Choosing Your Guru
Let's start with deciding who is going to spearhead your social media efforts. Don't make the mistake of simply handing this off to an intern or junior account person (who is already overwhelmed with learning the business). Sadly, many companies believe that Millennials (e.g., the younger generation) are social media experts simply by virtue of their age.
According to an aggregate report on Pingdom.com (February 2010), the demographic group that dominates the social media sphere (over 19 different social media networks) is those aged 35 to 44. The truth is, having a Facebook or Twitter account does not mean you know how to use it for marketing purposes. In "old school" terms, this is like saying that a subscription to the Sunday paper makes you an expert in media buying.
That said, you do want to recruit someone who has an enthusiasm, interest and drive for social media. This very well may be one of your younger associates. Keep in mind that the position will require a large time commitment and a certain mind-set. You want someone who thrives on being connected, not someone who doesn't have a vision for the future of the industry. You want someone who understands that "two posts a week" is not a social media plan. Put a different way, you want someone who is a social media nerd. (In a good way, of course!)
Give your selected candidate opportunities to become well versed: send them to conferences, encourage them to become involved in local organizations, make 'continuing education' a large part of their job responsibilities.
Once you know who is going to be in charge of carry your brand voice out into the social media universe, it's time to have a discussion about content.
What's Your Story?
There are many reasons brands need to have a clear, concise story in place, and this is one of them. A successful social media effort radiates from this story. When you already have one in place, your brand is much less likely to stumble. If you don't know your story, figure it out before you even set up a Twitter account or Facebook page.
Social media can help you communicate your brand story by giving you a forum to talk to and listen to current and potential customers (emphasis on the "listen"). This is not a platform for the hard sell. If you've selected the right person for the job, they will understand the importance of creating a conversation through your selected social media channels. They will be able to respond to what's being said about your brand in a positive way, and know how to rectify issues that might arise.
Beyond The Plan
Here's where many brands drop the ball in social media: even if you have a dedicated resource, you want to make sure that everyone in your organization knows your story and can deliver it properly when conversing through their personal social media vehicles.
After all, it's not like the only person Tweeting, blogging and posting on Facebook every day is your Guru. This is why it's so important that each and every person in your organization knows what to say in a social media setting.
And encourage them to spread the word. Social media by its very nature is wild and untamed, so don't kid yourself that you can keep it down. With proper preparation, you can harness it and use it to spread your brand story.
If you think this part of the equation is optional, just remember, planning ahead is easier than doing damage control.
Put It In The Budget
Despite what marketers might have thought in the early days of social media, it's not free. It requires time and dedicated resources and -- just like every other marketing effort -- it needs a solid strategy and messaging foundation to build from. If you don't already have your brand story in place, that is the first step. It's an investment that will benefit all your marketing initiatives.