The social media success secret

Few channels have caused as much of a stir in the marketing community as the birth and impending adolescence of social media. Companies that just two years ago disdained Facebook as a teenagers’ fad are now rushing to fill their own fan pages. Executives who thought tweets were for twits have begun to share their every thought with the world (not that the world is any richer for knowing what you had for breakfast or that you’re standing in line at the dry cleaners).

Of course, the inevitable experts have cropped up to tell everyone how to make the most of these new channels, and as is typically the case, most of them disagree with one another. Some insist that unique content is the only way to go, others recommend cross-posting anything that strikes your corporate fancy, many tell you to be chatty and cute, a few insist that anything short of businesslike is deadly. Each insists that theirs is the secret to success, and each is probably right to some degree.

I don’t have any esoteric social-media magic to promote, but I’ve quickly become convinced that the real secret to success in these channels is a time-honored strategic tool: the schedule.

That’s right. In this era of instantaneous tweets and HootSuites, a tool that’s nearly as old as civilization itself may be what you need to get that proverbial leg up on the competition.

“How can that be?” I can hear the new-media authorities growl. “Social media is supposed to be creative … and free … and happy … and playful … and devoid of all those businessy things. Schedules are old-school. They’re old-fashioned. They’re the tools of those anal-retentive grumps, not the innovative free-thinkers who will guide us to transformative new spheres of existence.”

“…some good-old-fashioned discipline can provide a powerful advantage.”

Sorry to burst their pretty bubbles, but it’s absolutely true. In today’s increasingly chaotic marketplaces — whether for products or content — some good-old-fashioned discipline can provide a powerful advantage.

Here’s why. Most companies and organizations that have flocked to social media aren’t approaching these channels in anything that even resembles an organized manner. Oh, they’re enthusiastic and eager to play in this growing realm, but they’re just not sure how to do business there. So they start tweeting constantly, posting Facebook statuses by the hour, and throw comments into ten LinkedIn discussions every day.

But that’s only for the first week. By week two, they’re tweeting two or three times a day, making a daily post to Facebook, and spending just a few minutes scrolling through what seems to be a host of worthless LinkedIn conversations. Soon they’re tweeting only when they remember to, posting to Facebook as an occasional afterthought, and logging into their LinkedIn account only when a name they don’t recognize shows up as a colleague who wants to connect.

Don’t take my word for it. Over the next few days, pay attention to the companies you see, fan, or follow through your own social media channels. If you notice minimal activity, go to their pages and track what they’ve done over the last few months. You’ll see that pattern again and again.

It isn’t that these companies want to be inactive or no longer have any interest in social media. It’s that the people who are charged with being the socialites for their employers usually have other, more important tasks to tend to, and those tasks tend to crowd out the regular tweets and status updates.

What do you do if you want to make sure your sales reps are making at least ten cold calls a day? You establish a quota (or, if you don’t want to seem quite so driven, you call it a benchmark). That way, even on days when their enthusiasm may be waning a bit, they’ll know they have to at least meet your minimum expectations.

Creating a schedule for your social media activities is similar. You may tell your resident social-ist that he or she is expected to send at least three tweets and make two Facebook posts each day. That doesn’t mean your social media presence will be limited to five messages a day. If something newsworthy or interesting crops up, your staffer can put many more messages out there. All you’re doing is making sure that you maintain a certain presence.

Then, to make this process easier to implement, you create that schedule I mentioned earlier. You list the dates for the next month or two, and note what each day’s posts should address. If you plan two Facebook posts a day, maybe you identify one in the schedule and leave the other blank to accommodate something that comes up that day. However you choose to do it, by establishing that schedule and filling in at least some of the blanks, you take the pressure off the person who will be responsible.
If you use one of the software suites that allows you to post automatically, employing it in conjunction with a schedule will allow you to automate your activities even more. That can save a significant amount of time.
Another way you can simplify the process and help it succeed is to use spare time to develop what I like to call “evergreen” postings. Those are short items that aren’t time-sensitive, so you can post them whenever you don’t have something more timely to share. For example, a bank could develop brief tips about money management, offer definitions of financial terms, or include interesting factoids about money. A law firm could share fascinating legal facts or mention odd laws.

Other ideas for posts include links to press releases you issue, articles that mention your company or organization, case studies, online links with content that would be of interest to your customers or prospects, conferences in your industry — the possibilities are as unlimited as your imagination.

What it you really get stumped on a particular day? Repost something you put out in December. While fresh content is nearly always preferable, odds are good that something you put out there in the past is worthy of another look. And much as we’d all like to believe that our audiences hang on and remember every word and every item, they don’t. That case study about how a company used your product to solve a problem is probably every bit as relevant today as it was when you originally posted it.

But don’t try to pursue these channels in a random, haphazard fashion or assume that the enthusiasm you have at launch will continue to keep you posting months from now. Whether you’re on one network or ten, add in the proven discipline that a basic schedule provides, and you’ll make every channel work harder for your objectives.

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