With more than 90% of companies now using social media to find employees and 82% having a Facebook page, there’s no question that business use of social media has become commonplace. But “use” and “success” are two different things. Many organizations, having now realized that the “build it and they will come” model doesn’t work in social media and that it isn’t just another channel for promoting news releases and marketing brochures, are stepping back and retooling their social media strategies.
If you’re developing a new social media program, revamping one that’s failed to achieve hoped-for results, or just trying to make an existing strategy more successful, one key component to start with is an analysis of your social media or digital landscape. This analysis will help you understand:
- Where your prospective buyers are congregating in social media, and what they are talking about.
- What your competitors are doing in social media.
- Which voices are most influential in your market space.
Here’s a four step plan for creating a digital landscape analysis for your organization, to help build or rebuild a successful social media marketing strategy.
1. Evaluate how your competitors are using social media. For both strategic and benchmarking purposes, create a spreadsheet listing your top competitors and, for each, showing:
- Social features on their website (e.g. do they have a blog, how prominently is it featured, social bookmarking links, social media account links, etc.).
- Twitter metrics (followers, following, frequency of tweets, general level of interactivity).
- Facebook / LinkedIn / Google Plus metrics (i.e. followers/fans/circles, how complete is their profile, level of activity).
- YouTube metrics (total videos uploaded, subscribers, video views, recency of last update).
- Other social activity and presence (Flickr, SlideShare, Wikipedia, etc.).
Collecting this information is Phase I. This will give you a rough benchmark for your own social media activity (if you already have an active program) and will help you identify any positive outliers—competitors who are far more successful than average in social media—to take a closer look at.
When creating your strategy, you’ll revisit this data and take a closer look at exactly what these competitors are doing (particularly the more successful ones). The point is not to copy anyone else’s strategy as your company’s approach should be designed to capitalize on your own unique strengths, but rather just to see what you can learn from competitors’ success and make sure you aren’t overlooking any obvious tactics or techniques.
2. Identify the key influencers in your market. The next step is to identify the influential voices in your community that you’ll want to reach out to, connect with, and begin building relationships with. These are the journalists, bloggers, analysts (industry or financial) and others who can help amplify your content, spread your story, and lend credibility to your messages.
If you’ve got the budget, the quickest and easiest way to build a list is by using a PR and social media monitoring tool such as Cision, Vocus or MyMediaInfo. If not, or to supplement the results from those paid tools, do some manual research using free tools like AllTop, Technorati and Google Blog Search.
These tools will tell you who is talking about a particular topic, but not necessarily how influential or important any individual source is. In an ideal world, there would be a standardized measure of some sort. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, use influencer rating tools like Klout and Kred in conjunction with checking which blogs are featured most often on blog rolls of target bloggers (an informative though imprecise measure of influence) and the Pagerank of each blog. Combing these measures provides at least a rough guide to the relative influence of various sources.
3. Find relevant groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. This is as simple as searching within “groups” on each social networking site for your primary keywords and recording the results. Note how many groups you find, how large the groups are, and how active they appear to be. Business-related topics will generally have more, larger groups on LinkedIn than Facebook, while the opposite is typically true for consumer topics.
Once you’re in the execution phase, you’ll of course want to monitor, contribute to and interact within the most important and active groups on your list. But in the digital landscape analysis, it’s enough to flag these groups for further investigation.
4. Look for other places where people are talking about your industry. Your prospective buyers are likely having conversations in places well beyond the big five social networking sites. If you’re using a professional (fee-based) social media monitoring tool, start there to identify these message boards, forums and other sites where people in your market are asking and answering questions.
An excellent free tool for conducting this research is Google Discussion Search (run a search on Google, click “More” in the left sidebar then click “Discussions”). It takes a bit of manual effort, but you can build a fairly comprehensive list of discussion forums and message boards by running multiple searches on Google Discussion Search, capturing the results to Excel using SEOquake, then sorting the list by frequency.
With these four steps completed, you’ll have a comprehensive picture of your company’s digital landscape in place to serve as a basis for developing a new or revised social media strategy and tactical plan.