Social Media – Build a Strategy  Social Media – Build a Strategy  

Should you be on Facebook, are you Tweeting, or Blogging? These are the sorts of questions faced by many professional services firms as they consider how best to make use of the options opened up by each new development in social media.

Marketing (and professional services marketing) is undergoing fundamental change. Clients/Prospects/Contacts are relying on the power and convenience of the internet to find and vet professional services firms. In short social media allows you to “get closer to your customers”. But there’s much more to gain from it, such as better press coverage, higher employee engagement, and greater brand awareness.

With more and more channels, better tools, and powerful insights/analysis are further extending the reach and effectiveness of the social media. The practical issue for firms is not whether or not to use these new methods of communication, but rather how best to do so?

I aim to show that social media can greatly help modern business in their communications efforts - and that includes the professional services. Social media can drive engagement and awareness, and greatly assist in demonstrating your thought leadership and knowledge sharing.

This article looks at practical steps to develop and adopt a social media strategy and roadmap. We have all been bombarded with the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ aspects of social media, here I hope to begin an exploration of the 'How' aspect.
 
Why social media?

Social media is a big topic. Its scope is enormous, and for many professional services firms it is the elephant in the room. Before embarking on building a social media roadmap though, I want to stress two critical aspects that are often overlooked in the headlong charge to setup a Twitter account.

Firstly, tactics are not strategy. It is remarkable that so many approach social media with a singular focus on the individual platforms and tools. The master of business strategy Henry Mintzberg (bet you didn’t expect Mintzberg to crop up here) used to refer to the analogy of the blind men and the elephant - each can touch some part of the elephant, but none can perceive the whole. When approaching social media strategy this rings true, more often than not.

Consider the example of the Iceberg, with only the tip on the surface - this is your social profiles, platforms and tools. What lies beneath - well everything that should feed into any structured approach to strategy:
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The idea of letting an intern loose on your Facebook page has long past - and recent landmark examples of established brands messing up on social media are well documented.

Whatever school of business strategy or models you may use, all the heavy lifting is done beneath the waves – and this is also true in building your approach to social media. You could also start by taking a cue from a blog post on Zen and the Art of Social Media, namely:

1.       Do Less
2.       Relax
3.       Reflect

Above all else - do the reflection part, and clearly distinguish between tactics and strategy.

The second point I want to set firmly in your mind is that social media is about communication not marketing. Unfortunately many businesses approach social media as a new way to market rather than a way to improve their marketing. This point is made by way of emphasising that social is about engaging, not pushing.
One thing to be very conscious about right from the beginning is the widespread tendency to think of social media as the sum of a number of digital platforms, simply to be used to push products and news to the consumers.

As a communication platform, its amplification comes from the ‘network effect’ (only one person with a telephone is of no value - however connected to 100 or 1000 people it becomes transformative).

Recognising social media as a new way of interacting, thinking and working together, let’s quickly move to establish some practical steps to building your social media efforts.
 
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Building your roadmap

A starting point is to define and establish your ambitions for social media efforts. It is also important to have a realistic timeframe in which to assess the results of such new initiatives. Depending on the size and capabilities of your firm, social media can be an incredibly ‘slow burn’ process, so don’t expect your door to be beaten down simply because you set up a Twitter account. Think of building your strategy in blocks of 30/60/90 days, and map out strategy phases for these key elements of your roadmap:

·     Define and set your social media objectives and goals
·     Building a social media team
·     Researching your audience
·     Integrating with all other marketing channels (offline and online)
·     Determine your preferred social channels
·     Build a conversational calendar
·     Analyse and evaluate

In short these can be translated into:

Learn
 
  • Use social media in the team
  • Identify case studies and examples
  • Educate senior fee earners and partners
  • Explore latest trends/platforms
 
Listen
 
  • Identify social media monitoring tools
  • Find relevant communities and conversations
  • Identify key influencers
 
Engage
 
  • Provide relevant content
  • Join the conversation
  • Add value to client relationships
  • Respond quickly
 
Measure and Refine
 
  • Set relevant measures of success
  • Monitor these measures
  • Capture and communicate success stories
  • Refine strategy & measurement as needed.
 
