In today’s highly connected world, an increasing number of business professionals are making social media a key component of their marketing strategy. They are employing social media to engage customers, build awareness, improve retention and loyalty, and ultimately turn customers into evangelists for their brand so they can get more customers. This guide explores how many of today’s biggest companies (Adobe & USA Today) are leveraging the social media landscape to help their businesses grow.
When it comes to developing a plan to turn customers into advocates, the first and most important step is figuring out what these advocates can do to build loyalty and drive business your way. Should they offer testimonials, act as early adopters or reviewers of new products, provide user support, write blogs, or a combination of these?
After you’ve set your objectives, establish a plan that does the following:
• Builds your following
• Encourages interaction and information sharing
• Fosters engagement with regular updates
• Provides incentives (information, contests, “super user” status, and so on)
• Uses a content calendar to generate chatter about upcoming events
With these guidelines in mind, here are the steps that Adobe has found most effective in creating a successful social media strategy.
1. Find out who is talking about your brand.
There are a lot of tools to help, some free and some not. The most basic is the Twitter search; just type in the company name, and you’ll see what people are saying.
2. Analyze the feedback.
To get an overall sense of how people feel about your company, classify the different types of chatter. For instance, placing categories on a spreadsheet might help you identify a group of especially unhappy users. Reading their specific feedback can make it easier to fix problems and find ways to build or improve those customer relationships.
3. Move the relationship offline.
Social media can create an initial relationship, but moving the interaction offline is the best way to strengthen it. Companies that use social media successfully read feedback to find out what’s concerning their customers, and then they move the conversation away from that platform and get to know the person behind the username and avatar to personalize and enrich the relationship.
4. Offer resources and incentives to likely “evangelists.”
Adobe started treating its most satisfied customers like media, giving them things that would interest them, such as tools and tips that could help them perform their jobs better. It also gave these users a shot at stardom in their respective fields. Instead of being impressed by the gift bags that Adobe gave out at their conferences, these individuals were moved by the opportunity to be presenters at those meetings, and ultimately, transitioned into strong advocates.
Adobe used its own tools to create company advocates. Using data from its Twitter API, it searched specific keywords to find out which products were being discussed. That feedback went to a product manager or customer service rep, and that person responded to begin building the relationship. Over time, Adobe has used chatter to distinguish potential evangelists from neutral or dissatisfied customers, and this has helped sharpen its focus. Some people will never like a particular company or brand, and it isn’t worth the effort to change their minds. Instead, it’s better to try to sway neutral users and make fans even more avid champions for your cause.
5. Build an influencer map.
An influencer map helps you understand who your biggest supporters are and define their demographics, psychographics, and social graphics (the social media platforms that they use most often). Knowing where these supporters spend their time online helps you get in touch with them to strengthen your relationship. From there, you can create a list of evangelists and start to find ways to motivate them.
6. Devise a plan.
The plan will vary from company to company, but usually it’s meant to encourage engagement among current followers, not find new followers. Find ways to motivate supporters to talk about your company. This could be a contest of some kind or exclusive access to relevant information.
7. Manage the plan.
After the plan is set, you need some way to keep it running. The plan needs to be carried out consistently and efficiently to make an impact. Some companies have found that a content calendar, which includes important dates for specific product groups, is a valuable tool on some platforms. When these calendars get posted, the quality of the surrounding chatter goes way up, and people are more willing to refer their contacts to the content.
8. Deploy effective metrics.
To gauge the success of your social media efforts, you must employ effective metrics. Social media does not have one definitive set of metrics—your approach depends on your company and its specific goals.
• Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a great place to begin. Start with what drives business for your company, and then map back to certain social metrics. Remember that the most relevant metrics depend on what your company wants to do, whether it is to generate leads, increase brand awareness, build relationships, leverage customer feedback, or enhance product development.
• Always use multiple metrics to create as comprehensive a picture as possible.
• Use the data collected to look for a correlation between specific social media strategies and the number of leads that you generate. Adobe did this with one of its accounts, using the monitoring and measurement tools of Adobe SiteCatalyst®, powered by Omniture, to quantify the number of site visitors and registrants.
