Social Media Reality Check

Twitter handle? Registered — and tweeting who knows what. Facebook fan page? Created — and desperately seeking fans. Now what, exactly, do these things do for my brand?

Plenty of companies rush into the social-media space, if only to “be there.”
They suffer from what we call “techno-ecstasy,” a supreme love of newly developed technology. It’s a constant obsession with the newest, shiniest online toys combined with the fear of being left behind. Most often, it’s the technology itself people are enamored with, not the business problems these advancements could solve. These platforms come and go, and the graveyards of lost applications build up, but our business goals get put on the back burner.

We no longer ask if tactics make sense for our brand, if they’re beneficial to our consumers, or if the enterprise is capable of delivering on the promise.

Now more than ever, we’re seeing brands rush head-on into the social-media space, staking their claim on their Twitter, Flickr and Facebook kingdoms, excited about what can be done versus what should be done. In the case of microblogging there are huge differences between brands that do and do not get it. The successful ones engage users on an individual basis and humanize the company with various levels of participation within the organization. On the other hand, some brands deliver mostly broadcast messages regarding promotions or announcements, with little interaction among followers.

But how do you know if you’ve been afflicted with techno-ecstasy? Start by asking these questions:

1. Am I focused on using the social realm to listen to and learn more about my consumers, or am I more focused on executing a fan page?

2. How much participation is required to make a difference on my brand? Does adding 4,600 “friends” have any impact on this goal? Is this scalable to the level I need?

3. Has my company trained CSR, legal, HR and sales on our social-media strategy, or has only the marcom department received a social-media 101 session?

Trust me, I’m not discouraging the appetite to keep up with new innovations. They’ll undoubtedly effect profound changes in how our brands start and continue relationships with customers. But there’s no need to be blinded by techno-ecstasy.

To help you navigate the social-media space, here are four phases of a social strategy:

1. Listen. The most important thing to remember brings us back to marketing basics: Listen to your consumer. Social media is the perfect place to leverage what your audience is already saying. Executing a pretty fan page won’t do your brand any good if you aren’t listening to what consumers are asking for.

This should be the first and most supported phase. Even if you have to stop there, it’s OK.

2. Understand. Social media is not necessarily a popularity contest. Your friends or followers may have zero impact on your brand if they’re not the audience you’re seeking. Instead of racing to add more friends, focus on developing meaningful one-on-one relationships with your existing, most loyal fans.

Back up and ask yourself if your goals within social media (e.g., adding fans) are aligned with the business, brand and consumer goals.

3. Participate. Social media is not simply a marketing channel to broadcast campaigns and promotions. It’s also an invaluable relationship building tool, given the individualized nature of the medium. People spend time on social networks to connect with other people so engage your consumers as individuals, not a mass voice. Customers respond more to brands that have real transparency and act as brand ambassadors.

4. Harness. The place to focus your presence in social media is to graph your fan base. We’re not talking about painting word clouds or counting tweets. We’re talking about a serious deep dive into what your consumers think about your category and your brand. Although social media is the product of technology and we’re used to quantitative metrics in the digital space, you’ll get more out of analyzing this realm with a human approach. After all, how does one quantify the feeling and emotion abounding from a conversation? We’ve even mined the human conversations occurring in social media with the methodology of a cultural anthropologist.