Unlock Your True Business Potential

7 steps to a killer social media plan

I believe that any business with a decent product or service can build a global social media presence, and monetize it, writes Robert Clay of Marketing Wizdom. But you need to know what to do and how to do it. And most people in business really only have the vaguest notion of what is involved.

The simplistic view of social media is that you join sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You create a profile. You find people you know and invite them to connect with you or follow you. Over time your participation grows. You follow and connect with more people that interest you. And you develop your own following. Eventually you build relationships and trust, some of which results in new business.

That’s absolutely fine, as far as it goes. It can also be enjoyable, even addictive. But it isn’t exactly a strategy to take you to market leadership in your niche using social media.

So with this article I want to share with you an overview of what I’ve learned about preparing for social media success in your business. This has come about as a result of several months invested in developing an in-depth social media roadmap, supported by detailed written materials, a series of exercises and a number of interactive planning tools for the aspiring market leaders in my Eureka program.

Can you define the term “Social Media”?

The explosive growth over the past few years of online marketing in general and social media in particular has attracted the attention of millions of businesses. It’s dawning on more and more businesses leaders that social media is likely to be one of the most important changes that has ever come about in business.

Millions of businesses know they need to embrace it. But many still can’t explain the meaning of the term, and few know how to develop a meaningful social media strategy, or have any real idea of what’s involved.

It turns out that nearly 70% of the 600-plus respondents in a 2009 survey were unsure of the meaning of social media. But nearly every respondent felt that social media would somehow revolutionise the world. They felt that they should know the meaning of the term, but didn’t, and in some ways they also feared social media because they didn’t understand it’s implications or whether it would even threaten their existence.

This parallels the reactions that occurred when railways, telephones, cars and aircraft first started to proliferate. People instinctively understood that these new technologies would change the world, but they also feared them because they knew they would change the status quo. They also had no idea how it would impact on them; what part, if any, they would play in the process; or what sacrifices they’d have to make to accommodate these new advances. And that’s exactly where social media stands today.

My own journey

As an early participant in several of the better social networks, I learned what they were about. Along the way I read a lot, put ideas I learned into practice and accumulated considerable knowledge, data and experience.

Among other things, early in 2009 I managed to achieve the largest following on Twitter in the UK for a non-media celebrity. And in March 2010 I was ranked the UK’s No.1 marketer out of 42,559 UK advertising and marketing professionals on LinkedIn, based on recommendations. So I think I can say I have a reasonably solid grounding in social media.

Bit by bit I observed and analysed how the top social networking sites worked; watched them grow exponentially as people increasingly got involved; and have witnessed a fair amount of feature convergence as the sites themselves began to understand what people can, and want, to do using social media, and as they borrowed good ideas from each other.

Above all I was looking for a way to build a solid step-by-step social media strategy that would serve any business well. Participants in my program need to exactly know what to do, when to do it and why. So bit by bit I’ve been assembling an in-depth social media roadmap based on a logical series of steps that can be used to create create a worthwhile social media presence and community.

Step 1: Understanding

The first step in the process is to understand what Social Media is. I like David Meerman Scott’s 61-word explanation of social media marketing:

You can buy attention (advertising)
You can beg for attention from the media (PR)
You can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales)

Or you can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free: a YouTube video, a blog, a research report, photos, a Twitter stream, an ebook, a Facebook page.

This explanation makes it clear that social media is much more than mere participation in social networking sites. It requires you to become a publisher of written, audio and/or video content. You then need to build a community around that content.

Step 2: Familiarisation

The second step is to become familiar with the essentials of each social media element. That requires you to get to know, understand and experience all of the following: Social networking; publishing; photo sharing; audio; video; microblogging; livecasting; virtual worlds; gaming; rss; aggregators; search; mobile marketing; interpersonal communication technologies and an ever-growing array of productivity applications.

As you become familiar with each element in the social media ecosystem, it’s worth taking time to consider the possible applications for each element in your business.

Step 3: Hands-on exploration and assessment

Once you understand the purpose of each social media element, I’d advise you to embark on some hands-on exploration of some of the better known tools in each category. This first hand familiarity will allow you to broadly assess the available social media tools, and determine which of them potentially fit in with what you do.

Participants in my program are asked to undertake a series of specific exploration exercises, followed by the completion of a scorecard for each of the tools they experience.

Step 4: Discover your social media niche

Enlightened by these first-hand experiences, your fourth step is to assess your strengths and weaknesses relative to each social media category, and also identify the opportunities and threats.

Once this SWOT analysis has been completed and the results summarised, it should be possible to identify the right social media niche for your business to focus on. This will be where you can play to your strengths and start building a community around the people who share the same interests as you.

Your community may be local, regional or national. Or it may be global.

Step 5: Plan for your social media success

With your niche decided, the fifth step is to build a solid set of foundations for your future social media success. To operate successfully in the social media ecosystem you have to view yourself as a publisher of content relating to your areas of interest or expertise.