• Tracking codes can help you find out where your customers are coming from. Adobe has used a unique tracking code for each tweet to see who clicks the link and who takes the next step, be it a registration or a sale.
Keep in mind that it isn’t always easy to measure sales performance from social media, but it is possible to find out how many leads are generated from your social media efforts, which is the first step toward conversion.
9. Optimize your program.
By knowing what works and what doesn’t, you can improve your social media strategy to yield increasingly better results. Using a solution like Adobe SiteCatalyst, marketers can measure, analyze, and optimize integrated data from all online initiatives across marketing channels. SiteCatalyst can tell you which platforms or messages have worked best so that you can focus your efforts around them. Optimizing your program is a continuous process of measuring and optimizing, and then re-measuring and re-optimizing again as part of a continuous improvement cycle. After refining your program from an internal perspective, it is also helpful to observe what other companies are doing so that you get an expanded sense of best practices in the larger social media world.
Organizing social media for success is a never ending process:
While there are a number of ways to approach and manage social media, the ultimate goal is to encourage interaction with and among existing customers. This creates more positive chatter and more evangelists for your brand.
But every organization has its own way of driving this chatter. One company might appoint a social media czar to control all messaging and respond to feedback. This approach provides control, but it’s neither authentic nor transparent, and it doesn’t scale well. At the other extreme is a company that lets each employee or business unit use social media in any way they want. For example, one business unit might use social media all the time, while another might not use it at all. This approach is authentic and transparent, but the company has no control over the interactions.
Perhaps a better solution is a balance of the two extremes using a spoke model. In this scenario, a small group of people drive social media best practices and train the different business groups, and then let each business group manage its own day-to-day social media activities. This combines the authenticity of individual interactions with greater organizational control.
Social media is a great business building tool, but it is a mistake to mandate it or apply too much control. Some companies require their employees to manage blogs, but not everyone has the time or the ability to do that. This inevitably leads to everything from poor messaging to inactive sites. To avoid the organic or “wild West” approach, select people in your organization who understand social media, and then empower them to use it to your company’s best advantage.
Social media at USA Today
USA Today started its social media strategy by putting together an interdisciplinary team of people from marketing, editorial, IT, and other departments—all with varying degrees of social media experience. This was meant to address both how people approach social media and how the company itself would be impacted by it. After the strategy was set, the company trained its editorial columnists, reporters, and bloggers to know where its subscribers might go and how to interact with them across various channels.
The strategy itself was based around a few key objectives.
Frequency—The team had to decide how often to tweet or post Facebook updates, matching the frequency to the flow of the news cycle. It had to be dynamic enough to keep up with the latest news, but not so rigid that the team felt forced to post when there was nothing significant to say.
One-on-one interactions—Facebook and Twitter managers were instructed to respond to comments and questions. If a user commented on a story, the manager would respond or follow up with a question as a way of keeping the dialog going.
Increased return on interaction, influence, and investment (ROIII)—By participating in social media, USA Today wanted to increase interaction and influence, and that in turn would lead to a higher traditional ROI. Those efforts have been successful, bringing in more traffic from social networking sites.
Turning journalists into evangelists—In the past, brands represented journalists, but now it’s the other way around, with journalists representing brands. The connections that these journalist representatives make add value to the company and bolster its image among subscribers.
Increasing the level of engagement on the site—In 2007, USATODAY.com was a very static site. Content got pushed out, but no one was interacting with readers. The company decided to revamp its site, adding story comments and other tools that allow users to comment on a story, recommend it to their contacts, or share articles with their social media circles. Now, the site also allows users to create profile pages, have their own blogs, and join communities focused on various common interests.
• Dedicate the time and resources to gain social media’s full benefit.
• Use social media to encourage interactions with and among customers, creating more chatter and turning your best customers into evangelists for your brand.
• Develop a comprehensive social media plan, starting with goals, and ending with metrics and optimization.
• Focus your efforts on people who understand social media to strengthen relationships, increase awareness of your brand, and build thought leadership in your industry.
• Use a solution like SiteCatalyst to measure, analyze, and optimize integrated data from all online initiatives across marketing channels.
• Use metrics to align your program with your company’s goals and continually improve the process.
Sources: Jeff Wegand – USA Today, Brian Watkins – Adobe