brand in real-time. Never have we been able to affect our customers/employees/readers/stake holders/prospects/investors/strategic partners/suppliers so quickly and so frequently for so little external cost (this does not imply free).

HINT: are you creating content online, across all the platforms where you have presence, for all these categories in your audience (customers, employees, readers, etc.)? If not, just mix it up! For example, stop writing all your blogs for your customers and prospects. Write one that will appeal to other groups every now and then.
It used to be the only way to reach millions of readers/viewers, and to shape your brand image was to pay an advertising toll to access the platform of your choice (traditional advertising mediums). With social media there are low cost digital means to tend to and to measure your company’s brand and its many relationships. So get in the game.

But be aware of people’s perception of your online presence(s), which shapes your reputation and therefore affects your brand. And a visitor’s first impression begins with Relevance (with a capital R). Relevance essentially means you are producing content the reader finds useful, helpful, and applicable to their needs. And Relevance is the primary differentiator/motivator we as consumers use to assess a company’s presence online.

RELEVANCE

Consider this example, based on an experience I had this week: I recently visited a competitor’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Their pages had few followers, and neither page had been updated since June 2009. My immediate reaction was to assume “times were tough” and that the company must not be doing well. I found myself thinking that at best they were a profitable company with “nothing to say”; however, at worst they were a non-functioning business. One of the serious risks of establishing presence on social media platforms is if you stop posting updates. To me as a visitor their presence on Facebook and Twitter had a Relevance score of zero. And it was so far out of date (no updates in over 24 months) that it made me wonder if they were in business!

If your company is not creating content frequently, your Relevance rating is trending down. And remember Relevance > Reputation > Brand; one leads to another.

What can you do to manage this risk and be Relevant?

  • have a manageable number of sites with up to date profiles/presence (there is such a thing as too many if you cannot keep up with them all);
  • integrate platforms (where possible) to automate content sharing and distribution (i.e. you publish a new blog post and it’s automatically tweeted to your followers) saving you time;
  • create and publish content to the social sites/profiles regularly (somewhere between twice a week and monthly). Only “professional” bloggers seem to the feel the need to produce content daily, and (trust me) most of your social fans/followers/readers can’t consume all your daily content anyway;
  • If possible, dedicate a resource inside the company to social engagement media, and implement a review cycle that includes cross-functional team members (i.e. management, legal, customer service, sales, etc.);



CONCLUSION

I intend to address the importance of and means to measure your social engagement media efforts in the future, but the subject of this post has been to introduce the strategic importance of “social engagement media” and how “Relevance” shapes the perception of your visitors.

Do not become discouraged by measurements that imply “social media” (as a category) accounts for few of your organization’s sales, or of an entire industry’s sales (I recently read a statistic that indicated some very smart people determined that “social media” accounted for fewer than 3% of vehicle sales in the U.S.). Reliable studies have proven the vast majority of consumers research vehicle purchases online prior to contacting a retailer to consummate a vehicle purchase. And consumers rely on an array of sites and platforms to gain knowledge about what to purchase, what to pay, when to buy, where to buy and from whom. If your content is Relevant to people because you address these fundamental points, your organization gains credibility, your reputation improves, your brand is more trusted/valuable/influential online.

Makes you wish there was a tool or dashboard for “social engagement media” (equivalent to your paper P&L or Balance Sheet for finance) to measure your reputation, Relevance, and brand value, doesn’t it? More on that in future posts.