How to tackle long term social media planning

If you head up social media at an enterprise organization, planning for a whole year can seem like an insurmountable task. All too often the real time nature of engagement, the last minute requests for promotion, and the relative understaffing of social teams at many companies (even large ones) cause meaningful planning to take a backseat to the more immediate tasks at hand.

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However, if you can take advantage of the quite period between Christmas and New Year’s to get clear on the goals of your stakeholders, set down how you will support those goals, and get specific on timelines and resources, you will start off 2013 feeling less harried and more able to support the organization’s business needs effectively.

First off, I should state that I don’t believe you can plan out many business strategies for an entire year and I think this is especially true of social media. Sure, there are strategic program improvements such as social CRM implementation and internal training and education programs that can take a year or more to implement or complete. But because businesses can pivot more quickly than in the past, and because technology changes so rapidly, I find that taking a six month perspective is more useful.

Step One – Get Clear on Your Stakeholders’ Goals

What makes social media strategy so tricky is that there really is no such thing as a standalone social media strategy. There’s a business strategy of which social strategy and tactics is an integral part of, not a separate piece or side project. Getting clear on what the overall objectives of the program you are supporting is crucial to becoming a true business partner instead of an order-taker.

Think of your program as an internal agency that supports all the different functions of your company from PR to HR to customer support, product marketing, customer marketing, sales, and almost any other business area in your company.

Where this gets especially tricky is during cross functional campaigns or programs. A lead social strategist will often find him or herself in the middle of a “love triangle” where the execution of a social strategy is dependent on the coordination of two or more business units. Anyone who works at a large company knows that this kind of complexity gets into “yikes” territory.

Step Two – Communicating Expectations, Dependencies, and Timelines

Writing down your strategy, communicating responsibilities, and setting timelines are key project management tasks that will help you solidify and clarify what the expectations are for who will do what when. I create a simple Word document for each business area I support with three sections: Business as Usual, New Initiatives, and Campaigns.

Under “Business as Usual” I set down all the different things my team does on a day-to-day basis for that business area, e.g., community management of particular properties, flagging blog response opportunities, or hosting monthly Google Hangouts.

When it comes to describing community management, I don’t leave this at one line item; I get very specific because community management encompasses many different kinds of tasks that are very time consuming. For example, I’ll write “Publish 50 tweets on x handle per week, 50% internal content, 50% curated content,” “Respond to all inbound communications on Twitter and direct them to the right resources (about 100 per week),” and “Promote all online events (about 8 tweets per week).”  Don’t take for granted that your stakeholders know how much time and effort goes into basic social media management functions. Also, if you set the proper expectations, you’ll get less emails asking if you’ve promoted a specific webinar or campaign. I’ve found that often stakeholders won’t look on social channels for the content they themselves request. If you set the expectation that you have whole categories of tasks covered, you’ll get less of those annoying emails.

Under “New Initiatives” I write down ongoing programmatic additions based on what I learned about that business area’s goals for year and my team’s abilities to resource them. For example, if one unit’s goal is to reinvigorate a dormant population of high value B2B customers, new social initiatives might be to train account managers to use their own social profiles to make stronger connections with these individuals or enlist highly active customers in an influence campaign. These are the types of initiatives that, if successful, would fall under “Business as Usual” the next year.

Finally under “Campaigns” I list specific time-bound tactics that, again, support the goals of the business units I support. Sometimes these tactics are in support of campaigns that a business unit is already formulating. For example, if they are planning a webinar series, a campaign tactic may be as simple as hosting a downloadble asset on Facebook for webinar registrants or engaging our customers with a “best of” submission campaign.

Other times I have campaign ideas that will be at the center of the unit’s strategy and I need to help that unit coordinate a cross functional effort in order to execute on the campaign. For example, a “Pin it to Win it” campaign on Pinterest may involve different areas of the company beyond the immediate business unit, such as a creative department, web site team, and customer communications team. The role of the social strategist in this case is to make sure every team has the information they need and to help those teams recognize areas for social integration in their own work.

Step Three – Standardizing Reporting and Analytics

A social strategist is not at a loss for reporting and analytics options. There seems to be a new tool launched every week! The challenge is to figure out which metrics are important to report on (hint: not all of them are) and how to present them in a way that is understandable and compelling to your stakeholders.  Standardizing your reporting is helpful for setting expectations and for determining ahead of time what success metrics you’re aiming at.

I have two kinds of reporting templates—monthly reports on the channels my team manages directly, and a campaign reporting template. The monthly reports contain the same metrics each month so that we can accurately and consistently track progress for the channels we manage. For example, some of the Facebook metrics we track on a month-to-month basis include impressions (organic, viral, and paid) and network growth and engagement as well as website referrals and trials initiated.  These channel-specific metrics are indicators of the overall health and effectiveness of your communities.  By keeping a close eye on these numbers, you’ll be able to spot opportunities for improvement, which tactics drove the best results, changes in platform functionality (ahem, Edgerank), and even changes in community behavior.

For campaign metrics, I have a basic template that includes basic visibility and engagement metrics, but the some of the other metrics are variable based on the goals of each specific campaign. For example, the goal of one campaign maybe whitepaper downloads whereas another may be driving referrals. Make sure you set down what the key goals are (and how you’re going to measure them) from the outset so that you can best set yourself up for success.  Your goal here is to set the right expectations with your stakeholders and be able to easily report out how your efforts supported their goals.

Set yourself up for success

To sum up:  1) be crystal clear on what your stakeholders are trying to do from a business perspective, 2) Clearly communicate what support you will deliver and how that maps back to their business goals, and 3) Set the right expectations by determining what the key success metrics are before a campaign starts.

This kind of legwork may be tedious, but will allow you to focus on execution and will save you from headaches later on.

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