Stop! Don’t go near social media without a strategy

Develop a social media strategy first, and you’ll save time and money on implementation.

I would no more send a client out to “do” social media without a comprehensive plan and strategy than I would send a child out in a snowstorm without a warm coat, or put my car on the freeway without gas.

Every time I see a seminar on social media “tips and tricks” for small businesses, small-to-midsize nonprofits, or any other organization without a full-time marketing communications person on staff, I cringe.

Those of you who tell me how you wasted time Twittering and wasted money buying Google ads? Your experience does not reflect badly on either of those tools. It means that you were using tools that didn’t match the problem you wanted to address. It’s like racing into the bathroom brandishing a hammer instead of a plunger when the toilet is overflowing. Even messier.

Yes, I know your budget and your time are limited. But instead of paying $100 for a two-hour tips and tricks seminar, read a good book about crafting a social media strategy*. Then budget $300 or more to have a good social media consultant (here’s how you know if you’ve found a good one) come in to your organization and talk with your team about what you’re doing, what your audience, your peers, and your competition are doing, and what your marketing communications budget might allow you to do in the future. If possible, find a social media consultant who’s familiar with your field.

Facebook? Twitter? Blogging? No hurry. Once you’ve got a strategy in place, you’ll be able to figure out what social media tools you want to carry around in your toolbox and which ones are better left in the basement.

* Recommended books on social media strategy:

The Social Media Bible

Social Media Marketing: An Hour A Day

The Zen of Social Media Marketing

Social Media for PR (a presentation)

You don’t necessarily have to “do” social media — it pretty much goes ahead and does you. The question is how much you want to try to shape what it’s doing.

For those of you who weren’t at the presentation at the University of Washington last night, a little explanation: Every year I give a short talk to a PR class at the university about social media as it’s used in the PR field. As you might expect, this talk changes rapidly as trends in social media change (Remember when Twitter was the hot, new thing?). This year I nearly entitled it “Social Media for Facebook.”

I promised the class that I’d post the slides from the talk, so here’s the link to the slide presentation in full-size PDF form.

This being a “new-style” presentation, the slides are meant to be used in conjunction with a talk that is pretty much counterpoint: questions for the audience, stories, and case studies. Molly Haas, head of PR for Northwest Folklife, joined me this year and she walked through the slides of Northwest Folklife’s social media presence (2010 contrasted with  2011), talking about what social media had been crafted by her team and what had “just happened.”

This slide deck is illustrated with examples of Northwest Folklife’s social media presence, but I’ve done customized decks for several of my clients and for prospective clients interested in “getting into” social media. As the presentation points out, you don’t necessarily have to “do” social media — it pretty much goes ahead and does you. The question is how much you want to try to shape what it’s doing.

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