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Think before taking the social network plunge.

Even if you're planning to outsource the daily management of your social network brand extension to experts, you should still think long and hard about what's involved. Do bear in mind that every brand's situation is different (which is why we offer clients a tailored consultation of course, *smiles*), but here are some general points to consider:

1. What resources (manpower) can you dedicate to this? Facebook is for life, not just for Christmas. Twitter is a hungry bird. While much of the social media can be outsourced to companies like eModeration, a dedicated and responsive resource will need to be the point of contact within the brand. Social media changes quickly (unbelievably quickly, in Facebook's case) and a fair amount of time will be needed to keep up with it. Even more importantly, do you have people willing to be contacted 24/7? Social media disasters spread like wildfire and don't always choose office hours in which to break out.

2. What budget do you have to dedicate to this? This will go towards not only outsourcing the daily management and moderation, but also to developing applications, creating content and video to help to make your social media pages engaging.

3. What is your current Social Media presence? You may not officially own a page on Facebook or a Twitter account, but consumers may have already created pages (either positive or negative). Knowing what's out there already will help to determine your next steps. Facebook members can now create “Community Pages” for any brand or cause so you may already have a page on Facebook about your company. Facebook members create Facebook Groups, Facebook members create Facebook Groups and Community Pages allowing them to discuss your brand or company without your official permission. (And these may be hard to distinguish from your official fan page, beware!)

4. What is your strategy for working with consumers that create unofficial fan pages or community pages about your brand? What will be your emergency procedure for the following scenarios? A comprehensive action plan should be in place for how to deal with: negative comments posted on the page; unofficial fan pages with negative comments; and customer service escalations, all of which are almost certain to happen.

5. What are your goals for setting up these pages? It's been said over and over again, but if you don't know why you're doing this, you shouldn't be doing it. If you can clearly define why you are entering the social sphere, then you will be able to measure your success.

6. Who is your audience and what will make them want to engage with you on Facebook or Twitter? Face it, there are a lot of other places they could be. And a lot of other brands they could engage with. Brands need to think about what they can offer their fans, be it in the form of content, responsiveness or special offers. Brands should also consider who will likely be interacting with the page, and offer content and features written in a tone that is appropriate to that audience.

7. How are you going to promote your page or Twitter feed, and how are you going to link to your other spaces or activities? This of course is even more important now that Facebook Connect and 'Like' buttons have increased connectivity though the web. More on that from us later.

Shining Examples

And finally, to show you how well it can be done, here are some social media brand pages that we like:

  • Starbucks — Over 7 million people also love this page, and what's not to love? Starbucks has proved that a brand can create a page that doesn't rely solely on flashy applications to keep its audience engaged. Starbucks posts daily and replies to its fans. Simple. Effective.
  • Threadless, @threadless — Hands down one of my favorite brands, both on Facebook and Twitter, and in general. Community has always been at the heart of this company, and Facebook and Twitter are just two more ways Threadless seamlessly and effortlessly talks to its loyal followers.
  • Red Bull — Boy, do they know their audience or what? The page is dynamic, loud and in your face from the moment you reach it. For their target market, the page provides exactly what they're looking for — top snowboarding and skateboarding athletes, exclusive video content, awesome applications, and the hilarious Drunken Dials. This is a brand that has truly embraced and invested in engaging with its audience on social media.
  • Clorox - They did a great charity campaign showing that even a household product can engage effectively with its consumers.
  • Jet Blue, @jetblue — Through their Twitter page, they are fully responsive to @ mentions, with a clear objective of answering customer queries by promoting their Speak Up campaign (customer service help). Their Facebook page is full of wonderful promotions, videos of their employees performing philanthropic work, and a great Green Pledge drive.

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