On a recent webinar I co-presented with Triton Digital's Jim Kerr, I provided folks in broadcast media with a simple framework they could use to formulate an engagement strategy for social media. I got a lot of positive comments about this, so I wanted to share it here in the hopes that it provides you with a clearer path to thinking about all the pieces you need to have in place before you dive into a corporate involvement with social media. Note that this doesn't tell you how to do, but how to think. You get to write the story for how to do, like everyone else in this nascent space.
While the myriad of interactions possible in social media can be complex (and truly, it doesn't scale well), there are basically two types of people you need to plan for, and two broad scenarios for each. You need to think about your own people--the folks doing the engagement at your end--and, of course, "other" people (i.e., the rest of the known universe.) For each, you need to have a strategy for your own web properties, and a strategy for web properties you don't control or own. While I can't draw Zippy on the back of a matchbook, I am able to whip up this handy matrix for your consumption:
1. Let's start with the bits that are, on the surface, most under your control--what your people are saying on your site(s). Here, what you need to consider is your content strategy. What do you hope to achieve with the content (audio, video and text) that you are producing for your own web properties?
"Traffic" is a nebulous goal, and often not directly tied to the things you really need to achieve (i.e., getting paid), so a content strategy that attacks specific goals is more likely to meet with success. Do you want to rank better for certain keywords? Provide content that addresses various stages of your prospects' buying cycles? Produce branded content that you hope will go "viral?" The more you can develop specific, measurable goals for your content strategy, the more likely it is that you will succeed.
2. The next framework to think about is what your staff might say or contribute to other sites.
Here, what you need to be thinking about are the types of things your employees might be writing about on their personal blogs, or on their Facebook pages. This is also where you need to consider what kinds of responses your staff might make to comments on other people's blogs, or on message boards. This the quadrant of the matrix that seems to give many of you fits--I've had several GMs and managers express their concern to me about what their staffers might be saying out there in the big scary world of social media, and how they can "control" these "unknowable unknowns." My answer is always the same--if you are worried about what your employees are saying about your company, station or brand on the Internet, you don't have a social media problem. You have a trust problem, and that's tied directly to your HR strategy, morale and the environment you create.
You can, however, "augment" that trust with a written social media policy that is not onerous or draconian (you can't really control this, after all) but does insist that your employees agree in writing to using good judgement. I live in Chapel Hill, NC, right down the road from a company doing great work in this area, SAS. David Thomas, the social media manager at SAS, has a lot of great thoughts about crafting a social media policy that works, and I encourage you to read some of his thoughts at his great blog.
3. When considering a social media strategy, it's crucial to consider your own "hub" for that strategy. I strongly endorse blogging, either directly on your site or on a linked "sister" site, as the linchpin for any social media engagement, as this is your best chance to tell your stories (not your "spin,") showcase the great talent you have and communicate with customers and prospects as real people. Blogs and message boards, however, also invite others in to the party.
What this means is that you need to have a strategy in place for what other people are going to say on your blog, message board or other on-site feedback mechanisms. You need a thick skin here, because one of the side effects of transparency is hearing things you don't like. But you can't give the illusion of transparency. You either are, or you aren't. When you open yourself up to being transparent about your processes and welcoming of criticism, you will achieve three things. First, you will show your customers, audience and prospects that you listen. Second, you will actually learn some valuable things about your products and services that might actually make them better, if your mind is open. Finally, you will get a very good read on the strength of your brand by the passion of both your detractors and your defenders. Strong brands are often attacked, but equally often passionately defended by other people who are truly the best brand ambassadors you could have. To echo a point I made earlier, if your blog comments are rife with negativity, and few step forward to defend your brand, you don't have a social media problem.
At Edison, we have a very simple policy about comments. If you write and tell us we are awesome, we publish those :). If you write in and tell us we suck, or are doing something wrong, we publish those as well. What we don't publish are ad hominem attacks against people, especially other commenters. But that's about the extent of our policy.
4. Finally, there is the great unknown--what other people say on other sites, whether it's their own blogs, or Facebook, or Twitter, or elsewhere in the great aether.
For these comments, you need a plan of engagement. Obviously, in order to engage with others about your brand, you need to hear what they are saying, so you need to have some kind of monitoring system in place. This could range from simple Google Alerts, to more comprehensive ongoing searches from services like Trackur all the way to high-end platforms like Radian6. What I can tell you is that today's active social networker has an expectation that you are listening when they talk about your brand, and they have an equally strong expectation that you will respond or otherwise engage in those conversations.
Again, at Edison we eat our own dogfood in this regard. Five years ago when we released our first Podcasting study (a collaboration with Arbitron), lots of people started discussing the study on blogs and message boards. Some welcomed the data, some disputed it, others misinterpreted it or extended it beyond our own interpretations to achieve even deeper insight. I engaged with them all. Some days this took 5 minutes, other days 45 minutes, but I didn't "judge" the blogs that I commented to; I responded to all of them. Today, that data is taken as currency in the podcasting world, largely because we recognized that the more we opened the process to others and solicited input, the more likely others would buy in to our findings. Scary? Yes. But what it did for us was keep us on our game--and that's a good thing.
So that's my "simple" framework for thinking about social media engagement. Yes, there is a lot of work to do to tackle all four of these buckets, but you really don't have much of a choice. See, the stuff on the right side of the matrix is already happening without you, like it or not, and the stuff on the left side is the best way to offset that. Whether you know it or not, conversations are happening about your brand, and your presence is both expected and required.
Lastly, to echo a popular refrain from this post, if people aren't talking about your brand, you don't have a social media problem.
Note: A Simple Matrix For Social Media Engagement originally appeared on our blog at Edison Research, but I thought it would also be of interest to some of you here. It's a bit Social Media 101, but the issues are important, the waters potentially scary, and the thinking structure hopefully useful to some of you. Thanks for reading! - Tom