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How To Think About Online Influence from Tom Webster on Vimeo.

Maybe it’s because you’re in marketing. Maybe it’s because you’re from the younger generation assumed to be digital natives. Or maybe it’s because you’re already been experimenting with social media and your success has been noticed.

You have chosen you to write a social media plan, now what? Where do you start?

Here are some ideas

1. Opportunity Backgrounder

Start your social media plan with some startling statistics and pithy quotes about the huge shift away from traditional publishing towards social media.

If you wrote this plan two years ago, you would have leaned on the endorsement of old media with quotes like this:

“Consumers are flocking to blogs, social-networking sites and virtual worlds. And they are leaving a lot of marketers behind.” – The Wall Street Journal

But now you can tell the big opportunity of social media by just relying on social media’s accomplishments. Include nuggets like:

* 4 of the top 7 highest-traffic websites (Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Blogger) are social media websites
* Two-thirds of the global internet population visit social networks — Nielson, Global Faces and Network Places
* More than half of all people in the U.S. over 12 have set up a social media profile
* With over 400 million users, if Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest country in the world
* Twitter now has 110 million users and is adding 300,000 a day

Add with a flourish a quote or two from a top social media book, such as Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott.

2. Define Social Media

Because social media is such a nebulous thing for many, you need to put concise parameters on what it is. However, don’t start your plan with the definition of social media because it’s not as exciting as the first section about the big opportunity. Get their attention first, and then you can go Webster on them. Include something like this:

“Social media is user-generated content on the internet. It’s created with free or inexpensive technology, is easy to update, and can reach a niche audience or millions. It can be mere words in a blog, but also user-generated videos, photos, and audio. It can be interactive with unfiltered comments from visitors. And as user-generated content, it does away with controls associated with traditional media – and most of all, it removes the need for big media.”

3. List Tangible Business Goals

If you don’t already have a social media plan, it’s very possible that your top management fears that social media is only a plaything. You have to show them you mean business. Tell them how you will use social media activities to:

* Build awareness
* Strengthen relationships with clients, prospects, and influencers
* Better understand your buyers
* Improve customer service
* Identify new product ideas
* Increase web site traffic
* Improve search engine rankings
* Drive traffic to your trade show displays at events
* Generate leads
* Generate sales

You don’t have to promise to do all these things. And preferably your goals will match top management’s goals. But whichever goals you choose, make them attainable, and include a measurement plan. Ask for a grace period (at least several months) for learning and experimentation until you have to start proving tangible results.

4. Plan A Timeline Of Steps

You can’t just push a button and have a full-fledged social media marketing program running full-swing. But management won’t wait forever, either. Give them an idea of what your steps will be, which may include:

* Time to define goals, objectives, and strategy
* Time to get trained on social media
* Time to determine team, either internally, choosing a social media consultant, or both
* Setting up accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube
* Finding your existing community of clients, prospects, and influencers on the main social media sites listed above, on niche social media sites, and on established industry blogger sites (if you determine your clients are not yet on social media, you may not have a plan!)
* Time to set up your own blog
* The sequence of social media sites you will concentrate your efforts
* Time needed for listening to each online community
* Time to develop a following
* Time to create content, such as a blog (which is ongoing), videos, white papers, podcasts, and more
* Time to learn time-saving tools such as RSS feeds, Technorati, Hootsuite, Bitly, and more
* Dates of pre-scheduled progress reports

Write this timeline of steps on paper, not in stone. This is a working plan that you use every week, and change as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

5. Set Realistic Expectations

Because social media revolves around so many free tools, and because it has become the darling of marketing hipsters everywhere, expectations run high. So you also need to help your team understand there’s no guarantee it will be a silver bullet. Tell them things like:

* Social media is not a panacea: if your company or product sucks, social media is not going to make that go away
* While many of the tools are free, it can take a substantial investment in time and consistent effort to build up a loyal following on the main social media sites
* Social media is not just another advertising channel – old-school product messages will go down in flames
* There is a substantial learning curve of the technology, language, and culture of the various social media sites
* Social media is always evolving, so successful methods can stop working
* Success may require effort from a team, not just one person

6. Ask for Resources

Getting this plan accomplished will require resources. Don’t be shy, ask for help, be it training, people’s time, or budget to pay for consultants, website hosting fees, a video camera, or useful web applications you later determine you need. Because social media requires near constant attention, tell them you need a laptop with broadband access, and a smart phone with an unlimited web access plan, too.

