We learn through everything we do, and our experiences influence what we try and what we repeat. When something new comes along, we view it with either enthusiasm or skepticism—and in some cases a bit of both.
All this is true with social media. It represents a revolution in business, but every revolution starts with baby steps that help you move forward with confidence and direction. To get you started, I’ve developed a simple set of questions to guide you through the phases of evaluation, planning, and action.
1. Who: Define the brand personality and what it symbolizes. Social media is about people connecting with people, not avatars. Bring your business and your brand to life. Give it a persona, personality, voice, and presence. If your company was a person, how would it look, behave, speak, respond, or lead? Also, make the brand stand for something that’s worthy and desirable. Give it a mission and a sense of purpose.
2. What: Listen to online conversations and learn from what’s said. Assess how the brand is perceived today using search tools for the traditional and social web. Create a benchmark that captures what the world looks like today and pay attention to the general sentiment tied to your brand and competitors. Try Google, Collecta.com, Google Blog Search and Analytic.ly to get started. Also, Alltop aggregates news for over 800 topics. If you’re working with a reasonable budget, also consider using services such as Spiral16 or Radian6.
3. When: Pinpoint when your opportunities arise. Each tool mentioned above provides you with alert systems to let you know when your keywords appear online as they happen. Monitor the real-time web to see the level of activity that takes place every day. Surface any conversations that represent opportunities for positive engagement as well as those that contribute to negative impressions.
4. Where: Track down where your presence is required. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and blogs, are among the most often social networks discussed in popular media today. Using the services mentioned in Step 2, you can get an exact idea of where your customers, prospects, and their peers are interacting online. Once you have this information, you can put together a plan action to become part of the conversations, learn how to build valuable relationships, and contribute to the loyalty and advocacy of the social customer.
5. How: Become a part of the community. In your review, pay close attention to how people interact, and the culture and behavior that exists within the social networks that are important to you. Their words and actions reveal opportunities for value-added, not disruptive or offensive engagement. Monitor the responses that follow each time you engage. They will offer feedback that teaches you how to improve and what next steps you should take.
6. Why: Find the reasons that warrant your participation. Pay attention to recurring themes, topics, question, insights, or the lack thereof. Doing so surfaces the reasons for initial engagement as well as the ideas that trigger creativity and value for engagement over time.
7. To What Extent: Identify the individuals who can help you tell your story. Many individuals are earning authority within social networks and what they say influences those around them. Their reach is expansive and is instrumental in effective word of mouth programs. You can identify them by using the same tools in steps 1 through 6. Monitoring their activity and learning about who they are will also reveal their motivation.
Brian Solis is the author of Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web. In addition to reading his book, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or read his blog.