Building Social Bridges » S.O.C.I.A.L. M.E.D.I.A. – The Right Approach to Digital Relationship-Building

Originally published in iMedia Connection

Creating connections with customers and ultimately building long-term relationships with them through the two-way dialog should be the goal of any business. Social Media helps brands do just that. Done right, social media can be a powerful tool in building social bridges.

There is a lot to consider when building social media strategy. Engagement in itself is not enough. You need the right kind of engagement. You need to know when and, more importantly, where to engage. You need to ensure consistency of voice as well as authenticity of participation. To achieve that, you need to ensure your organization is aligned and empowered. You need the right infrastructure in place. The list goes on.

To help you think through all the critical elements of the approach, use this S.O.C.I.A.L.  M.E.D.I.A framework.

Strategy

Start with basic but critical questions: Where do you want to go? What are your objectives? Who is your audience? Where do you want to engage and how? What kind of investment/resources would it take? What does success look like? Are you in it for a long haul? Starting with these questions before jumping into conversations will save you a lot of headache and will help you build a strong strategy. A lot of companies got distracted by hype of social media only to find out that using “ready-fire-aim” approach can actually hurt their brand.

Organization

Organizing yourself for success is critical. Do you have the enablement function that ensures all of your social media practitioners are on the same page? Are your business units following the guidelines? Do you have the right subject matter experts engaging? Does your brand have consistent (and not defragmented) presence on social networks? Do you have the right social media strategies and are they executed properly? Put the right teams in place to help you answer all these questions. Whether it is a centralized model, a decentralized model, hub and spoke or any other model, identify which one is right for your company, then implement and empower it.

Channels of communication

Choose the right channels of communication. Use listening tools (see “L”) to get a clear picture of where your customers hang out and why, and engage with them on their “turf”. Don’t expect them to come to you; they could care less about your website. You need to provide your customers the opportunity to connect with you where they feel comfortable socializing (whether it’s Facebook, blogs, forums, Twitter or
YouTube). Choose wisely, because chances are you won’t have resources to create strong presence everywhere. Don’t stretch yourself thin; rather, have a meaningful presence on one or two platforms. And when you engage, engage with purpose!

Investment

To create that long-term, meaningful presence you need resources. Social media done right is not free by any stretch of imagination. It is also not a short-term thing, it is not a campaign. It’s a long-term relationship. You need to be committed to invest into that relationship or you could seriously damage your brand image. And no matter where you decide to engage, you need to be prepared to listen, moderate, converse, analyze and adjust.

Authenticity

Unfortunately the word “authenticity” is worn down and overused in the world of social media. But that doesn’t change the fact that you need to be open and genuine in anything you do as a brand. If you make a mistake, admit it. Participate in the conversations yourself, don’t
outsource it. Communicate in a unique and human way. Be real! Be approachable! Authenticity creates trust, trust creates advocacy.

Listening

Before you create your strategy and jump into conversations, listen! Listening is critical to understanding your audience, what’s important to them, how and where they converse with each other, what makes them tick, what makes them share. These are the things you will need
to know to identify how you can add value, not just broadcast to them.

Listening will also allow you to identify early signs of trouble – unsatisfied customer, rumors, incorrect information about your brand or products, hot topics, etc. This will enable you to respond faster and provide the opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into an advocate or a potentially unpleasant situation into a constructive dialog. Look into creating a crisis plan, process and team.

Moderation

Once you create a community – anywhere on the web – you need to ensure you maintain a healthy and inviting environment for all members to participate. Moderation is key to the success of any forum. Display the “house rules” up front and center. Ensure you have a strong community manager who sparks and monitors conversations, keeps them on topic and preserves the environment of respect.

Engagement

Dialog marketing has replaced monolog marketing and one-way broadcasting is not an option anymore. If the brand has social presence, the expectation is that said brand monitors conversations and responds real time. Consistent engagement is key to relationship-building. This means that no comment goes unanswered and no issue goes unaddressed. Seems like a huge commitment? That’s because it is!

Contingency planning is important. Be prepared for anything – engagement can be positive as well as negative, so try to predict where the conversation might go and have a plan in place on how to address different scenarios.

Direction

Empower your organization to help you achieve your goals. You yourself may know that social media is the right vehicle to building bridges with your customers, but does the rest of your organization? Enablement is an important function of change. Ensure your employees are digitally and socially savvy by creating the training, putting together playbooks and keeping employees abreast of the latest developments and trends. Create solid Social Media Guidelines and ensure all the right key stakeholders (like legal, HR, PR, privacy) participate in the process. Forming the army of savvy social media practitioners and inspiring your subject matter experts to engage on behalf of your brand is a powerful thing.

Infrastructure

To help you do all of the above right, you will need good tools in place. From listening to monitoring to content publishing to analytics, create the infrastructure that would make the life of a social media practitioner easier and would ensure consistency of engagement as well as measurement across the company. If it works for your organization, create the infrastructure centrally and make it available company-wide. Then teach social media practitioners on how to deploy the tools correctly.

Analytics

Make sure your results are measurable. Standardize metrics across the tools and help different teams identify what to measure. This will provide an opportunity for comparing success of similar efforts and provide relevant data for a more effective decision-making. It will
also allow you to identify the ROI of your efforts and help secure funding for the efforts that are the most impactful.

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