One of the best lessons you can learn while engaging with social media is that you can never plan too early, as it's hard to tell when you'll really reap the fruits of your labor. If you're actively building a brand through social media and you're doing it right, you will be incredibly grateful down the road.
I'll share an example of this from a company I rarely talk about here directly -- my agency, 360i. It's where I've worked as Director of Emerging Media (or related roles) for over three years, so I've been able to witness the agency's evolution firsthand. Earlier this month we released our first Social Marketing Playbook, a freely available 56-page guide for marketers on developing and executing social marketing programs.
I wasn't the lead on managing this project, nor the lead on marketing it; this was a collaborative effort by a dedicated group in our social media and creative practices. Admittedly, the interest in it was greater than expected, as it reached 10,000 downloads within a few days of its launch, and it continues to be a draw. As a marketer, it's easy to look at the end result and say there was a great marketing push for it, while others might chalk it up to luck; there are countless other ways to interpret what happened. The most important work we did, though, was in the months and even years before it came out. Self-serving as the story may be, I hope it's at least a good reminder for the value of planning ahead with social channels.
Distributing the Playbook relied on two efforts where agencies are notoriously weak: marketing themselves, and using the tools they're promoting to their clients. For 360i, this meant building out a blog and a Facebook presence in 2008, and joining Twitter in early 2009. With Twitter, we weren't the first agency to join, and there are many others using it well. By the time we did it, though, we had evaluated it through our own strategic lens (a concept explained in detail in the Playbook) and answered these four critical questions:
1. Could we use it to meet our objectives?
2. Could it leverage our arsenal of assets?
3. Could we use it to abide by the social media rules of the road?
4. Could it provide a significant value exchange?
Twitter, the blog, Facebook, and other channels like Slideshare, Scribd, Flickr, and LinkedIn all met those criteria. There was a fifth criterion that also had to be answered for all of them: Did we have the resources to use them effectively? I'll spare an impossibly objective or unbearably vainglorious analysis of how we did, but all of this was working at least well enough before the Playbook was written. There was also a clear architecture for it, with the blog as a hub, and all of the spokes, including our corporate site, relating coherently to the hub and to each other.
Twitter proved to be especially important for the Playbook's release, with the blog as the hub for much of the linking. We had our own version of brand ambassadors, myself included, who helped get the word out. Scribd, the document-sharing site, was a useful tool, one that Guy Kawasaki chose to tweet. A digital word-of-mouth program helped inform some influential bloggers, tweeters, and executives, though almost all of those relationships were established well before the Playbook was planned.
At Jeff Pulver's 140 Characters Conference last week, someone in the audience asked the panel I was on what we'd advise a brand like Domino's Pizza, which endured a brief but viral brand hijack by a couple of its own employees. I responded that brands need to establish open communication channels as early as possible so that they're ready to use when a major event happens, whether it's a promotion or a crisis. While relatively few brands will go through crises that make headline news, almost all brands -- even agencies' brands, as I've learned -- can benefit from building up a presence well in advance of when it's needed.