Anyone who works with me knows that I like to start my public relations plans with objectives like “sell more stuff” rather than “generate coverage”. This is unusual in a world where “tell me about your biggest media hit” is a typical job interview question (media hits matter, of course: they’re a great strategy/tactic to build awareness, move people to action, sell more stuff…). The challenge in PR has always been that clients rarely have the tools and budget to connect public relations activity to sales. Results are real, but measured in anecdotes as often as sales.
So it’s fascinating to see the meme develop – as perhaps we all knew it would – that social media is being held accountable for contributions to the bottom line. Witness Social Media Explorer Jason Falls expertly admonishing readers to avoid the trap of, essentially, too much focus on social engagement over business imperatives:
“…the social media purists have laid down the law and, so, to participate in social media as a business, you must do things like, “participate in the conversation,” “engage your customers,” and “talk with us not to us.”
I’ve got news for you. In the world of business, all that talk will get you exactly nowhere. Conversations do not ring the cash register. Engagement does not sell more product. Talking with people just means you have to take time to listen which prevents you from spending valuable time selling more product.”
This attitude is gaining on the hype. I urge you to check out the brilliant slideshow posted by Oliver Blanchard at Social Media ROI.
Or read direct marketing guru Kevin Hillstrom’s imagined executive conversation with the newly appointed “Chief Customer Officer” at fictional Gliebers Dresses:
Candi Layton: “Yes, Lois! Social media cannot be held to metrics like sales and profit. It’s about a conversation, it is about relationships, it is about listening. That’s why we call our social media efforts ‘GliebersListens’. We certainly don’t call it ‘Gliebers Extracts Profit From You'”.
Roger Morgan: “Candi, do you understand that the rest of us are held accountable for either generating sales, increasing profit, or reducing expenses? The only way we get to keep our job is if we make incremental improvements, every single year.”
The point: many executives have been happy to let marketing and customer service experiment in social media. Hopefully, they’ve been learning about online culture in various social networks, building skill sets in key tools, and monitoring and engaging with their own constituents. Hopefully, they’ve been using these tools to deliver meaning full stories, message and opportunities to their customers and prospects.
And having done so, they’ll take on the much more arduous task of justifying the investment of time and energy to management in ways that make sense.
1. Define “social” at your company.
“Social Media” are tools to engage with audiences and drive them toward sales. They include online publishing platforms, social networks, metrics, sharable content, etc.
“Social Networks” are places where like-minded people gather online. They can be network sites like Facebook, conversation publishers like Twitter, or informal networks of bloggers and their readers and commenters. Each network and sub-group have their own habits, personality and cultural rules. Each connects with others. Learn the relevant ones.
“Social strategy” is a subset of business functions. Social strategy is different for customer service, marketing, corporate communications, engineering, product development, human resources, business development, investor relations and the CEO. It’s different for employees and management. Not all involve sales; all are focused on business imperatives.
2. Match social strategy to corporate and departmental objectives.
Where is social media necessary and desirable to support these objectives. Marry strategy to these objectives, and balance budget with need.
3. Create a “social manifesto.”
The social manifesto combines policy that guides employees and management both on responsible use of social media and participation in social networks – particularly how to manage the personal and professional — and encourages responsible social engagement that helps the company.
4. Track and measure against objectives.
Not just for social strategies, but for all strategies – what’s working … what’s not? Plan accordingly
5. (And this is key): Repeat.