If that’s where you find yourself, then you must know that there are TWO things you MUST have in place in order to succeed in social media:
You need two – and only two – KEY elements in place to succeed in social media.
1. You must have a plan.
2. You must be proactive.
First – you must have a solid plan.
I’m not talking about a “social media plan” or even a “social media strategy”. I’m talking about a solid business plan which includes as part of your business’ DNA a DESIRE to serve your customer base.
Social media sucks for the business running a “pump and dump” style business plan. If you view customer comments as “noise” then chances are your “social media strategy” is going to focus upon making your customers SHUT UP and “kwitcherbitchin”.
The current “trend” appears to be that consumers voices are becoming more easily “heard” online that the many professional marketers. Google is actively searching for online reviews and including them as part of the Google Places Page – a free page one website which business owners can claim and utilize.
In other words, the search engines appear to be interested in magnifying the voice of the “little guy” a.k.a. the consumer online. The wise business owner and CEO will keep this trend in mind as they plan for the future in ALL areas of their business.
Think of social media as a huge cocktail party where the conversations are being etched in stone and run your business accordingly.
Creating a free standing “social media plan” – one that is separate and distinct from the overall business plan – is kind of like a resident of Spokane, Washington planning a road trip to Miami Beach and buying a map of Florida to plan the trip. While that map will help once you’ve actually arrived in Florida- but it’s not going to help you navigate the lower 48 and get you to the Sunshine State border.
The best social media plan is one that is integrated with your other means of customer communication… because that’s what social media is – communication with both existing customers and prospective customers.
Which brings me to the 2nd element needed for success in social media.
You must be proactive – not reactive.
Most humans don’t live proactively. As a species – we didn’t immediately and universally adopt the habit of wearing seat belts and had to be “legislated” or forced into using them. Sure, there were a few proactive thinkers who buckled up for safety – but these proactive thinkers were definitely in the minority.
So when I say “you must be proactive” when it comes to social media – that advice assumes you’ve already got a business plan that has customer satisfaction ingrained as part of your business DNA. Then – being proactive simply means not only listening to consumers but actively ENCOURAGING them to speak positively about your business. Giving consumers a place to be ‘heard” is a great start -but then the real job is cultivating the positive conversations.
When satisfying your customers is part of your business goals – then listening to your customers becomes a priority. You want them to come back – you want customers to buy from you again – because you realize that it’s 5-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to sell another product to an existing customer – you will eventually realize that listening to your customers is the best way to keep them.
In a recent article over at Mashable…Social Media Success: 5 Lessons from In-House Corporate Teams Amy Mae Elliott interviewed Kerry Bridge, head of digital media communications, EMEA and global public sector at Dell Computers. Bridge offers this simple reason for why Dell has been so successful using social media to generate sales for their business:
“Listening to our customers has always been at the heart of what we do. Dell’s heritage of direct customer connections and online leadership are the seeds of our drive to be a social media success.”
Throughout the article – you’ll see the same “thread” repeated over and over again.
The Social Media Success Formula outlined in that article can be summed up as this:
Strong products + a sincere desire to improve customer experience + a proactive commitment to communicating effectively with consumers = social media success.
I get a lot of inquiries from business owners who want to “get started” using social media to grow their business. They read stories where a companies like Dell have generated millions of dollars in revenue using the free social media communication service Twitter and they want to tap into that kind of business building social media action for their business.
These business owners are frequently disappointed to learn that the social media strategy is not a “set it and forget it” type of proposition. While many of the communication tools which are an integral part of social media are “free” – using those tools takes time to learn to use – and they require a significant investment of time on the part of the business owner. Companies like Dell, Ford and Southwest have teams of social media pros who work full time participating in the social media conversations online.
You may not have the resource to fund a full time social media team dedicated to communicating with consumers- but almost every business can launch a self hosted blog where consumers can come and share their thoughts. Sure – you have to put forth a bit of effort in crafting those blog posts – and if you do that well then you might have to drudge through spammy comments – but if you’ll invest that limited amount of time into your business blog – you’ll find REAL gold in the authentic comments from actual consumers.