Originally I wrote this post on my blog because I was getting frustrated each time I went to Google Reader and read blog posts about the economy’s potential impact on social media. Some people were completely bullish on the concept, others were a bit of the bear and some were very level-headed. My frustration, however, was the fact that people were asking the wrong question when they were looking at the impact the economy was going to have on social media.
Do NOT ask “How will the economy affect social media?”
DO ask “How can I prove and improve how social media affects my business?”
It is 2008—almost 2009—you should be beyond debating about social media and whether you are actually going to implement any practices. Instead your business should be knee deep in activities, or at the very least have your plan completely ironed out on how to use social media. Why? Let’s think:
• Your competitor is already involved and eating your lunch;
• Your competitor is stuck in legacy drive and can’t figure this stuff out, creating a huge opportunity;
• Your customers are talking about you online and hoping you’ll respond;
• Your customers don’t know how to talk about you online and wish you would tell them where and how;
Stop thinking about social media as a tool, a program or a one-off activity. Instead you need to recognize that social media is an additional form of communication that must be wrapped into your current marketing and PR plan. It must gel with your next product launch or partner program. The first step in making this transformation is to look at the effects social media, even if you aren’t truly doing anything proactive, is having on your business.
Here is your updated to-do list:
• Update your business goals in light of the new economic gloom…FUN!
• Reach out to your community and ask how their buying decisions are changing and where they are involved online…I smell a survey.
• Research deeply what people are saying about you and your competitors online…set up those RSS alerts people!
• Go out and find these online communities…don’t say anything at first, just listen.
• Begin discussion with these communities, perhaps inquiring about different means for them to reduce costs….be transparent and useful.
• Go back to your marketing plan and now attach direct requirements for social media lead generation…be conservative in Q1.
• Initiate proactive social media outreach…perhaps an exclusive discount to longtime customer who happen to also be blogging?
• Integrate community into your own website so folks have a way to reach you and promote you…could be as simple as RSS feeds, a blog, Twitter feed.
Obviously this is a simplified to-do list, but to be honest it really covers what you need to be looking at to move beyond the debate and into action. This is simply not a time to be discussing whether or not social media can help your business, it is a time to take action and improve your community engagement in order to drive business in a down economy. Now if I had 500 more words I could tell you how to measure social media ROI…but that will have to wait.
Kyle Flaherty writes a blog using insight, lessons learned and horror stories from his nearly 12 years in high-tech public relations, communications and marketing. He is currently Director of Marketing and Social Media at BreakingPoint Systems, and of course you can find him on Twitter.