Saturday, April 11, 2009

5 Phases of Social Media Marketing

Five Phases of Social Media Marketing

I've been creating and executing social media marketing strategies for the past couple of years for clients. The crowds are swarming, and interest - in the days when program dollars are being cut to save jobs - is growing from all sorts of organizations. I hear some very common questions from a wide swath of interested parties, and would like to clarify how to approach social media.

We need to start by recognizing that social media marketing is not free.

BusinessWeek, in their excellent February article called Debunking Six Social Media Myths, exposed this brilliantly as Myth #1, and stated that $50,000 is a beginning point for a two- to three-month social media campaign. In my experience, I believe that's about right. In spite of the free tools out there, every brand needs a strategic approach to social media in order to gain any traction.

In my experience, a strategic approach to social media success takes five phases:

Phase 1 - Discovery

In this phase, we explore three variables:

  1. People: Who are your prospects and customers, and how do they feel about your brand, service and products? Are they talking about you online? If so, what is your online reputation? (Positive, negative, neutral?)
  2. Competition: What are your competitors doing online? Where can we leapfrog them? What is their online reputation?
  3. Spiders: How easy is it for you to be found by an average searcher who may be searching for your products online? (Keywords, site optimization, Search Engine Optimization [SEO], etc. come into play here.)

Phase 2 - Strategy

In this phase, we explore the opportunities and establish the objectives of a social media plan - based on the lessons we've learned in the Discovery phase. Questions include:

  • What do you want your prospects and customers to think of you, and how do you want them to experience you, once you've begun your dialogue?
  • How is this different from their current perception?
  • How might we further pay off your brand promise, and distinguish your customer experience from competitors?
  • and many more

This Phase is usually highly collaborative; and involves key players from around an organization, not just the marketing folks.

Phase 3 - Skills

Once we have developed a Strategy, we?ll review an organization's internal resources to identify gaps. Whose skills need building? How might we best train participants? And to what extent would it be wise to train the employee base about what to expect?

(Hint: I always recommend getting everyone up to speed on any social media program - when I was at Marqui, that turned out to be one of the most valuable things we did in support of, and preparation for, one of the most controversial, viral programs I've ever managed.)

In my experience, getting your employees up to speed on social media marketing usually requires a couple of training sessions held on-site. These are generally in-depth training sessions tailored to select audiences in the company ? e.g. your marketing and PR teams, your customer service folks, your executives and the entire organization.

Phase 4 - Execution

As we prepare to implement our strategy, we determine which tools to use, how they interface with your existing infrastructure, and ensure the processes and platforms are properly tied together. We explore the following:

  • Are your systems all operating together as desired?
  • Is there a crisis communications plan in place? Do participants know what it is?
  • Are your company policies updated for blogging, texting and IM and other social media tools?
  • Are your employees aware of your policies? If not, do we need to train them?
  • Will your CRM system interface with your social media tools? How will you move people into your sales process? etc.

Phase 5 - Maintenance

After the launch, Maintenance becomes key. In this phase, I make myself available for whatever comes up; checking in weekly with the team, make suggestions on content, make reminders for activities, and generally ensure the organization is thriving online.

Any experienced social media expert (and we're crawling out of the woodwork these days, believe me) will have a stepped approach and methodology to launching an organization safely into the social realm.

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