Burning the midnight oil
Just a few years ago, if your company was dabbling in social media, you had only a handful of things to worry about. Blogging was a big deal. So were community sites like message boards. In just a short time, though, social media blew up.
Don't get me wrong. The internet has always been social, even in pre-web days. But the social media discipline has seen some of the greatest innovation in the digital sector fall squarely into its lap over the past few years. Video content creation and sharing, social networking, virtual worlds, the real-time web, social aggregation -- most of these things have made a big impact with Joe Consumer and how he spends his time, and they all fall under the umbrella of social media.
It is both a blessing and a curse that people or groups that demonstrate the skill sets necessary to handle emerging media are usually given responsibility for emerging media. Just as digital media planners at agencies awoke one day to find themselves responsible for things like mobile advertising and pre-roll video, people on the client side who considered blogs and message boards their domain suddenly found themselves confronted with handling strategy for things like Facebook and Twitter.
These same people find themselves scrambling to avoid social media burnout -- the condition that results from having to constantly evaluate and assess the potential of an insane number of new social media vehicles. And this evaluation has to take place while simultaneously trying to shepherd and accelerate a number of tests and programs designed to prove the value of social media vehicles that arrived on the scene earlier.
So, with all the new sites, utilities, apps, and other platforms vying to become the social tool people can't live without, how do we avoid social media burnout?
Have a social strategy
This is the most important tip I can give you to help you keep from getting caught up in a tsunami of new social media platforms. And that's just an ancillary benefit -- your social strategy is what keeps social media on track to build your business.
You know the drill. No sooner did you believe you had the company blog figured out than some senior VP asked why the company wasn't on Facebook. Once you were live on Facebook, someone else asked what the company should be doing on Twitter. And so on and so forth for every new social media vehicle that gets a mention in The Wall Street Journal.
Unless you want to forge a path to nowhere and leave heaps of failed programs in your wake, you need a filter. That filter is your social strategy, and there are a number of vehicles you can filter out right off the bat because they won't be easily adaptable to the path you've mapped out toward building revenue.
The strategy must explain the following in very clear and concise terms:
- What role social media will play in building the business
- Clear business objectives, given the resources you're able to put toward social media
- How you're going to measure the results, with as direct a tie to revenue as possible
- Rules for evaluating new vehicles, based on their ability to address the three points above
Without this strategy, you can't evaluate what's important to your business and what's not. That will leave you with a poor idea about where it's best to execute. So be sure to formulate a strategy and sell it in to upper-level management before you start executing.
Watch your blindside
There's no clear understanding of where social media belongs in the big picture. It calls on skill sets and disciplines that might be scattered across the company. Whether it "belongs" in marketing, customer service, corporate communications, or elsewhere is certainly up for interpretation.
Similarly, different types of marketing communications companies lay claim to social media in different ways. You might hear claims of social media expertise coming from your ad agency, your digital agency, your media agency, your PR agency, and even your search agency. (Even if many or all of these functions are consolidated with one company, expect to hear from different people at the consolidated entity.) Every communications partner is going to have a different take on social. And it will likely be colored by each partner's particular profit motive.
For instance, a digital agency might think a Facebook program consists of putting up and managing a brand page. A media agency might recommend buying a bunch of banners on social networks to drive traffic to a brand page. The PR agency might recommend organic outreach and seeding of Facebook groups. Coincidentally, what each entity believes is the right solution has a lot to do with how they get compensated.
But that's not the point. The point is that if you're in charge of your company's social media programs, a lot is going to be whizzing at you from a lot of different angles. Not only are you going to have to deal with the input of someone you might not directly interface with at your company, but you'll also be dealing with every communications partner on your roster recommending programs and trying to gain a foothold in social.
The best way to combat all this, of course, is to share your social strategy internally and with external partners. Internally, it will make your positions more easily defensible. Externally, it will show your agencies how you're evaluating potential programs. (Who knows? It might even get them to cooperate in order to put together a comprehensive recommendation.)
You need to share your strategy -- if for no other reason than it will keep you from having to evaluate five different Facebook recommendations.
I've discussed it in columns before. It's really easy to let enthusiasm for a particular vehicle set rogue efforts in motion. This is particularly true if the champion of that vehicle is someone who outranks you in the corporate echelon. Somebody asks, "Why aren't we doing anything on Twitter?" and next thing you know, you're having to justify why you're not there.
This is yet another reason why it's important to have a social media strategy. With all the innovation and excitement within the social media sphere, it's really easy to get carried away. Your job is to bring stakeholders, both internal and external, back down to earth by getting them to understand how programs fit into the strategy. It also entails being able to explain why something doesn't fit into the strategy.
For instance, if the role you've determined for social media for your line of lawn mowers is to communicate the detail behind the line's superiority to the competition, you might decide that Twitter can have only a limited role due to its lack of strength in communicating deep detail. (It's tough to convey a complex message in 140 characters.) Maybe Twitter's role in that case is to tweet teasers and links to more in-depth pieces on your company blog. Or maybe you decide that Twitter doesn't have a role at all.
Point is, these decisions become a lot easier (and a lot easier to defend) when you have a strategy in place that includes hard-and-fast rules for evaluating new vehicles. When you have a strategy and the CEO demands to know why you're not on Twitter, you have an answer at the ready and you can shut down any attempts to refocus your social media programs on less-relevant vehicles.
Keep an eye on consolidation
As social media grows, we can expect to see much of what we saw during the first dotcom boom: lots of partnerships and mergers/buyouts. With these arrangements often comes interoperability or even the merging of audiences and communities. You need to watch for these arrangements and see how they affect your choice of vehicles and new programs to test.
Here's a basic example: Because of the interoperability between Twitter and Facebook, many brands kill two birds with one stone by having Twitter update their brand's Facebook status, or vice versa. Sure beats writing two sets of copy.
Here's another example: As more social media tools make use of Facebook Connect, it might make it easier for your brand to reach out to audiences outside of Facebook. As you're evaluating new vehicles, you'll need to pay attention to how they might or might not work with the vehicles you already have.
Consolidation can also change the game. A lot has been written about what happens if and when Twitter gets acquired. While the company hasn't yet gone down that particular avenue, Twitter has formulated some interesting partnerships in order to bring the real-time web to search engines. This is kind of a big deal if your social strategy involves using social media to help address your SEO goals.
Consolidation in both senses (acquisition and interoperability) can really change the face of your social media efforts. Watch industry news outlets for announcements of partnerships and M&A activity to help spot opportunities to make your efforts more efficient and effective.
By now, you should have figured out that the best way to combat social media burnout is through advance preparation, particularly on the strategic side. Nothing can help you more than a well-prepared social media strategy, except perhaps sharing that strategy so that all your stakeholders know what you're trying to achieve and how you're trying to achieve it.
It's never too late to sit down and hammer out a strategy. Even if your organization has been doing some toe-dipping (or even implementing full-blown programs) in the absence of watertight goals and measurement criteria, it's still important to go through the strategic exercise so that structure can be lent to social media campaigns and they can help drive your business.
If you haven't done it yet, do it now.