You’ve got a marketing plan of course, and a business plan, and a company mission statement, and you’ve probably got a bunch of other formal forms informing you of the formula for formulating strategic marketing decisions, but in all of that there’s probably not a single bit of guidance on what to do when TeenyBopper88 from Mildura starts telling all her Twitter followers that your product a) is brilliant and should be bought by everyone, b) is entirely unremarkable or c) left her without sight in one eye.

Presuming anyone is actually talking about you of course. If they’re not, you’re probably scratching your head wondering exactly how you get the conversation started. You’ve probably got a Twitter account setup, you’ve probably got an agency (or a cousin) telling you to create a Facebook page, and you’re probably reading stuff from social media ‘experts’ telling you to just jump in and start talking. Which would be fine, except you’ve read all the horror stories about brands that tried to do that and given that you actually have people to answer to should things start looking like a pear, you want some sort of roadmap/plan/strategy for getting there without burning your fingers, your hand and your brand.

Funnily enough, you’re not alone. A recent survey revealed that 109% of marketing managers were keen to make a move into the social media sphere but 201% were so shit-scared of the consequences of doing it wrong, that no-one has heard so much as a tweet from them. That’s a complete lie. I made those figures up. But the truth isn’t far off. I get to talk to a lot of brand and marketing managers through the ad agency I work for, and at various industry events about the place, and I haven’t met a single one yet who doesn’t want to start playing in the social media space but can’t quite get their heads around how to do it, or can’t afford to hire a social media manager to just take care of it.

If that sounds like you, you need a social media strategy. Here’s how to create one…

Step 1: Gather the conversations

Use social media monitoring tools, to collect relevant snippets of conversations happening about your brand, industry and competitors online. Depending on the level of activity that you are monitoring, a three to four week collection period should be enough to give you an overview of the type of conversations taking place.

Step 2: Analyse the conversations

Once you’ve got a pile of dialogue sitting in front of you, sort them out and look for trends. Are they all positive? Are the mostly negative? Are they all by women? Figure out what they’re talking about, what the sentiment towards your brand is, what platforms people are using to talk and the type of people engaging in the conversation.

Step 3: Review your brand’s personality

At some stage you (or someone before you) would have probably gone through a formal process of defining your brand’s values. You may have discussed what movie star your brand would be (George Clooney of course, every brand says they are George Clooney; smart, sophisticated, sense of humour, popular, ladies want you, men want to be you, mature, but still fun, has a mansion in Lake Como; I want to be George Clooney, why wouldn’t your brand?), what car your brand would drive (hope it’s not a Volvo), what your brand would do on weekends for fun (sprightly dinner party with lively conversation anyone?) and where your brand fits on a circular diagram with other similar brands (let me guess, you’re in the middle). Dig up those diagrams, go through the reports and remind yourself where you want to be and what sort of personality your brand has.

If you’ve never been through a formal brand identity process, now would be a good time. You can hire a big-name branding consultant with an extensive collection of thick whiteboard markers, or just write you and your competitors names on a set of darts and throw them at a copy of Who Weekly and you’ll get basically the same results.

Step 4: Compare personality vs. reality

Compare where you want to be with what people are actually saying about you. If people are talking about your brand as if it’s George Clooney, you win. If people are comparing your brand to George Bush, you have some work to do.

Step 5: Develop social media objectives

Subtract the reality from your ideal personality and you’ll know what you should be aiming for. If your brand is talked about positively and seems to have lots of fans, your goals should be to build relationships with and turn your fans into brand ambassadors. They’ll be likely to sign up to a Facebook page, they’ll want your newsletter and they’ll be over the moon if you give them opportunities to connect with you – make it a goal to build a database of fans and give them access to your brand.

If things aren’t so good and you have a bunch of hecklers out there, your goals should be to understand the problems and start owning the conversation. Let people know that you are listening and give them opportunities to air their dirty laundry in more appropriate places.

If you’re not being talked about at all, your goal should be conversation creation. Start working with your marketing team, your boss, your PR agency or your ad agency and get people talking about you. Give them reasons to talk. Start being remarkable.

In each objective work out:

  • What you’d ideally like the conversations to be about?
  • Where you want them to do the talking?
  • What you want to change?
  • How much it will cost?
  • How long you think it will take to get there?
  • What you need to do differently to make it happen?
  • How you will measure success?
  • How you are going to monitor progress?

Step 6: Get advice

Once you have some goals in place, not is the time to engage a social media expert, ask your PR company. Speak to your ad agency. Hire an in-house social media manager. Join LinkedIn and start making friends with people who know the space. Make sure you ask for credentials though, there are a million social media ‘strategists’ out there, but few who have helped companies achieve real results that have benefitted the brand.

Signs of an expert social media advisor include:

  • Quantifiable results
  • Happy clients, the bigger the better (and usually the more expensive)
  • Press coverage
  • Peer praise
  • A history of working in marketing/advertising/PR before the words ‘social media’ were used in the same sentence, and
  • A lively, insightful blog and/or Twitter account.

Step 7: Review

Once you’ve started actioning strategies to achieve your goals, go back to step one and start keeping a close eye on social media conversations. Look at the objectives that have been set and monitor the progress and relevance of what you are doing.

If you’re not meeting your goals in a realistic timeframe, revisit your objectives and explore alternative approaches. Assess the levels of conversation in terms of volume, content and sentiment.

If you’ve started to meet your goals you’ll notice that people are talking about you more often, and they’ll be saying nice things too. If they’re not, you’re doing something wrong somewhere and you’ll have to set some different goals. Having a boring brand is no excuse ether, blenders and canned fish have been two of the most talked-about products this century thanks to the stories those marketers have attached to them.

In summary…

Social media is such a new and evolving landscape to be playing in, but plenty of companies are starting to get it right. You don’t have to just dive right in and force your CEO to start Twittering tomorrow. Take the time to set some goals, make a plan, get some advice, and you’ll almost certainly start reaping rewards for your brand, no matter what people are currently saying about you.

Got any questions? Leave a comment below…