My Jan. GFWBW column: Developing a Social Media Plan, Part 1

Every month, I write a column about social media for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. This month, I’m sharing the first of two columns focus on developing a social media plan. Watch for part two in early February.

“Cram time (winter)” by Pragmagraphr on Flickr

For the best social-media results, draw up a plan

In all the work I’ve done with clients, ranging from individuals in professional-services fields to large, complex organizations, one constant has proved most likely to determine their success in deploying social media. Those who have a written social-media strategy tend to do very well, with measurable results; those who don’t tend to have results that are, at best, negligible.

There’s a simple reason for this: Just about anything worth doing begins with a planning process, and social media is no different. If you take it seriously, you’ll make the appropriate initial investment of resources to consider the big picture before moving forward.

If you’re just getting started, it’s critical to be patient and go through the process outlined below before jumping in. While you’re likely eager to begin using Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media sites, a little planning will go a long way toward making those efforts worthwhile — and determining whether Facebook and Twitter should even be part of your strategy.

What if you’re already using social media? Is all hope lost if you don’t have a written strategy? No, but it’s critical that you develop one as soon as possible while being objective and open to new ideas in the process. Avoid the temptation to simply validate what you’ve already put in place; instead, make sure what you’re been doing earns the right to remain part of your efforts.

Ready to move forward? Then it’s to time to take the following critical first steps toward developing your strategy:

– Ensure that you have support from your organization’s top leaders. Deploying social media effectively will demand a long-term investment of resources, so it’s vital to ensure that your organization’s key leaders are on board. This doesn’t mean they need to be involved in the development of the strategy or sign off on every initiative, but they do need to know the specific opportunities and challenges social media likely will present to your organization and understand that what you get out of social media will be contingent upon what resources you’re willing to put into it.

Many executives have a strong appreciation for social media, but what if your top leadership isn’t supportive? Your only recourse is to educate them, perhaps bringing in outside expertise to help make the argument and by sharing case studies from organizations like yours. If you still can’t persuade them it’s worth doing, the sad truth is that there may be little value in moving forward until you can persuade them otherwise. After all, if social media isn’t a priority for your top leadership, it won’t be a priority for the organization as a whole, and you won’t have access to the resources you’ll need to make it work. It’s likely better to focus on other things in the short term or take your talents to an employer that understands the business case for social media.

– Determine who’s in charge. After you have leadership’s support, you’ll need to establish an internal champion to oversee the development of the strategy and, eventually, its implementation. To be clear, this likely will not be the CEO (unless the organization is a sole proprietorship or very small), but someone who has the CEO’s support and enough credibility in the organization to be a decision maker.

Who’s the right person for this role? Start with your top marketing executive, since you’ll want your efforts to be aligned with your top leadership larger marketing strategy, and since you’ll likely be focused on an external audience. Exceptions apply, however, such as when your top marketing executive lacks enthusiasm for the power of social media, an understanding of how social media is different than traditional marketing tactics or internal buy-in. If that’s the case, you’ll need to identify someone with those qualities and the ability to collaborate with others throughout the organization, including marketing.

– Assemble a team to work on the strategy. While your focus may likely be related to marketing, other departments will be vital in shaping your strategy (again, this may not apply to sole proprietorships or very small companies). Human resources may need to be involved if the strategy will influence your social-media employee use policy or if job descriptions need to be altered to make social media a key part of employees’ responsibilities.

Those with direct customer contact likely would provide a valuable perspective, too. Also, you may choose to engage an external consultant in the process, for no other reason than to act as a facilitator. If so, get him or her involved early since you’ll make some big decisions from the outset.

– Establish a deadline. Like any other significant effort, the development of your social-media strategy will take time. Left unconstrained, however, it may take longer than it should. It’s critical, then, to set a deadline, which may be aligned with a product launch, the beginning of your fiscal year or a specific marketing campaign. Even absent of one of those motivators, set an artificial deadline to stay on track. I’d recommend no more than 60 days from the time your team is assembled.

At this point, you’ll be ready to get started with an eye on the finish line ahead. The next step is the thinking and writing that will move your strategy from idea to reality. And next month, I’ll outline the questions your strategy needs to address. If you’d like to follow along, take action based on the recommendations above and you’ll be in excellent shape to keep the momentum going in February.

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