To optimize digital engagement, organizations should address five questions focused on strategy, audience, value, feasibility, and when to exit. These questions should certainly be tackled before establishing a presence and committing to engaging on any social or digital platform or channel, but they're also useful in evaluating whether it's worthwhile to continue in a particular digital space.
Having recently written 5 Digital Resolutions Everyone Should Make (and Keep!), I committed to following my own advice. Over the past couple of weeks, I have focused on cleaning up not just my own digital footprint, but that of The Denovati Group as well. It's been tedious and a royal pain, but I'm glad to do it, especially since I want to optimize our digital presence and engagement. Given time and other resource limitations, our cyber activity needs to be as strategic, tightly focused and valuable as possible. But then again, shouldn't everyone's?
This digital optimization exercise has given me the opportunity to reflect on the standards by which organizations should manage their digital engagement. I've determined that there are five key questions that need to be addressed. These questions should certainly be tackled before establishing a presence and committing to engaging on any social or digital platform or channel, but they're also useful in evaluating whether it's worthwhile to continue in a particular digital space. The questions are particularly relevant for small and medium sized organizations, but larger entities can benefit from them as well. And with a few twists, they may also be useful in guiding the digital engagement activities of individual professionals.
Ideally, these questions should be tackled by a small group of key players, including organizational leaders. Even if leaders aren't that digitally sophisticated, they can provide guidance to make sure those to whom they've delegated various digital engagement activities are as focused and efficient as possible and are maximizing the return on time and other invested resources. It may also be worthwhile to involve an outsider with digital expertise to ensure the team is disciplined, pragmatic, and ruthless (when necessary) as they evaluate options and make decisions.
Related reading: The SAPLING Approach to Leveraging Social Media
Q1: What are We Trying to Achieve?
I feel like a broken record saying this, but everything begins with a clear articulation of an organization's goals and objectives in concrete terms. What's the end game: Revenue generation? Increasing awareness of the organization and/or its brand(s)? Demonstrating thought leadership?
Drilling deeper... How do we want to generate revenue? What are the main products/services we want to promote? Which market segment(s) do we want to focus on? Who are the buyers and what are their key characteristics? Given the typical sales cycle, is our promotional focus short term or longer term? Where and with whom do we want to increase our name and brand recognition? What kinds of thought leaders do we want to be seen as, and by whom?
The answers to questions like these should generally already been known. They may be articulated in a strategic plan, reflected in the annual budget, and/or found in informal written communications like email. They may also just be in people's heads - but they should still be known. Given that, addressing this question is more of an exercise in consolidation, integration, and refinement rather than one of creation.
Q2: Where are "Our People"?
The first thing to tackle is defining who "our people" are. As with the organization's goals and objectives, this should already be known, at least at a basic level. Who is the target market? Who makes the buying decisions? What are their general demographic characteristics?
Drilling deeper... How digitally literate is our target audience? How digitally engaged are they and where? What can we discern about their digital activities in terms of frequency and length of visits, listening, sharing, commenting, etc. What kinds of digital appetites do they have? Do they prefer short or long-form content? Are they visual? Do they prefer education, entertainment, edutainment?
This deeper set of questions can be hard to address in detail, but it should be possible to get a general sense based on historical information and knowledge. Be careful, though, not to make false assumptions or draw false conclusions. The demographics and digital activities of your target audience change over time, so the past is not a perfect predictor of either the present or the future. One way to get more certain answers is to conduct research via focus groups and/or by surveying current/prospective customers.
Q3: How does Digital Engagement Help Us Achieve Our Goals?
Armed with a set of strategic and tactical objectives and the profile of target audience(s) in both general and digital terms, it's fairly easy to assess whether digital engagement makes sense in general - and more specifically, which platforms and channels offer the best potential return on investment.
There is plenty of readily available information on the typical users of various established digital channels and platforms, including demographic data, communication styles, engagement activities, etc. This information can be compared against goals and audience profiles to determine the best fit(s) and opportunities. Some platforms and channels may be best for revenue generation, others for brand awareness, and still others for thought leadership. It may also be the case that different platforms/channels are most appropriate for different market segments.
