Microsoft have a pretty interesting white paper on social media on their Adcenter Blog right now. Actually, they call it a white paper but it’s more of an account of how Microsoft have approached the social media sphere and their own experiences. It’s pretty interesting reading – and if you still think that ‘social media’ is some kind of fad you ignore (hey – it’s only 2010, ferchrissakes) then maybe this will disabuse you.
Commitment and Focus
The first important point they make is that a social media campaign involves commitment. It’s hardly a new observation but empty accounts, infrequent updates and lack of interaction are the real death knells for any social media work. It means putting dedicated resources into social media, just as any company would put resources into PR or other marketing activity. Social media accounts are free to sign up to, but require regular engagement in order to deliver benefit.
Of course, Microsoft probably have got less budget constraints than you (if not – give us a ring!), but lots of companies still happily throw thousands at their hard-copy PR whilst ignoring thousands of unhappy blog posts and forum threads which are having far more effect on actual customers.
The second point they make is that your account should have a definite focus. The Adcenter team’s social media activity was geared towards a program of education. They recognised that existing customers were asking questions not just at Microsoft, but at online communities in the hope that some anonymous stranger might have an answer. Also, without an official presence, PR for Adcenter was effectively devolved to independent bloggers, anonymous Tweeters and random people on forums. All that meant that falsehoods could perpetuate unchecked.
Taking those two factors together suggests a natural strategy to approach the social sphere: a central blog in which information can be imparted in a timely fashion and the ongoing use of social media to promote that content and answer queries as they arise in the wild. This naturally establishes a two-way conversation – with the social media team actively seeking out forum threads, tweets and blog posts in which Adcenter is mentioned and actively engaging with these people.
They also arrived at the conclusion that they would have to present themselves as who they really were. When you’re Microsoft, you don’t want to be outed as a sockpuppet.
Finally, some people shy away from this arena because the KPIs seem somehow vague. But look at any report from your marketing or PR – it’s all couched with a degree of uncertainty. Microsoft simplified their reporting by saying that an answered Tweet would count as, perhaps, a support call that cost $30. Using Analytics, they were also able to measure impressions and clickthroughs on various bits of information and by ascribing a value to them were able to give some notional value to their work. The real figure is, of course, priceless. Who can ever know how many have taken up Adcenter because of the work of the social media team? Certainly more than would have done in its absence.
All this is the kind of stuff that various people have been saying for years. Maybe you’re even shouting at the screen saying “but that’s sooo obvious!” The truth is though that the vast majority of companies are still failing to engage properly with the opportunities presented by social media.
Oh… and SEO
We probably shouldn’t have to point out that this is all inextricably linked with SEO but as that’s our area of expertise let’s just reiterate. When you become an established brand, people will search for your brand directly. Top 10 SERPs full of other people’s content instead of yours (bad) or half full of unanswered complaints (worse) can easily work to negate that #1 ranking for some headline search term you’re obsessing over.
And if anyone’s going to link to something related to you – better your own content than some blogger with an axe to grind.