For many marketers, the explosive growth of social networking isn't raising questions about whether to engage audiences on these platforms but, rather, how to manage multiple network accounts in an effort to reach a larger, more-targeted audience while generating sustainable results.
But when it comes to reaching out to more users on social networks, organizations are stuck. Advertisers and marketers realize they must be involved in social marketing, but they are becoming disillusioned with results from super social networks like Facebook and MySpace, which leads to tabling these customer-facing initiatives. To get unstuck, marketers need to plan how they will expand content distribution to relevant audiences across multiple networks to initiate new dialogs.
One of the major barriers marketers face when attempting to communicate on social networks is streamlining the content distribution process for posting on numerous profiles. It's challenging to increase engagement opportunities and manage customer-facing dialogs across multiple platforms with limited budgets, smaller staffs, and no tools to automate the process.
This management challenge creates an engagement gap in two ways. Marketers are not only missing out on a dialogue with thousands of users who are already fans of their product or service, but are also missing valuable opportunities to reach out to new audiences on lesser-known online communities, simply because they don't have the time or tools to connect with more people.
Marketers can avoid the engagement gap and expand their outreach and dialoging efforts by creating a hybrid content distribution process that leverages technology tools, therefore giving organizations more time to engage relevant and targeted individuals in dialogs. I call this approach social application marketing.
Social application marketing (SAM) is about using tools to create multiple layers of distribution that can be grouped by process. That way, you spend less time talking to a machine and more time engaging with your desired audiences. There are a number of process steps.
1. Set up two email accounts. You'll need Gmail and Yahoo Mail email accounts to activate and manage your profile and tools. I recommend setting up folders for each tool or application you create in order to quickly locate credential documents, as well as sort notification messages you may want to archive from each social network or tool site. Using a web-based email service also keeps your corporate email account clutter free from Twitter and Facebook account notification emails.
2. Claim your identity. Think of securing a username on a social network as owning a domain name for your company. In fact, screen name claiming needs to be integrated into your domain name buying process. You need to protect your online identity so that others don't try to hijack your brand, product, or service name. To streamline the process, don't check individual sites to see whether or not the name or names you need are still available, but instead look at 104 different sites at one time using UserName Check. The service doesn't include every tool or network you may be considering, but it will save you a lot of time in the selection of your organization's ID. If you're planning on really locking down your identity, you'll need to secure your i-names which are digital identifiers for individuals and organizations that begin with "=" for people and "@" for an organization. I like 1id.com, an accredited i-broker.
3. Register your identity and store your account information in an excel spreadsheet. When you're registering 75 or more profiles and over 4,000 screen names, you will need to archive the username and password information for each account. When you archive account credentials, be sure to include links to login pages along with the username, password, and name of the service or site. You will also need a column in your spreadsheet for application keys you'll need to remember for activating distribution tools (I'll get to that in just a moment). One additional tip when it comes to registering screen names: Don't use the same password for every account. Minimize unauthorized access to your organization's accounts by using multiple passwords. That way, no single password grants an unwanted user universal access to all your accounts.
4. Populate your profile. Here comes the content (translation: here comes trouble). The best advice is to plan ahead. If you need legal reviews, disclaimers, insurance modifications (strange, I know, but trust me; this happened to a client), a corporate blogging policy, or even an online community guideline document, get them in place early so you can quickly plug in content from a Word document or spreadsheet. Content fundamentals you'll need to have at the ready to decorate your profile include: An avatar or image, an "about" statement, links to sites, historic info (jobs, titles, timeline for the launch of a product), and links to third-party content you want to plug in.
5. Dashboard the process of updating your social network profiles. Browser plugins are nice if you're just going to use one or two bookmarking tools, but if your organization is managing 15 to 25 profiles, you need to automate the publishing process across your accounts so you can spend more time talking to customers. This where many advertisers get stuck. They either don't have a publishing strategy or they are overwhelmed with how to quickly recognize a follower. I use two tools to automate publishing and simple "reply to" messaging: Ping.fm and TweetDeck. These tools turn your content into software. Use them to leverage the power of a distributor to reach more audiences.
6. Monitor and measure outcomes. There are a number of excellent free tools to help you monitor what people are saying, like Search.twitter.com and free Google alerts. In addition, streamline your feed data so that you don't get overwhelmed. I like FeedMyInbox.com because it is a simple feed management tool that is so easy to use. And don't forget to monitor message board feeds. Boardreader.com is still the best when it comes to monitoring these.
For brands interested in -- or even intimidated by -- social marketing campaigns, I hope this social application marketing framework will help you integrate and execute customer-facing engagement strategies into your organization's marketing and media plans.