Since I launched my eguide on starting a social-media consulting biz, several people have asked how I help small businesses and organizations build online communities. When you run a social media campaign for a company, how do you go about doing it?
It differs according to each client. It also differs according to your consulting approach: After you create the strategy, will the client implement it, or will you do it for them?
But those caveats aside, here are a few of the most common steps for getting a social-media strategy up and running:
Research, research, research. Figure out, for starters, what the company does, what their goals are, and who their target audience is. Also, who are their competitors, and what are those competitors doing in the social media space? You really can’t come up with a strategy until you understand these details well. (Which is why social-media purists say companies should never hire an outside consultant to do this work for them. But let’s be honest here, sometimes it’s necessary to outsource.)
This research takes a lot of time and effort, so don’t forget to account for that in your price package if you’re charging for your work. Some consultants even charge separately for the research phase.
Pinpoint your platforms. Now that you understand the company and its target audience, which networks are the most effective for reaching those types of people?
Pick two or three sites — in my mind, the Big Five are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and LinkedIn — and focus your efforts there. Don’t try to be everywhere online, because you’ll never succeed.
Also don’t overlook niche sites, including forums. Depending on your audience, you might have even better luck with those networks than the Big Five.
Blogging is also a platform, one that can be super effective for growing community if you do it well. But blogging requires its own strategy, and sometimes companies or organizations aren’t willing to put in the work or money necessary to create an awesome blog. Make the case for a blog if you see one, but know it might not be feasible.
Brainstorm. How can you use those platforms to create your community? Be creative. This is the fun part!
Figure out what the heck you’ll say. Now that you know what your competitors are doing in this space and which platforms will be the most effective to reach your target audience, what messages will you put out there into the world?
Messages, such as status updates on Facebook or tweets on Twitter, generally fall into two camps: original ideas, and re-sharing or responding to someone else’s ideas. Newbies often make the mistake of overlooking the latter category, but it can help you come up with something to say even when you think you have nothing to say.
Use the tools. Digital tools will help you pull this off efficiently. My must-have is Hootsuite (or TweetDeck, but I vote Hootsuite) because it allows me to schedule tweets and Facebook updates, which means I don’t have to be in front of my computer all day every day.
Then there are Twitter lists, which are one of my favorite ways to get ahead. Set up lists of people you might want to RT, competitors (you can RT them, too, or just see what they’re up to), interesting people on the fringes of your topic, etc. Lists make every social media manager’s job easier.
Also essential to this job is the RSS feed. Add Google Alerts (the company’s name, topics that interest followers, competitors’ names, etc.), pertinent news outlets and the best blogs you can find in the space. The time it takes to set this up initially will be so worth it later.
Figure out a schedule. How often will you post updates? How often do you need to interact with followers? Can you schedule updates at the beginning of the week and just hop into the account to respond to fans?
Figuring this out takes time, but once you’re in the groove, you’ll be able to give each account enough attention to be successful without feeling like you have to check it every hour.
Embrace diversity. While it’s sometimes useful to have set packages to offer to potential clients, plan on tweaking those packages to meet the needs of each business.
Because each business is different. A platform that works well for one company might be totally ineffective for another organization. Tailor your approach to each client’s needs, and you’re sure to help them meet their goals — which will help you meet you goals, too.
Got any tips to add? Even if you’re just starting out with clients or managing social media for yourself, I’d love to hear what you’ve got.