Sales & Marketing

Could a tweet cost you $40m? Here’s how to nail your social media strategy

13 min read

16 October 2018

Editorial Director

A strategic approach to social media can boost business, manage risk and stand the test of time. Here’s how to nail your strategy.

Elon Musk may be the billionaire blue-eyed boy of the Silicon Valley circuit, but a rogue tweet cost him and Tesla a combined $40m. In August 2018, Musk tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla off the stock market and into private ownership with “funding secured”. The deal would have boosted Tesla’s valuation to $420 a share.

When it comes to all things deals, discretion is essential. Musk would have had to comply with communications procedures when tweeting about the company–which he clearly didn’t follow.

This was a painful lesson for Musk. Closer to home, Jared O’Mara famously lost his position in the Labour party because of his old posts.

Fake news, cyberattacks and data scandals are shifting people’s views, usage and behaviour, so today’s business leaders need a strategy and a grown up attitude to face the masses online.

This according to Martin Thomas, the author of The Financial Times Guide to Social Media Strategy.

Social media has emerged as a powerful tool for the next generation of leaders and even the occasional president, but leaders need to build a personal brand safely.

Social media continues to attract the headlines – often for the wrong reasons: ‘fake news’, the alleged manipulation of election campaigns, data breaches, cyber bullying, the promotion of inappropriate content and the impact on the mental health of young people.

Social media has become an integral part of our professional and personal lives. It has transformed marketing, customer service, recruitment and internal communications.  At the same time, most of us have smartphones loaded with social media apps to connect with everyone from our friends and family to our elected politicians. This familiarity with social media has, however, led to complacency and bad behaviours, Thomas explains.

Businesses and individuals are wasting time, money and effort on tactical activities and trivial outputs and not enough on measurable outcomes.

Opportunities are being missed. Poor ideas are slipping through the net, whilst good ideas are underfunded. Lessons are not learned. Risks are taken that are avoidable.

In his new book, Thomas says businesses need to take a more “grown up” approach to social media, and use it to really boost their business and their careers.

From “why social” to “how social”?

For a long time, business leaders needed convincing of the value of social media and why they should be embracing it. Today, however, the conversation has shifted to how they can get better at social media and use it in a more strategic way to add real value.

Most organisations started using social media without a clear strategic goal.

Simply having a social media presence was deemed sufficient, without stopping to ask simple questions about the value it adds to customers, the needs it satisfies, and whether objectives could be achieved more cost-effectively by doing something else.

The focus for businesses should go beyond making noise on to actual tactics and technology, by establishing the strategic thinking, planning and processes that should underpin every social media activity and investment.

Employers have the “duty of care”

Social media is often the public platform where people’s private and professional lives meet. This means that when both employees and leaders share (and over-share) opinions online, they can unwittingly make public statements that cost them their jobs, reveal confidential information or even come back to haunt them later in their careers.

Thomas argues that every organisation has a duty of care to all of its employees to ensure that they understand fully the risks and opportunities provided by social media and, in particular, the dangers of over-sharing and making inappropriate comments.

A set of social media guidelines for the employee manual is no longer enough – organisations and leaders need proper training as part of their wider social media strategy.

People continue to lose their jobs over things they say and share on social media. Employers have a “duty of care” to their employees to stop them getting into trouble, which is why entrepreneurs need a framework to manage this type of reputational risk.

The challenge most organisations face in embracing social media is cultural rather than technological, according to Thomas, who believes that creating an agile, transparent culture is the first line of defence for thriving on social media.

Negative social media posts damaged the reputation of 10% of UK businesses in 2018 costing 1 in 20 companies up to £500,000. For Imogen Wethered, CEO of Quidini, this affects retailers a lot more than any other sector.

“Social media has a unique power to amplify customer grievances and influence behaviour through peer-to-peer recommendations. It compounds the impact for retailers with a sub-optimal in-store customer experience,” she explains. “Without a monitoring and social response strategy in place to deal swiftly with customer complaints or enquiries, retail brands ignore these communication channels at their peril.”

“To mitigate reputational and financial damage, retailers need to focus on the customer experience and ensure that customers are receiving the same level of service across each touchpoint.”

With many well-known brick and mortar retailers going into administration at the moment, it is imperative that they ensure that people, processes and technologies are aligned so that customer expectations can be matched, she adds.

5 ways to get social media strategy right

According to the study of more than 500 businesses, more than two fifths of SMEs confess to ‘struggling’ with their marketing efforts; with many saying that they will be making that kind of activity more of a priority in 2019. The study, carried out by www.1stchoicemarketing.co.uk, also revealed the top areas of interest for SMEs on spending their marketing budgets in 2019.

  1. Social media – 39%
  2. SEO – 35%
  3. Paid search – 27%
  4. Email marketing – 25%
  5. Public relations – 19%

Narrowly missing out on the top 5 was ‘influencer marketing’ (18%).

“Marketing is such an important part of the strategy plan for business growth and something that all brands, no matter how large or small, need to always be thinking about,” says founder Matt Bott. “To see that people intend to invest more heavily in marketing in 2019 and to discover that social media and SEO will be the top two priorities is really interesting.”

“Social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram provide such an opportunity for businesses to reach out to their target audience and, in this digital age, getting your SEO right makes you more visible and is key to increasing traffic to your website.”

Here’s how to nail your social media strategy from the get-go.

Step 1: Set social media goals that align with your overall business goals

Social media is just one of the many tools in your marketing arsenal. When done right, it can convert leads into actual customers. This is where goal setting comes in. For the biggest impact, make sure your social media goals match that of your business.

Identify your top three business goals for the year. For example, if growing your sales pipeline is a core business goal, then your social media goals could include growing your customer base, building brand loyalty and strengthening your brand values.

Step 2: Identify specific tactics to reach your goals

Once you’ve aligned your business goals with your social media goals, identify specific actions you need to take to hit those targets.

For example, if your business goal is to expand your business to a new geography, your social media goal will specifically need to identify key brands and individuals in that market that are relevant to your business/sector and build relationships there.

One way to tackle this would be to do some research into which is the strongest social media platform in the market you’re targeting, who the top 100 influencers in that niche are, and who might become brand advocates.

Once that’s done, strategically direct message each of them to see if they’re open to partnering with your business. You could then set up a calendar to map when to set up sponsored posts for maximum impact.

Step 3: Identify your priorities

In an ideal world, you’ll have all the time and marketing resources in the world to roll out your plan. Realistically, this is where step 3 comes in. Weigh your tactics against your business priorities to identify which social media plan is worth your time and effort right now.

Key questions: 

1. How much value do you expect each approach to bring to your business? What does success look like?
2. How much time and money will it take to reach your goal?
3. How complicated or unpredictable is each approach?

Based on the answers to those questions, you can prioritise the social media goals that bring in the most value and require the least amount of resources and are easiest to implement.

Step 4: Plan your strategy with actual deadlines and metrics

A plan is only as good as its execution. Once you’ve prioritised the tactics you plan on using (and when), map that with actual calendar dates and assign tasks to members of your team for accountability.

Assign tasks: Who will work on and be responsible for each task within each social media goal?
Set deadlines: When would each task need to be done by?

Step 5: Monitor progress and tweak your strategy as needed

The best part about social media is that you can see results in real time and adapt your strategy accordingly. If you’re not seeing the results you want in the time period you’ve set for yourself, you can always experiment until you get there.

What’s your social media strategy? Share your story with us for a chance to be featured on Real Business.