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6 Things You Need To Know About Running A Social Media Program: The Channels

This is part 4 of 6 in the series “6 Things You Need to Know About Running A Social Media Program”. You can read part 1 “The Client” here, it has a full introduction. Part 2 “The Product” is here, part 3 “Your Audiences” is here.

I’ve created this list of “things you must know” mostly based upon very positive experiences I’ve had, but also from negative ones…things that I’ve either experienced myself or seen others do.  This isn’t a tactical post, I think I write plenty of those.  Instead, this is my advice to those that are going to lend their expertise to others, and hopefully by checking these off you will avoid some common mistakes that often result in unmet expectations, from one side or the other…or both.

Know The Channels

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Ustream, blogs, forums and all of the other communities in social media each have a different feel, and as such have different rules and therefore different results should be expected.  I’m going to go on record as saying that, in my opinion, trying to target all areas is a big mistake unless you have an incredibly well resourced team.  For most of the Fortune 500 companies that I work with we target a handful of channels based upon the brand needs and expectations…I don’t think there is such a thing as a cookie cutter social media program.  Why?  Because the need of every client is different (remember that part I wrote about knowing your customer?)  That said, there are a few basics that should be covered, but once you have established those you’ll want to match specific needs with specific communities.  If you try to be all things to all people you’re going to get spread too thin.

When I present to a group that contains companies that haven’t yet jumped into social media, I get one question consistently, “where should I start?”  It’s a pretty difficult question to answer with any brevity because it’s like somebody asking “where should I start with business?” or “where should I start with marketing?” Social Media is such a broad scope of platforms, but when going through a 10 minute Q&A after a presentation and trying to answer as many questions as possible, I usually say “If you do nothing else, start a blog and have a presence on Facebook and Twitter”.  That said, it’s not always the answer for everybody, but it’s a good shotgun approach to start.  Following is a quick overview of the feel of each channel, with some possible pitfalls that you can experience in each.

Twitter – By now most companies have heard of Twitter and are anxious to get involved.  Recently it has been a lot easier for me to discuss Twitter strategy with organizations, a far cry from the days not too long ago that I insisted that Twitter names should be put on business cards (that got me laughed out of meetings in 2008). In the rush to get to this channel however, make sure you know what you are in for.  Twitter is extremely conversational and therefore is immediate and personal.  One of the biggest mistakes I see companies both large and small making on Twitter is trying to get their PR or legal department to approve everything that is published.  Yes, I’m serious…there are plenty of companies that still insist on running every single tweet through multiple PR teams to make sure the messaging is spot on.  The problem with this? Twitter is usually more like a conversation than a presentation.  Most companies that try this find out that their growth, engagement and brand lift are slow if not completely void.  The other extreme (and also a mistake) is to put a well-intentioned intern or recent hire in charge of communicating with your customers.  I don’t think this is a mistake because of age, but because of experience with the company.  Twitter is often the most immediate and intimate touch point with your current and future customers; make sure you put your best and brightest people behind this channel…and pay them well! They can make or break your reputation in just a few key strokes.

Facebook – With 350MM users and growing it’s the largest social network online, so certainly you need to be a part of it.  Facebook has its own feel also, and that is one of sharing and playing.  Facebook doesn’t necessarily have the feel of immediacy that Twitter does, but fans do have their own demands.  They want to share things with their friends and generally have fun, so your business should respond accordingly.  Encourage fans of your brand to upload their own photos and videos to your wall and get them to talk to each other.  Build community! Be careful about sweepstakes and giveaways however, there are some recent changes to Facebook’s terms of service that can get you suspended in a hurry if you are holding contents the wrong way from your brand fan page.

Blogs – Don’t forget about the blogs! They often get left off the list of social networks, but they are one of the original and the best.  I tell my clients that their company blog should be the official word on all things related to them, from press releases to product updates to setting online rumors and leaks straight.  This is the place that you have control to say what you need to say…but the community can still interact! If you want traffic through your blog, make it easy for people to find information (have a search bar prominently displayed near the top of the page), interact with you(don’t make them register or fill out CAPTCHA to comment) and share with their friends (use ShareThis, Tweetmeme buttons, etc.)  Commenting on blogs has slowed down considerably because of conversational channels like Twitter, but people still read them.  Make sure you keep your company blog current and relevant.

Although I’ve highlighted these three channels, there are so many others that can be beneficial to your company.  YouTube is the place to upload original video content, Ustream is incredible for hosting live events or doing video chats with fans and Foursquare is still a great (and mostly untapped) opportunity to geo-target your customers with special offers and incentives.  There are thousands of social networks around, make sure you find the ones that are good for your company then dive in and participate with your community!

In the next post I will talk about what it means to know other professionals.

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Photos used under Creative Commons License. Twitter mashup from Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten and blogging ticket from Jacob Botter
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By Matt Singley

Personal: husband to Alison, father to four amazing kids. I used to live a fast but enjoyable life in Los Angeles, now I have chickens on acreage in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just a bit different. I'm an advocate for cycling as much as you can and eating as cleanly as you can afford. Professional: I'm the CEO of Singley + Mackie, a creative digital agency that serves well-known lifestyle and entertainment companies around the world. Clients include Microsoft, Samsung, Hulu, YP and others. If you want to find the more-professional me, go to http://singleymackie.com