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Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools

February 5, 2010 

Paul GillinI’ve recently worked with several companies that are 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.

Appropriate tools also 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 offline 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.

First Reviews

Book authors endure several months of agony between the time they submit a manuscript for publication and the arrival of the first reviews. So Dana and I were pleased to read these words from the influential Library Journal about our new book, The Joy of Geocaching, which arrives in April:

Longtime tech writer Gillin and his wife, Dana, an editor, are the perfect ambassadors for geocaching. Their book imparts all the how-to that a budding enthusiast needs to get started while also including lots of funny and interesting anecdotes that will communicate to the completely unfamiliar reader just why the sport is exploding in popularity.

Read the complete review here.

Tip of the Week: Posterous

If you have accounts with more than one social media service these days (and who doesn’t?), then Posterous can save you time and increase your online footprint. I got interested in Posterous, which is one of a expanding category of so-called “lifestreaming” services, after I read that PR super blogger Steve Rubel had mothballed his popular Micro Persuasion blog last June and shifted all his activities to Posterous. Lifestreaming tools radiate your messages out to all the social networking services you use. Instead of sending a message as a tweet, I can e-mail it to post@posterous.com and it will appear almost instantly on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Flickr and Delicious. No added work on my end. The service supports dozens of other destinations, including YouTube and blogs.

Posterous does some clever things in interpreting the messages you send. For example, if you include a link to a photo, it automatically reformats and resizes the image for the selected destination. It also knows not to attempt to post an entire blog entry to a social bookmarking site but rather to publish a headline and link. There are many other dials and switches that I haven’t investigated yet, but the service is already saving me time and drudgery. Another popular lifestreaming service is ping.fm and others are on the way. In addition, many social networks and bookmark sites are incorporating cross-posting as a basic feature.

The downside of lifestreaming is that it multiplies the amount of noise in an already cacophonous Internet. But it also multiplies your opportunity to be heard. There are big implications to this, which I explore in my column in BtoB magazine next week and will expand upon in future editions of this newsletter.

Just For Fun: Funny Street View Photos

Google is in the process of photographing as much of the habitable world as it can for its Street View service. As its camera-equipped vehicles methodically troll the streets capturing images, they occasionally come across some funny and bizarre scenes. A blogger has captured some of the weirder ones at the Top 100 Funniest Google Street View Pictures, such as this one showing a man apparently trying to break into a house. They’re presented along with links to the image on the original map. I’m sure there are plenty of others that didn’t make this list, but it’s a good start.

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