And ask for something free but priceless: For your top management to share their buy-in with your plan to help you get more cooperation from the rest of your company.

7. Recommend Who Does Social Media For Your Company

The first step of choosing who does social media for your company is deciding between doing it internally, hiring a consultant to do it, or a combination. You can shorten your learning curve with social media consultants who can train you and help identify online communities where your clients already gather. But ultimately, your social media activity really should be done by people who work for your company. It’s just too hard to hire an outsider to be the authentic voice of your company.

Then figure out who does social media within your company. Just remember that while the youngest member of your marketing or customer service team may be the most familiar with social media, they may not be the best choice to represent your company in social media. You want someone who has:

* Deep knowledge of your customers, industry, products, and company
* Exemplifies the personality of your organization
* Insatiable curiosity
* Integrity
* Good people and communication skills
* A quick study on technology
* Very strong work ethic

That person, of course, may end up being you.

8. Finish with an Urgent Call to Action

While similar to how you started your plan, you want to finish with some more strident points that create a sense of urgency. End your plan with things like:

* “We no longer control our brand – it is being shaped by our customers in social media with or without us, so we must engage with them to protect and enhance the brand.”
* “Social media is where our communities are shifting their attention; we ignore them at our peril.”
* “If we delay our entry too long we risk being left behind by our customers and our competitors.”

Social Media is a vast universe of communities, cultures, and ultimately, for the marketer, choices. I hope these 8 parts of a social media plan will help you to inspire your organization to get engaged with your clients, prospects, and influencers via social media.

One of the number one complaints about social media is that it takes too much time.

Companies considering the leap into the land of blogs and tweets often run screaming into the night after they glimpse the reality of what it takes to launch and maintain a worthwhile social media presence.

I don’t blame them. The onslaught of digital information is overwhelming, but there is hope. The key is in being selective.

We all know that it’s the kiss of branding death to try and be all things to all people.

The same goes for social media engagement. Unless you have a dedicated staff ready to spend all day, every day monitoring every inch of the Web and churning out top-notch content, you need to be choosy about how and where you spend your time.

This isn’t rocket science, you say? You’re right. But it’s amazing how many people – even professionals – fall into the trap of trying to be everywhere, all the time. In this highly competitive market, it’s easy to start making judgments based on the fear of missing out on something.

The 24/7, real-time nature of social media sets businesses running faster and faster on the proverbial hamster wheel. You start by monitoring here and there, then you launch a company blog, set up a facebook fan page, start tweeting, create a professional group on LinkedIn, develop a collaborative community for crowd-sourcing industry-specific solutions, and so on and on and on. Before you know it, running your social media efforts takes nearly as much time as running your core business.

Instead of jumping on every shiny, new wagon recommended by the so-called gurus, take control of your social media journey. Here are six steps for making sure things don’t get out of hand:

1. Strategy first:  You want to make sure the plan is custom-fit to your needs and capabilities as well as the needs of your target audience.

2. Have contingencies: Even the best strategy sometimes goes awry. Your project is going to be a huge success, but – just in case – make sure you are prepared for anything.

3. Roll-out in phases: Get your toes wet before you attempt a backwards triple somersault with a half pike and a twist. Start small and grow your presence in as organic a manner as possible. Listen well, and your audience will tell you what your next step should be.

4. Enable : In the best case scenario, social media becomes part of your company culture, not a specialty that’s handled by a few select members of your marketing department. Deputize people across your business to monitor and engage, but be sure to keep an overall eye on the conversation, watching for consistency and balance.

5. Target,Target,Target: Finally, narrow your focus. Be brutal. Though it’s highly unlikely that your company can stand out everywhere, if you concentrate on a few key areas, there’s a better chance for greater impact. Even if you wind up with a smaller audience, you’ll be able to have a deeper dialog, and it’s the deeper dialog that leads to actual relationships, a perception of leadership, and business deals.

Are you already engaged in social media? How did you get started? What worked for you, and what was an utter failure? What advice would YOU give to a business getting ready to take the plunge?