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 Your Audience
Your audience is not “everybody” unless you are selling oxygen or religion…and even then there are plenty of people that don’t want either. If you really think you can reach everybody, you are sorely mistaken. You’re also going to be working 24/7 and going broke, because you cannot target everybody. Now that we have established that, this is another great conversation to have with your client. They probably have a pretty good idea of who their target audience is; make sure you understand who they are going after. If you’ve done your homework (by knowing the product) then you can and should add to this conversation. Once you understand the person that you are trying to reach you can start developing a strategy that will include some social media channels but not others. Your strategy should also tell you when you should be active online (based upon when the target audience is), how often to engage them and what sort of external resources you should link to that will add value to the community. If your client has no idea who they are targeting, I would suggest that you consider working this out with them before you start, it will prevent a lot of frustration from both sides.
You’ll notice that I said you will want to utilize some social media channels but not others…if you understand who your audience is, then you should also understand where your audience is and where they are not. For example, although MySpace has been dropped by users like a bad habit as of late, they also recently announced a new focus on music. It would stand to reason then that if your client is pitching music service, or is a band, producer, etc. then MySpace is still a viable (and reasonably good) social media outlet for them. If, on the other hand, your client produces a durable good like car tires then putting effort into MySpace is likely a waste of time and resources because your core audience won’t be there. Sure, people that listen to music do drive cars and therefore need tires, but this is the “appeal to everybody” mentality that will have you spinning your wheels in social media. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun, forgive me…it’s true though.
To understand your audience is to understand the timing and frequency of engagement as well. By “engagement” I mean @ replies on Twitter, comments on Facebook threads and blog/forum posts, and other one-to-one engagement. Don’t confuse engagement with publication…putting a post up that links to a new product launch is not engagement, it’s information sharing. I’m talking about real, honest-to-goodness active engagement with your consumers. Not all audiences react the same to engagement and timing; some expect a very high level of interaction with the brand (especially in the tech sector) and some simply want to sit back and watch, they don’t need the always-on attention of the social media presence even though they are in the space themselves.
By knowing your audience you will also understand want other products, services and resources they would like other than your own brand. When dealing with social media, it’s important to offer value to your consumers, and often times that means linking to resources outside of your client’s ecosystem. While many traditional marketers would scoff at this idea, in my experience I have found that the more I offer to the community I’m speaking with that doesn’t necessarily link directly to the client’s site, the more retention we see from the community. In other words, when I talk about and link to news stories, product offerings and other things I think the community would find interesting, the higher the follower/friend count goes and likewise the level of engagement. Simply put, don’t just talk about yourself. I have worked with a lot of traditional media and marketing types, and almost without exception they feel that this is a bad idea, “always keep the focus on your own product”, they say. Social media is a different beast altogether, and the community knows this. Of course that doesn’t mean you should link to things your direct competitors are doing, but use your common sense…if you find an article that you think would be good for your audience even though it’s not related to your client, bring some attention to it! Your audience will appreciate you for it. As for the client, well…that’s another story. It’s going to take some time to build up trust from them that this strategy is actually good for them overall.
If you spend the time to truly understand who it is that you are speaking to and with, your client is going to see measurable gains in some key areas like follow count and engagement, not to mention positive sentiment. If you’ve been put in a position in which you have to roll out programs and channels very quickly and you don’t have time to do the research in advance, may I suggest a bold tactic? Ask them what they like. Remember, social media is a conversation and not a platform, so don’t be afraid to talk to your audience and ask them what they are looking for. The result may surprise you and your client, likely in a very good way.
In the next post I will talk about what it means to know the channels.