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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

5 Steps to Building a Social Networking Strategy

The Economic recession has been one of the unseen forces driving growth in social networking for business. The explosion in social networks is a response to the desire to find new routes to a more competitive market. The decline in performance of traditional SEM and e-commerce generally and the seduction in the perception of "free" marketing all helped to drive the social networking revolution. These were by no means the sole drivers of this shift and the confluence of technology and a critical mass of users were also major factors. Social Networking is here to stay and businesses need to make good use of it. It is nonetheless a complicated and for the new entrant, a daunting prospect. There are a few easy steps which will help you develop a social networking strategy and prioritise it as a route to market.

To build a strategy you need to ask yourself a number of questions.

Step 1 Do my customers have a footprint on the Social Media Landscape?

This is a fancy way of asking am I likely to find my target market using social networks. Well it tends to vary by sector. Social Networking is well suited to businesses which have intellectual capital, so consultancy, finance, and to a lesser extent accountants and solicitors are good examples. Social Networking is also an excellent platform for selling to products to consumers and small businesses.

So what's not well suited? Well engineering and manufacturing are obvious candidates, as are businesses that sell large ticket business to business items be that capital goods or say software.

Social networking works best for markets that have a short sales process and low ticket items where you can get ready access to the decision maker. Geographic concentration is also an important factor the bigger the geographic spread of potential customers the better suited to social networking.

Step 2 What are my objectives?

Brand Recognition, Customer Service, Sales, Improved customer feedback, New product development /verification, Developing Expert Status.

May companies use social medium to improve their relationship with their customers and have a more conversational customer support relationship, so let's not prejudge and say that sales is the most important or indeed only objective for social media marketing.

I accept that much of the hype is around the incredible sales opportunities Social Networking presents, but let's not forget how at the turn of the century the "dot.com" boom got so out of hand that even experienced businesspeople forgot the basics. That is, underlying each model there has to be a sound business case.

Step 3 Which is my best Social Media Mix?

There social media market is a complex topology covering Wiki's, Major Social Networking sites, Micro blogging sites, Forums, Blogs, Article Sites, Photo Sites, Podcasts, Video sites, Social Bookmarking and many more.

Faced with this bewildering array of options how do you proceed? There are two aspects that are important, firstly you need to take into consideration where your customers are most likely to to be residing in the social media landscape and especially if you are a smaller business what areas of social networking you find interesting. If we remember that much of social networking is about building trust and developing a community it is very, very, hard to do this through a medium you dislike.

Step 4 How do I manage my resources?

What resources do I have available? How much time can I dedicate to this effort? Is this for internal and/or external networking? How much maintenance effort is there?

Maintenance work is one of the real hidden costs in social networking, which is by and large time intensive. As most people and indeed businesses are time poor this is a significant issue.

Now I know particularly with twitter there are "bots" you can use to automate much of your postings you need to spend "face time" to build conversations and relationships. A simple idea is to build a social network diary which sets out which social network will be accessed on which day(s) and how much time will be spent on each. Think not of now when you have the first flush of ideas, but rather 1 year down the line when you're into you 50th blog posting and 1000th plus tweet or facebook entry.

I regularly see businesses over invest in Social networking only to have to pull back because they have significantly underestimated the ongoing effort needed.

Step 5 How do I measure progress?

What Metrics work best? Hits per site? Growth in followers? Reduction in complaints? Increased conversion rates? Feedback process to change what is not working?

Any kind of strategy implementation needs a review and change cycle, so it is with Social Networking. The advantage is however that online activities it is relatively easy to quantify and the results of your efforts. This makes the management of your social networking strategy much more effective as numbers don't lie, 50 hits is 50 hits, not as many as us optimistic would say; well I think its nearly 100.

This precise measure enables you to take quick and appropriate action to improve your performance. This in turn leads to you having a much greater chance of success, which is, of course, what we're all trying to achieve.

ExigentConsulting specialises in providing Business Turnaround, Sales, Marketing and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business.We help Business Owners improve the profit performance of their business


  1. Thanks for this great post.. this is a simple & good guide for me to develop my S.N marketing plan.

  2. Wise words here Laurence.
    And so refreshing to see the first step listed above as this so often ignored by people who simply follow the herd.

    To be fair though I think the question could be a little wider and include: Customers, potential customers, industry influencers and advocates.

  3. Excellent article. Thanks Mark for bringing it to our attention.

    Having put together a few social media strategies for various clients, time is always a factor, as obviously time is money, but this is something that needs to be thought through clearly, otherwise the exercise will be pointless.

    Look forward to reading future posts.

  4. Some good advice here. I think it is important to focus on the return on investment - you are right though that this doesn't have to be limited to increased sales... basically anything which reduces costs or increases turnover.

    I find "hits" on the website a difficult one. Obviously it is a key metric, but unless you have an e-commerce site it can be tricky to measure the conversion rate of these hits into sales / revenue. I guess all you can do is focus on time spent on the site and bounce rates.

    I am also a little unsure about diarising your Twitter input. I understand the need to manage the time spent, but I think if you are going to engage in conversations on Twitter then really you need to jump in as and when the need arises - and it is difficult to know if this is going to be at, say, 11am on Wednesday morning.

    Great to see some practical advice on managing SN use for businesses though.

  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comments. I do take you point and will increase the scope of my questions to include industry influencers and advocates.



  6. Dear peninsulawyer

    The reasoning behind this approach is that I have found that Social networking can easily become a time sink, and one of the ways to control that is to schedule time.

    Whilst I understand the issue you raised as I'm often out seeing clients during the day I cant guarantee an immediate response to an SN enquiry. So by guaranteeing some time every day I am able to generate some regular response.

    On the question of Metrics, my questions were by no means comprehensive and if the number of hits doesnt work for you, then try to find something that does. Certainly your idea of time spent on site is a good one



  7. @Laurence Good points. Might be worth adding that the real value of Social Networking derives from the person-to-person communications rather than brand-to-person. And this goes on to affect the KPIs. There is good info at:

  8. Hi Laurence
    Very good advice - it's easy to get lost so having a plan & measuring RoI is key!