As with traditional approaches to marketing, branding, and sales, the key is to realize there is no one- size-fits-all solution, and that a multi-channel, segmented, targeted approach to digital engagement is likely to be best. You'll want to match each articulated goal to its target audience(s) and specific digital platforms/channels, adding the type of digital engagement that makes the most sense for each. Keep in mind that some of this digital engagement will be strategic and relatively certain, whereas others will be opportunistic and experimental.
As new platforms/channels emerge and take off, the work done with established platforms/channels should provide a foundation for assessing whether and how they fit into the overall digital engagement mix. Though it may be tempting to jump in and experiment quickly, it's better to ensure that it's worth the time and effort it will take to ramp up and establish a strong presence. Which brings us to...
Q4: Can We Do It Right - and Can We Keep It Up?
Everything up to this point has been largely focused on the ideal digital engagement strategy. In many respects, defining what you COULD do is relatively easy; the bigger challenge lies in being realistic about what you CAN do given resource constraints. What is the required investment in terms of human resources, time, and money? Is it worth it in terms of the potential return?
First you'll want to make a digital competency assessment, by asking questions like: Do we have the internal resources with the necessary digital literacy to establish a strong presence and represent our organization and brand(s) well? If we don't have the right internal resources, should we outsource our digital engagement - and to whom? How do we ensure assigned resources have the knowledge, skills and abilities they need? Do they know how to be not just effective, but also efficient? Do they have the judgment to question things and look for better approaches?
Having the right digital competencies is necessary for effective digital engagement, but it's not necessarily sufficient. No matter how skilled someone is, establishing and maintaining a strong presence in any digital channel is time consuming and requires an ongoing commitment (for more on this, see Coping with Social Media Realities: Time and Information Management and Social Media in 10 Minutes a Day? 7 Reasons not to be Fooled). Required activities include:
- Regularly and consistently sharing relevant curated and/or created content
- Monitoring activity and engaging with others
- Keeping up with software, feature and design changes on various platforms and channels
- Maintaining an accurate profile and related info
People always underestimate how much time it takes for successful digital engagement. Although there are tools that can help and some activities (e.g., queuing up a tweet) can be done quickly, other activities (e.g., writing a blog post, creating a podcast or video) can be quite time intensive. And the demands are relentless. Cyberspace never takes a holiday...
Q5: Are We Prepared to Pull the Plug if/when Necessary?
It may seem counterintuitive, but NO digital engagement is better than an anemic digital presence, extremely low engagement, and/or a digital property that's effectively been abandoned. Trust me.
When engaging on a new (to you) platform orchannel, you have to give it a decent amount of time to get established and take off, but you should also have a clear deadline by which by which you're going to make a "stay or go" call (and by what criteria). And when that deadline comes, don't pussyfoot around. Make a pragmatic assessment of whether a continued investment of time and other resources is warranted based on the results to date and in the context of other organizational priorities.
It's inevitable that certain digital properties will lie fallow for short periods of time, for various reasons. But at some point a temporary break could start to look like a permanent one. When that's the case, rather than leaving visitors to guess, it may be better to let people know you're on hiatus, or that a particular digital presence is not being cultivated. More importantly, you have to be realistic about whether you're ever going to return to it. If you're not, the best thing to do is pull the plug officially and not look back.
Conclusion - Your Thoughts?
In some respects these questions may seem like common sense, but many organizations (and individuals) pursue digital engagement activities without really thinking things through. More importantly, once they've established a presence, they rarely reconsider the value and viability of the platform or channel and almost never take the necessary steps to shut down the digital properties they've effectively abandoned.
As I wrote about in Digital Property is Real Property: 5 Ways to Treat it That Way, digital's "false invisibility" makes it easy to overlook and neglect. Given that, organizational leaders and other professionals have to make a concerted effort to remember that digital property is in fact a tangible asset that deserves to be treated with respect and properly managed.
As always, I welcome your feedback. What questions has this piece raised for you? What would you add to, change, or delete from the recommendations provided?