February 7th, 2012

3 Questions to ask when starting your social media efforts

Start-up social media strategies often include integration with major social networking portals, and for good reasons. There are over 800 million users on Facebook today and Twitter has over 100 million users that tweet every day, and these numbers keep growing. But just because certain platforms have a lot of users doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right forum for your business. Force yourself to look beyond the numbers and make sure you’re picking the right social platforms for you.

Ask yourself a few questions before you even consider a social media program. These are fundamental questions that need to be answered before you get to the tactical (and most common) questions like:

  • How much time does it take?
  • How often should I post or tweet?
  • What are the best times to post or tweet?
  • Who should be responsible for execution?
  • What if somebody says something negative?

These are legitimate questions, but there are more important things to consider before diving into social media tactics.

1. Why do you think social media needs to be part of the marketing mix?

If your answers are along the lines of, “Everyone is doing it” or “We want to be on Twitter and Facebook,” in the absence of other compelling reasons, a different strategy might be more effective.

One of the first things you need to do is define what you want to accomplish. Social networks offer the opportunity to engage with your target audience, humanize your organization, create a dialogue with specific demographic groups and deploy creative applications that allow users to participate directly in your online and offline community. If this sounds appealing to you, then social media can be a very effective tool for your business.

Social media also can be used to distribute information, drive traffic, build brand awareness and in some cases, increase sales. However, if this is your main objective, your social media efforts will most likely be in vain. Social media is two-way communication. If all your business does is promote its own services and products and attempt to drive people back to your website, that’s one-way communication and you’ll be doomed for failure.

2. Who is your target audience, where are they and what do they need?

It starts and ends with your target audience. Define your target audience and find out three things: 1.What social media platforms are they using (if any)? 2. How do they want to be engaged? 3. What are their pain points? If you’re going to engage your target, you not only have to find them, but find out why they’re using the social platform and how you can engage with them. This includes providing them with solutions, feedback and information that’s important to them, not you. To be successful on social media you need to be unselfish. If your business isn’t willing to be unselfish, then social media isn’t for you.

Different target audiences require different social media tactics. Once you’ve defined clear answers to these questions, then you can ask some tougher questions that will help you assess the feasibility of social media for your business.

3. Why do people use particular social platforms? 

It’s important to think about why people are using a social media platform. What is their mindset? For example, when most users are on Facebook, they’re there to interact with family and friends. They talk about a variety of topics, but the majority of conversations are NOT about business. Most people don’t even let others know where they work. In contrast, LinkedIn is a platform for business networking. Very few posts on LinkedIn contain comments about people’s personal lives.

Make sure you consider the social media environment and understand why and how people are using the platform before you chose to engage.

Bottom line

Thinking strategically about social media can save time, money and embarrassment. Participating in social media just so you can say you are doing so is not a strategy. Many organizations spend time and money to establish the social media tools needed to engage but never have a plan for where to go from there. 

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I blog about my passions, social media, public relations, sports and media.

I have over 19 years of public relations and marketing experience developing and directing a wide variety of communication, social media, media relations and marketing programs. This experience includes marrying traditional marketing tactics with social media tools.