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Social Networking for Business: Passing Fad or Sustainable Strategy?

Does your company have an integrated marketing communications strategy or are you playing with the latest social networking fads to see what happens? While everyone is all atwitter about Twitter, getting desired results from your marketing efforts is more about executing against a well researched strategy rather than jumping on the latest trend. After all, tactics don't determine strategy - strategy determines tactics. And it is strategy that defines brand and moves companies forward. While social networking is certainly becoming a mainstream Web attraction, business users need to recognize it for what it is - one part of their communication strategy. For example, Twitter facilitates conversation, levels the playing field and lends an authentic voice to your brand. It helps to open a dialogue, and can raise awareness of a service or solution; however, in 140-character sound bites, it's difficult to communicate the depth of knowledge required to support a business case.

What social media technologies do is provide a more social approach to connecting with customers, prospects, and potential job candidates. They're helpful for developing conversation and furthering relationships. From there, it's imperative to have a strategy that enables your organization to share more depth of detail in order to progress the relationship and potentially close a deal. That's because while social media certainly has its value in the marketing mix, on its own it may not produce the desired results. After all, to capture value, organizations need to deliver value, and that's best accomplished by taking a multi-pronged approach.

What should your organization be doing to influence and inform a widespread audience beyond establishing a Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and Twitter account? Consider the following:

Speaker Bureau program: Presenting your message to a qualified audience enables your company to connect with potential buyers more quickly and advance buying decisions. It can also get your company in front of buyers who would have never responded to cold calling or direct marketing efforts. And, the people attending your session have already expressed interest in the subject matter. You're presenting to a room of ready-made suspects!

Media and Analyst relations: Influencing the influencers means building relationships and providing information through a multiple of mediums: presentations, blog posts, press releases, white papers, etc. Your buying audience is still reading industry news and consulting with industry thought leaders prior to making a purchase decision.  Being included in publications and research reports and having a key influencer carry your message forward to their readership boosts thought leadership and business credibility.

Content and Collateral development: Case studies, white papers, sales sheets, and byline articles can demonstrate your company's breadth of offerings and business acumen. There should be written pieces to support every touch point in the communications continuum. Well written content not only shows that your company understands the challenges faced by its buying audience, but the opportunities your solution creates. These communications can also be optimized for search and instill confidence in the minds of your buyers that you can do what you say you can do.

Social Media networking: While your prospects and customers can be found outside the social media perimeter, chances are they're also dipping their toes or diving right into the social media waters. Find out where your target audience is hanging out, join the conversation and become active community members. Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning and Twitter can facilitate conversations among buyers and influencers and offer additional platforms from which to promote your brand messages. However, keep in mind that just because you have a Twitter account or a Facebook page it does not mean that your company has a social media strategy or even a social media presence.

Use social media to complement and extend your other marketing initiatives. Communicate tips and techniques or share links to content of interest via Twitter. Provide updates to conferences you'll be attending or information on upcoming speaking engagements. Participate in LinkedIn Groups and demonstrate your understanding of issues important to your buying audience as well as potential solutions they may want to consider. 

It's also important to establish social media policies for your internal organization. The HR department is typically responsible for other policies for the organization, and while corporate communications may have control of official spokespeople, everyone can participate in social media. Therefore, as employees partake in social media, they need to have clearly defined guidelines that ensure people are aligned with the corporate values and mission.

To use any of the tools above effectively, it's important to understand your business goals and have access to the resources and expertise to support your communication efforts. Tactics such as content creation or community relations, while necessary, should support the overall strategy - not define it.

At The Devon Group, we help our clients navigate these new communication channels. And, we actively participate in them every day to keep our networks informed and to monitor what is being said about our clients. We've built a strong following that relies on us as a trusted source for industry information - an accomplishment achieved by blending best practices with precise execution.  If you're ready to define your strategy and reach your business goals, send me an email.