Social media: One size does not fit all

When it comes to corporate social media programs, I have heard it all.

When it comes to corporate social media programs, I have heard it all. “You have to blog.” “You have to have a Facebook page.” “You need to tweet.” “SERM is critical to your success.” And the list goes on and on.

While all of these are potential elements of a digital program, it is the wrong approach to build your program by first identifying the tools that are available to you.

To ignore social media in this day and age would be the equivalent of ignoring the air we breathe. It is literally all around us - at work, on our mobile devices, and in our homes. There are 245 million Internet users in the US, according to Internet World Statistics. Nielsen and NM Incite estimate that social media sites and blogs reach 80% of all active US Internet users.

It is quite obvious that traditional channels are no longer the only means of reaching your audience. However, you can't let these statistics scare you into blindly jumping into social media. If you go onto Facebook, you can find countless company pages with little to no content on them. Additionally, there are Twitter handles with virtually no activity. This does more damage to a corporate brand's reputation and management credibility than having no social presence at all.

Don't set yourself up for failure. Start by identifying clear goals for your social media program and develop a social media policy for your company. To do this, you must start by asking yourself some basic questions: “Who are my key stakeholders?” “Where are they online?” “Who are my key competitors?” “What are my unique differentiators?” “And what does my brand stand for?” The key to leveraging the most dynamically engaging medium on the planet is to first define your objectives.

Once you have defined your objectives and developed your policy, you need to begin to identify and monitor the conversations that your stakeholders are actively engaging in. Then determine which conversations are the most appropriate for your company to participate in to achieve your stated goals. Simultaneously, you need to ensure your corporate website follows best practices because it is the ultimate representation of your brand and the primary site where you want to drive traffic. The corporate site must demonstrate continuity with the company's corporate narrative and be credible, accessible, and transparent.

Next, you need to develop compelling content that adds to the conversation and is relevant to your stakeholders. You cannot simply push your agenda onto an audience, as this will alienate them and damage your credibility. When you begin to engage, make your content social and genuine – enabling others to easily share the content so your audience can continue the conversation. And always include links to drive traffic back to your site!

Lastly, remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Take your time and build your online presence in a sustainable way. One starting point may be to leverage Twitter as a press release distribution feed – if you have determined Twitter will assist in achieving your objectives. Many companies have found success using Twitter like a newswire and tweeting press-release headlines with links back to their corporate site's newsroom. It's easy, it's readily accessible, and you know the content is compelling, or you would not have issued the press release in the first place.

Social media is another tool that needs to be used by communicators as we continue to evolve our craft and the programs we develop. But you need to be strategic in your approach because the mistakes you make will live forever online.

Ryan Barr is managing director of IGB Group.

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