Audience: You therefore have to identify which audience or market niche you will be serving and with whom you will be developing an interactive relationship. Achieving a clear definition of your audience is crucial to your success.

Doing so requires you to understand their behaviours; attitudes; values; beliefs; needs and preferences. You need to assemble demographic data and discover any common interests or goals.

You also need to identify the small number of individuals within each group who have a knack for influencing what the other members of the group say, believe and do. Knowing who these influencers and promoters are will add tremendous viral value to your eventual offering.

By carrying out this research you can establish the common characteristics that will allow you to interact with four or five clearly defined audience personas.

Competition: Once you have a clear idea of your proposed content and the likely characteristics of your audience, you need to assess your competition. This requires you to ask some important questions. For example:

Who else is already catering to the same audience? In what ways are they doing so? What tools do they use? What is the quality of their content? How many people are part of their community? How much interaction occurs on their site(s)? What is the quality of that interaction? What are the compelling advantages of your concept over theirs? What additional compelling advantages could you offer?

Concept: By now you should have gathered enough information to start building a value proposition that describes how your intended audience will benefit from your content. Your content in turn will relate to the products or services you offer; the additional expertise you bring; and the things that will encourage your audience to contribute.

As you go through this exercise, you may well find that you have several workable concepts, each with its own distinct audience personas. In each case you have to define your concept, thinking in terms of the needs of your potential community rather than the needs of your business.

Based on your research you will now need to convert your concept into a 100-150 word concept statement that you can share with almost anyone in less than two minutes.

Sample content: You can then start expanding the details of your offering, perhaps even producing some sample content to demonstrate to your potential audience the flavour and feel of your finished offering, and highlighting the advantages you’ll be offering over your competition.

Audience input: I recommend that you then invite a reasonable sized sampling of your potential audience to assist you in the process of refining, developing and positioning your offering. In tapping into their collective wisdom, I have to point out that you will only gain and maintain their attention if you can demonstrate your sincerity in communicating with them, and of course by incorporating their feedback in what you do.

Sales viability: As a business engaging in social media you should always be mindful of the sales viability of your concept. This is where you need to carefully consider which revenue model or models to adopt.

You can sell products, services or information; advertising and sponsorship; earn commissions on your site’s role in selling transactions carried out by others; offer subscriptions; operate a “Freemium” model where you offer certain content free but you also offer premium versions at additional cost; or you can offer software as a cloud-based service, of which there are many well known examples.

It’s often possible to offer several of these revenue models simultaneously.

At the end of this planning process you’ll know what audience to target; have an appealing concept that’s been tested and refined with their help; an understanding of who you’ll be competing with; a number of compelling advantages to offer … and one or more revenue generation models.

Step 6: Evaluate and organise your existing resources

The sixth step is to evaluate and organise your resources. This requires you to evaluate the social media awareness of your entire team; tap into their collective wisdom and experience; and engage them in your social media plans.

From there you should be able to pinpoint your social media starting point, i.e. The strategies you should deploy at the outset of your social media journey.

The right strategies at the outset are likely to vary enormously from one situation to another depending on how far you’ve already travelled down the social media road; your level of competence in doing so; the social media skills of different people within your team; and the final destination you hope to reach.

Step 7: Creating your social media implementation plan

Having completed the first six steps in the process you can now take the seventh step, which is to create your social media implementation plan.

Your implementation plan should be realistic because it’s not practical to simultaneously introduce hundreds of tools from the social media ecosystem into the daily operations of your business. The introduction of even a dozen tools could be disruptive, so it’s important to pace yourself.

While human nature often compels us to try lots of different alternatives as fast as we can, it is better to think in terms of adding one new tool every month.

That will give you the time and space you need to promote each new tool to your employees, prospects and customers, and evaluate how effective you have been in implementing each tool. As the year progresses you can also evaluate how well the tools complement each other … and you can measure the effect on your revenues and profits.

If it becomes evident that adjustments are required, you’ll be able to do make them as you go along. The key is to remain flexible and experimental.

The implementation process

With your planning completed, you need to start the all-important implementation process and roll-out.

That implementation process will involve such things as:

  • Building your online destinations using websites, blogs, forums and wikis.
  • Building trust, visibility and engagement using elements like RSS; SEO; email; social networks; search engine marketing; mobile marketing and measurement
  • Deepening your engagement using elements like photo sharing; audio sharing; video sharing; and interpersonal communication.

These topics go well beyond the scope of this post and will be covered in future articles.

So, as you can see, there’s a whole lot more to preparing for global social media success than merely joining Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And preparing for success itself is only the first part of the process.

Please share your thoughts and add your questions to the comments below. I’ll try to provide as many answers as possible in my future online videos, seminars, workshops, masterclasses and blog posts.

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Robert ClayFor 25 years Robert Clay has helped hundreds of ambitious entrepreneurs to unlock their true business potential; cut their learning curve by 80%; put them 5-10 years ahead of their peers; and achieve 628% growth in 12 months or less. MEET ROBERT in this video and learn more about his journey from automotive innovator to business transformer.