5 Steps to Thinking More Socially About Communications

Like it or not, “digital” is becoming a part of more and more marketers’ jobs. The implications of this are broader than just tacking-on another channel to an existing marketing plan – developing digital approaches require a shift in mind-set from traditional channels, whether they’re owned, earned or paid.

Here are five ways to begin to shift your thinking from traditional communications to social communications.

Think “inbound” alongside “outbound”

Your new social hub, or your Facebook Page, or your engagement plan may be the nice, glamorous part of your approach to social media, but be careful not to completely neglect incoming information in favour of outbound messages.

Just as most companies invest resources in media monitoring, online monitoring should be a core component of any companies’ online activities nowadays. Social media is allowing more and more people to connect and talk about the things that they care about, and to do so in a place where you can hear them. This has three big implications:

  1. Self-identified audience – if people are talking about your company or brand, they’re doing the equivalent of raising their hand as people who care. It’s a marketer’s dream – in the past we’ve had to use a shotgun to do a rifle’s job. Nowadays, the rifle can work.
  2. Identify problems early – by monitoring what people are saying online, you can identify many issues in niche groups before they escalate to a broader audience. Because you can identify them, you can mitigate or prepare for the consequences and you can learn from them.
  3. Weather vane – monitoring lets you see the reactions to your activities in real-time, and to adjust them. So, if your approach isn’t resonating, or is being received negatively, you can adjust. This means that, rather than a fire-and-forget approach, or a ready-aim-aim-aim-aim-fire approach, you can adopt a ready-aim-fire-aim-fire-aim-fire approach that is more likely to generate good results.

Think long-term, not short-term

Social media outposts don’t come with a built-in, ready-to-go audience – you need to build your community over time. However, that’s not the way that many people have been taught to think. Marketing campaigns are often built around short-term microsites, campaign-focused landing pages and one-off ads.  That approach is ineffective in social media.

Launching a Facebook Page or Twitter account for a campaign then turning it off at the end of the campaign is akin, in traditional digital terms, to building an email list with a campaign then just deleting it once the campaign is done. It’s a waste. What’s more, you’re creating social media scorched earth as people who chose to connect with you may feel used.

Organizations often cited as leading the way in social media are launching properties and maintaining them over the long-term. The Starbucks Facebook Page, for example, has over 18 million fans. These didn’t just appear overnight (disclosure: Starbucks is an Edelman client). In comparison, the final episode of LOST drew 13.5 million people – five million fewer. While Starbucks isn’t a realistic comparison for most brands, the way they’ve built their fan base over the long-term is cause to stop and think about the “disposable property” approach.

Adjust your approach to measurement

Marketers and communicators have long suffered with poor measurement approaches based largely on guesswork. Online activities (first one-way, now two-way) let us draw a much more direct line back to our objectives… and we should take advantage of that.

In a world where social media activities are fighting for a piece of the same pie that everyone else is eating, we do need to demonstrate results. Yes, it’s frustrating that social media seems to be held to a higher measurement standard than other forms of communications, but it’s the newest and as such people aren’t yet sold on its effectiveness.

One big challenge right now is that traditional marketers are seeking to apply traditional metrics to this new paradigm. CPM metrics, for example, may make sense when you pay for the media and control every letter in your ad. However, when you’re dealing in earned media over which you have zero control of words, sentiment, audience or placement, not every eyeball is equal. Is it a good thing if Engadget posts a piece that rips your new product launch a new one? The CPM metric would say yes.  So, not every eyeball is even a good thing. Quality measures like sentiment, message and link inclusion and conversions for other goals become important.

Integrate your channels

The lines between communications disciplines have been blurring for some time now. Social media takes that to the next level. I wrote about the interplay between different forms of media late last year, and my colleague David Armano’s diagram of the intersection of these media types (below) illustrates it well.

Social media doesn’t fit into a neat silo. You’re operating with a mix of on-domain owned properties, outposts on third-party sites, engagement on other sites, paid ads and online earned media. This puts social media approaches at an uncomfortable intersection for people who would like to put “social” in its own bucket, or within an existing one.

That means your internal departments need to play nicely with each other. It means the agencies supporting you need to, too.

Get used to two-way conversations

Over the course of its history to-date, communications has evolved from one-to-one, to one-to-many, to many-to-many. Use of social media tools brings with it expectations. So, the question becomes not whether to respond, but how, because if you stick your head up, vomit your messages all over anyone who will listen, then disappear, you’re not going to convince anyone. You’ll end up with a bunch of people asking you questions with no response. If social media monitoring, as Marcel Lebrun says, is the equivalent of answering the social phone then not responding is like answering the phone then sitting on the line in silence.

When you publish new content, monitor regularly for reactions and respond to them. When you ask a question on Twitter, respond to people who reply. When you comment on a blog post, subscribe to the comment stream so you can see if anyone posts follow-up questions.

Two-way interaction is here to stay. The toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube. To ignore this is to put your head in the sand.

What else?

I’m sure these five shifts in thinking are just the tip of the iceberg. Do you agree? What else would you add?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.