When it comes to starting social media activity in a business, there’s often a very clear temptation to immediately “join the conversation” and “get engaged” with customers.Everybody else is doing it aren’t they, and tools like a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are all free to use, right? So what could possibly be the harm in starting a blog, getting a marketing intern to tweet, or getting your PR agency to set up a Facebook page, while you get on with the real issues of managing your business? Well, therein lies the crux of the matter. Conventional advice for starting in social media goes along the lines of listening to what your audiences are saying – both about you and your markets – and then entering into an open dialogue with them in an attempt to gain awareness, develop influence, generate leads and drive business. But all too often this leads to a re-active out-bound approach and trying to convert your sales, marketing and PR onto social channels. The opportunities are there, but if you’re not careful, social audiences will quickly tire of superficial sales and marketing-led communications and your attempts at conversation, and profitable conversion, will become meaningless. Social media in business is so much more than that. The key to using social media successfully lies not in the “just do it” approach, but in developing activities that are going to make a difference. This, then, clearly requires an objectives-based strategy that supports and drives your business, and your social media should be built around producing results that will help you succeed. As with all your communications, if you’re not prepared to commit to it, then you may have nothing more on your hands than a clever campaign. Possibly. Without a rational method behind it, your activity could ultimately be futile and will end up diverting valuable resources and budget. Businesses that support their social media efforts with understanding, vision and an underlying philosophy will give themselves a clear advantage. So how do you go about successfully developing your social activity? Firstly, take a look at what you’ve got already. In the constant desire to improve everything you do, imagine social media across your entire business, operations, markets, everything. In reality this may be impractical at first, but we need to recognise that this is what’s happening today. Your employees, partners, suppliers, clients and customers are already using social media, and a structured, pro-active and inclusive approach to engage with them across the board will reap significant rewards down the line. This doesn’t mean trying to develop and deal with every social media tool and channel all at once. But it does require putting in place the business understanding, objectives, budget, processes and people to deal with and use it effectively. So learn what it can do for you, your employees and your business. Give your organisation – and especially your people – the knowledge, tools, channels, and, importantly, the permission to act and become social business evangelists. Establish what works and what doesn’t. Equate everything to your goals. And by avoiding the temptation to rush in, you will put yourself in the position to successfully build social media into your long-term business and profits. For any organisation today it’s not enough just to do social media, you need to develop as a proper “social business”. Andrew Gerrard is head of social business at Like Minds. Like Minds, a Real Business partner, is hosting a Developing Social Business Immersive on June 22. Full details are on the Like Minds website.
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