Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools

I’ve recently worked with several companies that were trying to bring some order to their social media activities. I’ve found that most have the same problem: They’ve dabbled in blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages but after several months they lack traffic, followers and fans. They’re frustrated and confused. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cheap and easy way to build their brand and bring in sales?

Social media is cheap but it isn’t easy. With millions of bloggers and Facebook pages online, building visibility is a challenge that demands time. More importantly, it demands a strategy, and that’s where businesses usually don’t go far enough.

There’s nothing wrong with diving in and using the tools. In fact, I encourage experimentation. But before you invest significant time in social media, you need a plan. Here’s the four-stage process I walk then through.

Define the Objective – Social media tools are only tools. Without an underlying strategy, they have about as much benefit as a plumber’s wrench has to fixing a hole in the wall. Most business objectives demand a mix of online and offline tools, and social media may have little or no value. Start with the objective and work backwards.

Common business objectives range from building thought leadership to generating leads, cutting customer service costs and recruiting quality employees. Each demands different strategies and tools. If you start with the objective, the rest of the process is easier.

Identify Metrics – Here I steal shamelessly from measurement queen Katie Paine, who believes that any goal can be measured. In many cases, relevant metrics have nothing to do with the Internet. They can include yardsticks such as

  • Positive mentions in mainstream media outlets
  • Quantity of new job applicants;
  • Speaking invitations;
  • Reduction in help desk calls;
  • Improvements in Net Promoter Scores; and, of course
  • Increased sales.

Note that many of these examples have nothing to do with Web analytics. Friends, followers and fans have little value if they don’t achieve the business goal.

Don’t go overboard on metrics. Choose three or four that are meaningful to your goal and define standards of success, like a doubling of Facebook fans in a six-month period. Then revisit your progress every three months and adjust (or choose new metrics).

Define Tactics – How are you going to use online and offline channels to reach your goals? Consider all the options. For example, thought leadership may be enhanced by blogging and tweeting, but an equally effective strategy may be growing the quantity of speaking engagements or starting a local professional group. Consider location. The Internet provides a great way to increase international exposure but it may be of little help in growing visibility within your local geography. That goal may be better addressed by increasing activity in local trade associations or advertising on radio. Tactics are enabled by tools, so you need these plans in place before you start blogging or tweeting

Choose Tools – This is where many companies start their social media journey, but it really is where they should end it. Different tools are good for different purposes. for example, Twitter is an excellent news delivery vehicle while Facebook is better for creating a feedback loop. My book, Secrets Of Social Media Marketing, has a more complete selection grid. Also, many businesses are now learning how to use multiple tools in concert to magnify their impact.

Your tools may have nothing to do with the Internet. For example, starting a local chapter of a professional trade association or submitting speaking proposals to conference organizers can be a great way to network or build visibility. You can also combine off-line and online tactics, such as promoting an upcoming speech through the media while seeking interviews with prominent bloggers.

This is the basic framework I use for discussion, and I find that the structured approach helps focus my clients. When you really think about your business goals, it’s surprising to discover how many of the tactics come down to good old-fashioned person-to-person relationships. Online tools can certainly help there, but sometimes a phone call or a lunch meeting is worth 1,000 tweets.

10 thoughts on “Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools

  1. Let’s say an org had the goal of investing in internal “social capital” with the goal of increased engagement and productivity. What yardsticks would be most helpful?

  2. I agree Eric, it’s nice see some advice about being strategic with your social media strategies. I think some companies dive in head first and aren’t focused enough on the final goal. In many cases, companies are just too busy and dont have time for social media. That’s when they need to consider outsourcing.

  3. It is always amazing how everyone sees a train pull into the station and they jump onto it without asking where it is headed, or why they got on it. Every campaign, whether it is social media, traditional media, public relations, advertising has to work backward in developing the strategy. If you do not know what your goal is, how can you develop a strategy? Those who simply invest in these tactics without understanding ow to use them will either fail, or just get lucky. Excellent post.

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  6. Very practical. Effective communication does require knowing how to reach people. Once you have opened the lines of communication you need to have something to say that will engage those who are listening, else you have just created a new noise maker that people will invent a filter for like Can Spam or Caller ID. There is a window of opportunity on these channels that like will close down so we need to be savvy now. Good insights Paul.

  7. Phil:

    One basic tactic would be to monitor the amount of activity within the internal social network: members, discussion threads, questions posted and answered perhaps the number and type of wikis launched for project management. You could also modify sales reports to require reps to document any value they got from the social network that led toward new business.

    Another simple way to assess value, if not necessarily ROI, is to conduct an employee survey and ask if the network is making people more effective in their jobs. Put all those together and you have a pretty good idea if the project is worth the effort.

  8. Hi Paul –

    Always enjoy reading your posts! I agree that treating social as a *channel* is SO essential, whether you are working with marketers, customer service folks or even internal-facing audiences. And I’ve found that assigning owners for each of these channels is as important as having a well-designed strategy for how you use ALL your channels and integrate them with existing communication and collaboration methods.

    You and your readers may find that my recent article on “10 step to a practical social media business strategy” amplifies a number of your points and perhaps adds some additional perspectives and pointers as well. It’s on SearchCRM at: I welcome your thoughts and feedback!


  9. I would focus on a combination of up-n-coming social trends like Google Wave and Bing, also possibly Google FastFlip. Also I would recommend “stand-bys” like twitter and Facebook, and I’d suggest being able to explain how things like twitter and Facebook fan pages can give added value to a company’s social media efforts.

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