Once in a while, I get people asking me about Social Media and what Social Media engagement means. Here is an attempt to describe it at 50,000′ level.
Social media allows an organization to present a human face to the rest of the world. It allows you to share stories, start conversations and engage your potential audience and partners. Stories are easier to spread and memes are more viral than facts. In the case of a company, social media engagement is part of the inbound marketing strategy. It is not a miracle cure. It, however, has the potential to increase awareness and interaction. You use social media to engage, educate and entertain.
You need to start social engagement as soon as you can. You don’t need to wait for a product to be ready, company to get funding or an initiative to gain momentum. Social media engagement takes time and precedes other marketing efforts.
There are two ways you can use social media:
- As a set of tools for gathering information relevant to your products/initiatives
- As a way to communicate with the rest of the world to increase awareness, build a brand and recruit champions and evangelists
In both the approaches, you need to have a way to continuously monitor social media, compare it with your expected results and make minor course corrections.
What is Social Media?
Broadly social media is anything that engages people and starts a dialog. Currently there are several tools to create social media engagement. These include:
- Micromedia (the most popular being Twitter)
- Wikis (an informal, collaboratively edited knowledge base)
- Videos (on YouTube and other channels).
- Social Bookmarks (Public links to useful resources, shared with others and tagged for easy search)
- Podcasts (Published audio recordings)
- Screencasts (small low fi video animations to explain complex concepts in simple terms)
- Social networks (like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google +)
- Curated Question and Answer Systems (like Quora)
- Slideshare and other document sharing networks
Let us look a bit deeper.
If you want to start your social media engagement, I would recommend that you start with blogs. Blogs are a medium to share stories and start discussions. Blog posts can be a mixture of facts (for example, the start of a new initiative), opinion columns and commentary on what is happening in your industry. A blog can be managed by an individual or a group. In the case or organizations, group blogs are common. To be effective, a blog needs to have consistency and predictable frequency. Consistency in a set of broad themes will help target specific audience. There is no need to blog daily but a weekly one will be a good start.
Tweets – aka Microblogs or Micromedia
Twitter has become one of the most popular channels to distribute a wide array of information fragments. Since Tweets are restricted to about 140 characters, they are eminently suited for short bursts of information. Your tweets, if they are useful and informative will be spread by others who follow you. This network effect, helps you increase your reach to a larger audience. Short tweets can contain links to blog posts, articles, interviews, pictures and videos. Tweeting is one of the easiest of the social media engagement initiatives. With proper tools, you can create tweets in minutes.
You can also use Twitter to do research, find and follow people relevant to your industry or market. There are a variety of resources to augment basic tweets. These include twitter lists, curated tweets, tools to measure reach, gauge influence.
Wikis are a great way to build informal knowledge bases. Thanks to Wikipedia, wiki usage has become mainstream. Wikis act as knowledge bases where articles, blogs, announcements, stories are stored permanently. They can be searched and interlinked. Wikis are also a great way for organizations to foster collaboration, share knowledge internally (which is different from external wikis). You can set up a wiki in a couple of hours but nurturing it takes some effort and dedication by a small team.
YouTube is the second most used search engine. Small videos (3-7 minutes in length), educate, entertain and captivate. They are one of the best mediums for explaining a complex process in a simple way. Khan academy’s thousands of videos and “In Plain English” series of screen casts demonstrate the power of videos. These videos need not be professional productions. The can be casual recordings with very minimal equipment.
Social books are a way to share links and tag them so that others can find them. Extensive use of shared bookmarking systems like Delicious and StumbleUpon drive traffic to web sites and blogs.
Podcasts are like your own special radio channel on the web. Each series of podcasts provide audio transmission of interviews, discussions and talks. Some of the most powerful organizations use podcasts to reach a larger audience. Some examples of podcasts include “Brain Stuff” from How Stuff works.com, Knowledge@Wharton from Wharton University, IdeaCasts from Harvard. An organization can start weekly podcasts. My favorite one is “Interview with Innovators” published by IT Conversations. Podcasts are a good form of storytelling using the voices of Scientists, Entrepreneurs, Innovators.
Screen casts are video podcasts. The best examples of screencast include “In Plain English Series” from YouTube. Screencasts explain complex concepts in simple terms, typically in a series of low fidelity sketches and animations. Another great screen cast to look at is one from Steve Johnson on “Where Ideas Come From”.
Social Networks have the advantage of increasing engagement and reaching out to large number of people. Facebook is the de facto standard for Social Networks. You can request a few of your friends to join a cause or attend an event. Since they can easily invite others or share your link, your information has the potential to spread through (virutal) word of mouth. Several large organizations use Facebook in innovative ways to launch campaigns, engage their customers and improve their brand.
Curated Question & Answer Systems
Of late, question and answer systems like Quora are gaining popularity. They are AI (artificial intelligence) based systems that let you find questions, answers, follow people and topics. Some of these systems are very specific to certain audience like Stack Overflow (for tech).
Slideshare and other Document Sharing Networks
Slideshare allows people to share their presentations. It is a good place for people to research topics. For example, if you want to find more about how Social Media is being utilitized in Fortune 500 companies or by governments, you can go to slideshare and search. These systems also allow people to attach tags to various presentations, share them on other social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
Various social media tools are interconnected. For example, I turn my tweets into Facebook posts (automatically) and some times more discussions happen in Facebook than on Twitter. There are many other tools to track discussions, gauge influence and reach.
Some thoughts on implementing Social Media in your organization
So how do you go about implementing Social Media in your organization? It depends on what your goals are.
- Decide whom you want to reach, and how you want to engage them. An informal tone is the best.
- Figure out how you measure engagement. A good metric is the depth of conversations you initiate and sustain.
- Create a list of initial set of topics and start blogging. Once you start, it is easier to keep going. Inform, educate and entertain. Blog more about your industry than about your product or service. Ask questions. Whatever you do, please do not use your posts to brag about your products or services. Here is a link to a group writing project on Highly Effective bloggers I enjoyed.
- Setup a simple internal Wiki using the free Wiki Engine from Wiki Media Foundation. Use it as a log of the progress you make on your initiative and keep track of resource links. Gradually increase its use. You can start by using it to increase your information intelligence As you feel more comfortable, you may want to share part of your wiki with your customers and partners.
Continue your research
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself as you deepen your engagement in Social Media.
- What other content do we create – podcasts, screencasts, videos?
- Where do we get the raw information to power our social media content? Who in your organization curates it?
- Whom do we reach out to, in the blogosphere? Who are the influencers in our industry? Can we recruit potential evangelists or champions? How?
- What kind of physical events can we create to supplement social media efforts? Engaging people both online and offline has more impact than a merely putting up a few blog posts or Tweets.
- How do we roll out different Social Media Engagement initiatives? Which ones do we do first, what do we do next?
Please share your experience on the subject. Have you tried to engage your customers, partners using social media? Does it make sense for your industry or market place? What challenges did you face?