I’ve seen small businesses try and fail to use social media effectively as part of their marketing communications plan. Most have no trouble setting up accounts on social channels – usually Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and/or Twitter. But, then the accounts either get abandoned or misused, leaving the business owner disappointed with the results.
What is most often missing is a plan for aligning social media with the larger business strategy; i.e., a digital strategy. Many businesses are trying to tack on social media, when in fact, it needs to be carefully integrated into the bigger picture.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a small business in its second year of operation. They had two important pieces in place: a business plan and a budget. These two elements, along with momentum built in their first year of operation, gave me a solid starting place for building a digital strategy.
I used the graphic on the right to explain how social media fit into the context of their organization. It is noticeable that “social networks” (found at the bottom of the lower-right section) are one small factor. Used strategically, however, social networks can be extremely powerful.
The 4-part formula used to build the digital strategy has three consistent components – Messages, Relationships and Channels – and one dynamic set of Initiatives and Events.
The mission statement of the organization should be the main focus of a communication plan. Three to five key messages (designated here in the orange “diamonds”) are often adequate for explaining a business’s purpose or mission. Every piece of communication put out by the organization should include at least one of the key messages.
In the past, this section would have been labeled “audience.” However, digital technology has made it possible to have interactive conversations online. Social media is especially good for building relationships by attracting and engaging with the public.
To apply this model to your own organization, define each relationship that plays a role in your everyday operations. It is easy to direct your messaging solely to your customers, but it would be a mistake to ignore the contributions and character of the people who keep your business humming.
Creating content that reflects your key messages and highlights real relationships ensures warmth, personality and authenticity in your communications.
Here is where you see that social networks are but a subset of communication channels; albeit an important and diverse subset. Your social networks should be chosen carefully and aligned intentionally to complement your other channels, such as staff meetings, internal eMail, blog, eNewsletter, and print.
Strategically aligning your channels is helpful in defining and strengthening your brand. It also makes it easier to cross-post and repurpose your content, ensuring that it is more searchable, findable and shareable online.
Initiatives and Events
Initiatives and events are the dynamics of the organization. Creating content and conversations around current initiatives and events is a great way to keep messaging fresh and interesting without losing focus. This assumes, of course, that initiatives and events are strategically aligned with key messages and primary relationships.
Your Digital Strategy
This 4-part formula provides a good frame for your own digital strategy. Take your time defining each element of your messaging, relationships, channels and events & initiatives. If you’ve already got a written business plan, refer to that as you design your digital strategy. Refer to this timeline and tasks when setting up your social media plan.