 
A much acclaimed and award winning example of B2B social media in the recent past, was also one from an unlikely source - the shipping line Maersk. Back in 2011, it had started to embrace social media, after spending a considerable period prior to this in the learning and listening phase, and preparing a comprehensive strategy for the business with the aim of using social media to get closer to its customers.

How do you know your social strategy is working? Perhaps when like Maersk, you get a call from Facebook, enquiring how they grew from zero to 400k fans in a year (today touching 1m). From a standing start they are now a leading light of the social media world – alongside the likes of Disney Sony and Ford.

Maersk’s success clearly demonstrates the benefit of having taken the time to clearly develop a comprehensive social media strategy. Do visit http://www.maersksocial.com to read the full story of how they approach and use each social platform (check out Maersk on: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Vimeo, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest and Tumblr). Of course the question beckons – how do you make shipping containers social? Well if you visit any of their social platforms, you quickly realise there is a rich visual tapestry of photos, ships, high seas, exotic destinations. Instead of talking about containers, they simply change the narrative to create rich, engaging and sharable content that clearly resonates with a global audience. In short they clearly took the time to fully invest in the strategy stages that translated into social success.
 
“Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.” – Erik Qualman
 
So how do we translate the exciting, whirlwind world of professional services into compelling content that will sweep the internet? Well, let’s briefly look at another example of understanding the approach and effective use of social media. Faith Simpson is award-winning accountant, based in Elgin in the North of Scotland. I have never actually met Faith or her team, or visited Elgin for that matter. However I do follow her practice on Facebook & Twitter, and I am always struck by simple, yet creative and effective use made of social media, and the day I do need an accountant in the UK, I know who to call!

These contrasting examples are intended to bookend the central thesis that social media can be done well, by adopting an effective strategy and roadmap, and both demonstrate the potential and reach that social media can bring to your business. Professional services firms are no different to any other in the social media world. We can tend to overlook that people are social animals and social media is simply a way of connecting with people through different channels. If Google is the internet, then social media is part of the plumbing behind it.

As professional service firms are driven by several key elements: people, knowledge, expertise, experience, and trust, you might actually think it should be easier for the professions to succeed in the social media world. However, we still lag behind in many cases. Maybe we need to change the narrative and communications plan. The thought leadership potential and your people should mean you are not staring at a blank canvas.

Next Steps

Social media does not just happen; it is built slowly and over time. It is a dynamic, living organism that can communicate your brand, values and personality. To make progress you must take deliberate action, make the strategic effort and communications focused efforts – to begin to see results, but the rewards can be significant.
Social media is truly impacting businesses today.  Many of the world’s top brands are now embracing it company-wide. At the start of the article I talked about the changing face of marketing, and tried to build a compelling case for social media. As one looks to the future, looming large on the horizon are two inescapable changes that are already transforming how we interact and communicate. One is the rapid switch to mobile computing with smartphones and tablet devices. Secondly, when integrated with the rise of social networks and now social search, can you afford not to be embracing social media?

So what are the possible next steps along this road? Well, social media is key focus for the PM Forum Ireland committee this year, and over the coming months we aim to build a complete social media roadmap, to offer members practical examples and insights on how to effectively adopt and embrace social tools at each step along the way, which we will happily share, tweet, link, post, blog, aggregate and curate with everyone.

Another concluding point is that you are already on social media. Type your own / firm name into Google and you will find how the world sees you. Changes to search mean that some people now view page 1 in Google being as important as your homepage. Today we see marketing as transforming once again in response to the new dynamics of the modern world. How we adopt to this changing landscape is up to us. So maybe we don’t have much of a choice on whether we do social media, the question is simply how well we do it. So to bring this conversation online, I want to share with you the ancient Japanese folktale of the ‘House with a thousand mirrors’ (http://bit.ly/YpYN4A).