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How to properly integrate social media into your business

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Just about any organisation can integrate social media into its business. But, you need a clear roadmap and you need to make full use of the resources available to you. RICHARD MULLINS of Acceleration outlines an eight-step plan to help you along the journey.

Nearly any organisation can integrate social media into its business in a way that engages the audience and delivers measurable value. But to do so, you need to have a clear roadmap that will help you navigate the technical and business issues you will face as well as to make the most of the resources you have available. Here is an eight-step plan that will help you on the journey.

1. Investigate

Start out by investigating the social space and trying to work out how it could add value to your business. Listen to what people are saying on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps even put a basic listening tool in place to see what it can do for you.

2. Implement and integrate

Now that you have a rough feel for what is happening in the social world, you can begin thinking about the software tool set. If you’re running a bigger business, you’ll need something far more robust than a basic tool like Tweetdeck. You should be looking for a single tool that allows you to listen to social conversations, take part in the conversation, measure your results, and manage the workflow (for example, the content approval process) across your team. Ideally, the tool you use should support integration across your social tools and data, as well as with other customer communication channels, such as email and mobile marketing. It should also be able to grow along with your needs. For example, Co-Tweet is a comprehensive Web-based social media engagement, management and reporting solution that helps companies of all sizes engage, track and analyse conversations about their brands across the most popular and influential social communities.

3. Listen and measure

You need to decide who and what you will listen out for. This can include multiple objectives ‚ from hearing what the market is saying about you and competitors, to what the community is interested in. You also need to turn these factors into quantifiable metrics. To prove the value of social media marketing, you have to compare it to other channels. This means that you will need standardised key performance indicators (KPIs) ‚ such as frequency of mentions, sentiment allocation, traffic, reach or influence (friends, fans etc.) ‚ to make it easy to compare social media channels with each other and with other channels. There are tools such as Social Analytics from Adobe that allow marketers to start measuring social media, sentiment and it’s relationship and impact on a business’s broader online environment

4. Engage and publish

Once you are effectively listening and measuring, you have to start creating your own content, decide whether you want to join existing conversations and responding to social media chatter that is relevant to your brand. You’ll need to focus on crafting messages that are human, useful and relevant if you are to capture the trust of your audience. To engage effectively, you will need to develop social profiles of your audience, which is where data and analysis come into play. You will need to create accounts and internal processes to handle multiple dialogues, for multiple users, across multiple social platforms.

5. Define a sense of purpose

Engagement for its own sake is ok, but to make the best of your social media strategy, you must imbue it with purpose. What do you want to do for your business and customers with social media?

A lot of companies don’t really think about what they want to achieve with social media, but simply create a presence because they think they must. This is not work you can simply entrust to a junior staffer or a PR agency, but something you should embrace as part of your overall marketing and customer management strategy. By integrating a sense of purpose into your social media programmes, you will humanise the brand and define the experience. To ensure a consistent and accurate persona that is true to your brand, you’ll need a social version of a branding style guide. This will enable you to direct traffic and shape perceptions.

6. Promote

Once the basics are in place, you can move beyond tactical engagement to strategic communication. This involves weaving social media into your online and offline campaigns and tying it to your desired marketing outcomes. You’ll need to produce captivating content and messages to hold the audience’s attention. They will demand something of value in return for their time.

7. Build a community

If you’re doing the first six steps correctly, you’ll start to see a community forming around your social presence. Now, look at ways of fortifying it through creating shared experiences for your audience. Try to identify potential brand ambassadors and would-be brand assassins ‚ try to nurture and encourage the former and to win over the latter.

8. Evolve internally

To complete the integration of social media, you need to adapt and improve your products, services and policies based on the input from social media. This is easier said than done, as you might find IT and marketing departments are still battling to work with each other, let alone a new social media team. This step requires senior level involvement, governance and accountability. The internal reorganisation of teams and processes to support a formal Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM) programme will become imperative.

Closing words

Although social media is high on every marketing department’s priority list, too many marketers treat it as standalone channel. With senior management beginning to look for results from social media that can be compared to other channels, it’s time to start integrating social with the rest of the business.

This means marketing departments need to rapidly create plans, select the right tools and integrate those tools into the marketing mix. The rewards of doing this right can be immense in terms of your understanding of your customers’ and your ability to engage with them effectively.

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