Nine steps to getting started with social media

Social networks letteringAmid the mass of social networking sites and tools, how do you know where to start? E-commerce consultant James Gurd outlines the key steps to make your social networking strategy a success.

Whether you want to use social media to build relationships with customers or connect with other people in your sector, it’s worth taking an approach that ensures you pick the right tools and get the most out of them. Simply diving into something like Twitter, for example, without being clear what you want from it is likely to result in wasted time and a feeling that social media is pointless.

But it isn’t - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like can be very useful promotional and relationship-building tools for your business. Use these nine steps as a rough guide to help you select the right media for your purposes and use them in the most productive way.

Step 1: Define the goals and objectives of your social media strategy

  • Why are you investing time and money?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) objectives and ensure that any activity is tied back to at least one of these.

Step 2: Plan the resource requirements

  • How much time can you afford to dedicate to building your social media presence?
  • Who needs to be involved and how does this need co-ordinating?
  • Define how you will respond to feedback (positive, negative, general enquiries, and so on).
  • Establish what tools you will need to use to monitor your presence effectively.

Step 3: Understand the culture of the social networks you wish to explore

  • Evaluate competitors and other companies using the networks and learn from what they do.
  • Immerse yourself in social media and get to grips with the etiquette and how people interact.
  • Read relevant industry blogs and articles to improve your knowledge.

Step 4: Create a measurement plan

  • Define what your success criteria are - are they soft or hard targets? Are there financial objectives?
  • Define how you will measure each success criterion.
  • Set up the tools that you need to measure these (web analytics, customer feedback, call centre, and so on).

Step 5: Understand your customers' needs that do not relate to a purchase

  • What will make people interested in what you have to say and engage in conversation with you?
  • What information will satisfy the needs of online searchers who don’t want a sales message?
  • What subject areas related to your products and services drive the greatest conversation?
  • What knowledge base do you have that you can communicate to add value to the community?

Step 6: Create an integrated communication plan

  • Define how you will use each channel to promote both conversation and sales-orientated messages.
  • Define how your social media presence will work with your other marketing channels.

Step 7: Build relevant content - content is king

  • Plan relevant website content that adds value to your community.
  • Integrate this content with your primary website to ensure that your traditional customer base benefits as well.
  • Integrate content creation with your SEO (search engine optimisation) to ensure content is optimised and beneficial to site visibility.

Step 8: Identify brand ambassadors and key contributors

  • Monitor your networks and identify people who get involved the most - talk to them, find out more about them and encourage them to become brand ambassadors.
  • Use other people to spread your message - give them the tools to share your content across their networks.
  • Engage with them directly using more personalised one-to-one communication.

Step 9: Monitor, evaluate, respond, adapt and evolve

  • Social media is not a fixed entity, and communities are evolving every day as people’s needs and desire changes - make sure you stay in touch with the mood.
  • If your audience is shifting to other social media sites, move with them; if they are demanding more interaction, learn how to satisfy this.
  • Regularly evaluate performance against the objectives and goals you set. How are you doing?
  • Use all sources of information to identify ways to improve your engagement.
  • Above all, monitor your brand reputation and act when there is conversation happening that you can influence and add value to - never stop listening!

James Gurd is the owner of Digital Juggler.