Or Why Still No One Is Reading Your Tweets About Grape Jelly
A classmate from grad school recently shared a link to the page below with the caption “Saddest Twitter page ever.” The concept was a Twitter feed from Smuckers Jam, which pointed only to the obvious conclusion, that no one wants to read a Twitter feed from Smuckers Jam.
Or do they.
For those of us who work with clients everyday creating digital strategies, one of the most oft' heard questions--and one asked with the most trepidation--is “what should we be doing for social media?”
At best, this is a savvy admission that brands and organizations in the 21st century can and should use "social" as an important arrow in the marketing quiver (check out Harvard Business Review's take).
But here's the problem. The term Social Media, in and of itself, does not mean anything. You don't need a "social media." What you need is a digital strategy that supports your organization's overall brand promise. Maybe you need a place for "Knowledge Sharing." Maybe you need a place for "User Collaboration." But you don't need a place for "Social Media."
When you think about social media, chances are you think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare. Most recently, you think Google+. While those are potential items in any digital tool set, your social strategy can be much simplier than that. Often, it is a comprehensive approach made up of smaller components, things like:
- Comments from users on your site’s articles or content you’ve posted
- Ratings or “star” systems for your services or products
- Testimonials from users on your services
- Blogs or Columns written by some of your employees on topics relevant to your brand
- Forums or Q&As for users to come together to have discussions with you or each other
- Facebook Pages, Twitter feeds, Youtube Channels, and everything else.
So if we're going to stop saying "Social Media," how do we know what to ask for instead? Here are some guidelines to follow, once and for all, to figure out what social media means to you:
1. Never fight a land war in Asia. What’s the biggest reason your "social media" campaign is failing? You’re fighting the wrong battle. Fearing being left behind, too many brands charge head first, bayonets flared, into some social foray without a true sense of why they are there or what they are trying to achieve. And then what happens? Winter sets in, the campaign fails, and history remembers you as a short person.
There is no point in having a Facebook page just for the sake of having one, or a Twitter feed just because you want one of those dynamic feed thingys on your homepage. It only makes sense if there is a clearly defined need. Which brings us to #2:
2. Carefully match the social medium to the social need. Ironworks recently worked with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) on their web-presence re-design. APTA is a good example of an Association harnessing the power of Twitter. In addition to the main APTA feed, which is carefully monitored and frequently updated, they also have feeds for their professional journal as well as advocacy and groups like students. These are aggregated on the homepage, giving users a sense that multiple conversations are happening at once. As a result, followership is high, and upon launching their new site, a major source of feedback was members writing @ the Twitter channel itself.
3. Not sure of the social need? Ask about it. The start of any digital strategy engagement should focus on gathering data to determine users' appetite for social interaction, and in what areas. Bring tools like surveys, focus groups and competitive benchmarking to bare. Looking at existing site analytics and getting a handle on “offline” user conversations will also help. For example, are lots of people discussing your brand on a listserv or third party site other than your own? What are those conversations like and why are they there?
4. Give offline conversations a place to live. Everyone hates taxes. And yet, Turbotax harnessed social interaction by giving a home to all of the disparate conversations taking place online about completing your taxes. While the topic of tax preparation may not seem like a social thing, this smart approach unites users in a way that is useful and underscores the brand. H&R Block has a similar Get it Right Community.
5. Determine if you have the community in place to support social interaction, then plan around it. The United Services Automobile Association (USAA) is a great example of a site that started conversation around its core offerings. Using the power of a community of service members and their families, they allow users to rate product offerings and accumulate points for site participation. The risk of such an approach is always “will it be used?” In the case of USAA, the answer was "yes" thanks to an intuitive read of their audience.
6. There is no “auto-pilot.” You cannot, repeat cannot, launch anything social and expect it to run itself. Your brand must be there every step of the way responding, interacting, encouraging (and rewarding) participation. Yes, this means more work for you. And this may mean doing things you are not currently comfortable doing.
Here’s an example. Redfin, arguably the best User Experience out there now for real estate, has a highly-used agent rating system. Every time someone buys or sells a house, they are asked to post feedback and a star-rating. These ratings are aggregated over time to reflect the average score for each agent. Now do these user reviews just write themselves? No. Redfin has to work for every one. After any customer completes a transaction, they send emails asking for feedback, and Redfin agents personally write clients to ask if they would mind completing the survey. This approach has a big effect on engagement, and the site has thousands of reviews as a result.
7. But wait, I work at a law firm. Are you saying I, too, can enjoy the benefits of online social interaction? Maybe. It depends on determining who wants to listen. While clients of law firms may have little interest in tweeting about recent legal experiences, there are other areas systemic to the business of all firms, such as recruitment, that may lend themselves to a social approach. Check out Wilmer Hale's careers page for a good example. Likewise, legal research and thought leadership are increasingly trafficked locations on some firms’ sites that encourage sharing and commenting.
8. I hate people. Should I bother defining what "social media" means to me? Sure! Some of micro blogging's most popular personalities are also its greatest curmudgeons. Just follow @youlookgreat or @whitewhines.
So there is your list of ground rules. “Social media” is not just another line on a project plan or an afterthought for post-production. It is, if worth doing at all, an intrinsic part of a digital strategy that puts fire behind your overall brand promise. If done right, it can deliver great impact at relatively minor cost. If done poorly, it can do more harm than good.
And that is why if you are a Jelly Company whose goal is to get people excited about Grape Jelly, you have to do more than just create a Twitter page.
Or then again, maybe its just time you Tweeted about Strawberry.