Setting up a successful social media program

Assuming that your company is one that has something to gain by social media engagement you have to decide how to deliver successful initiatives that advance tangible business goals. That may mean going to an agency for help or finding internal resources. In many cases, it’s a split of duties between your company and a marketing/advertising/pr firm. I’d like to offer some experience-based recommendations on how to divide social media tasks.

The first step is to understand your goals. Are you trying to create awareness and loyalty? Do you want to drive website traffic? Do you intend to generate qualified leads? Is providing better customer support a goal? Clearly thinking through your primary goals will help you understand which social media tactics support those goals.

Next, assess your social media readiness. How many of your employees are on Facebook or Twitter? Do any of them blog? What sort of social media footprint does your brand project? Are people talking about your brand? Identify which venues they favor and determine whether the sentiment is positive or negative. This information provides a baseline against which you can measure the impact of your program.

Determine what mix of resources will deliver cost effective results. For example, UPS has an in-house blog monitoring program that leverages receptionists as blog readers. Their reporting is aggregated so that marketing folks can understand what’s being said in the blogosphere. Perhaps you have an agency that is able to monitor blogs too. That’s fine, provided they can move as fast as a viral story does online. A weekly blog coverage report doesn’t cut it when a story can propagate online like wildfire. A frequently updated wiki or media dashboard is a better solution for keeping everyone informed.

Communicate with authenticity and transparency. The era of social media has opened up organizations that were opaque in the past. People have come to expect that company executives and employees have social network presences and can be engaged in authentic dialog. The expectation of dialog comes with an expectation that they are communicating with someone that is knowledgable and “on the inside.” This argues for putting Twitter in the hands of your employees, just as does. They have over 400 employees on Twitter and it has become a defining part of their culture.

So if your employees are monitoring the blogosphere, tweeting and at home on Facebook, what’s the role of your agency? A good agency will have broader and deeper experience with social media than you. Their lessons learned are useful and may help you avoid mistakes. Marketing agencies can develop integrated campaigns and leverage your resources, web shops are able to build Facebook applications and drive traffic and PR firms can orchestrate blogger relations in support of events and product launches. Agencies can round out your resource set, provide ideas and direction and guide your strategic thinking. Just don’t give up the most important thing, your authentic voice.