Think of social media as a tool for dealing with customers. Like any other tool, or channel, it’s not inherently good or bad for business; its value depends on what you do with it. The underlying problem is clear. It’s essentially the same problem you have with a toll-free number that nobody calls, or an ad that nobody sees. The tool is only as good as the use you make of it.
I believe in the business planning process as the secret to good management. That means you use a flexible business plan, reviewed and revised often, to manage strategy, objectives, measurements, performance, tasks, people, and basic numbers. And that’s as true with social media as with any other function in business.
Therefore, I’m recommending these three steps to manage your social media business activities using your business plan. I’m thinking mainly of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, but I hope these three steps will apply to any other social media effort or platform as well.
Strategy starts with focus and includes goals. It can include short- and long-term goals.
Think about what you’re going to do with social media in a business sense. Set realistic business objectives. Are you going to generate leads, answer complaints, engage with customers, or something else? Will you be doing all of the above? How will this relate to other functions and tools, like the rest of the marketing plan or the rest of customer service? Try to stay focused and be specific.
In terms of format, it doesn’t matter. The simplest form of strategy is a collection of bullet points. It serves as a reminder of priorities and goals when things get busy and hard to manage.
Strategy alone isn’t enough. You need to add specific concrete information including how you will measure progress, what progress you expect to see, who is responsible for what tasks, and how often you’re going to review and revise.
For example, if your strategy includes Twitter, you should define what you’re going to tweet, and who will do it, what tools they’ll be using (for example, HootSuite or CoTweet or TweetDeck), and what performance measurements are important. The measurement might be posts, updates, likes, followers, connections, leads, customer incidents handled, or even the very trendy Klout score, which measures influence.
Be sure you have specifics you can track. Ask yourself how you’ll know, next month, whether you are on plan or not.
Just exactly like the rest of your business plan, the social media portions need to be managed, followed up, tracked, discussed, and revised regularly.
Schedule monthly meetings in advance. Invite everybody involved. List what numbers you’re going to be tracking and make sure it’s clear who is responsible for what.
When the meetings take place, start by reviewing assumptions, then review goals and performance measurement, one by one. Where things are better than planned, somebody should get praise. Where things are worse than planned, somebody should be prepared to discuss what went wrong and how to correct it.
Final thought: Does this sound familiar? As if social media belongs in your business planning process like every other important function in the business? Good. That’s what I hoped you’d say.
About the Author
Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. Stanford MBA. Married 42 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including The Plan As You Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press, 2008.