Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Integration Is The Key!

One of the first things small business owners and non-profits learn when they're just starting is this: Have a plan!  It's been said here before and it will continue to be said in the future, knowledge is power.  Part of knowledge is knowing where you want to go and having a path to reach that goal. 

One of the key elements for every business, but especially for small businesses and non-profits, is having a solid communications plan.  You may have done all of your due dilligence, checking out your competition, testing the market and securing your finances.  But all of that means little if you don't have an effective communcations plan in place designed to tell the world about you, your product or your service. 

Of course many of you already know this, as you've likely spent hours crafting the communications plan for your own organization.  But now might be a good time to revisit your plan and here's why: if you don't have social media integrated into your plan, then it's incomplete.  Actually, the same goes for public relations.  Both need to be part of your plan in order for your organization to succeed.  Effective business communications is like playing a game of chess.  You don't make one move without knowing what you want to do with the other pieces involved and what your overall strategy is.  The same holds true for communications.  Posting on Facebook or Twitter without a plan or strategy is like randomly moving your knight without knowing why. 

Social media is too important to operate independently from the rest of your marketing or communications plan.  Unfortunately, too many businesses and non-profits are doing just that.

In fact, a recent study by Digital Brand Expressions and reported on at the Marketingprofs website, shows that the majority of companies using social media do so without any kind of plan or strategy in place.  Here is a snippet of the article.  As always, click on the link to read the entire entry.
Companies Using Social Media Without Game Plan
Published on June 28, 2010

Despite widespread adoption of social media marketing, most companies are still learning how to integrate those efforts into their overall corporate strategies: 78% of surveyed companies say they actively use social media, but just 41% say those efforts are part of a strategic game plan, according to a survey from Digital Brand Expressions (DBE).
Overall, Marketing is in charge of social media: 71% of companies that now work from a strategic plan say the marketing department has primary responsibility for creating and maintaining the firm's social media presence; 29% cite communication departments, and 16% cite the executive team.
Below, other findings Social Media Without a Parachute, a DBE study based on a survey of 100 companies.
Although social media is now being applied throughout the enterprise, 94% of companies who work from a social media plan say they use the channel for marketing; 71% cite public relations, and 55% cite sales-related activities. 
 I think it goes without saying that doing anything without a plan, at least in business, is a big mistake. I also have to note that the companies surveyed above were larger businesses that have separate marketing departments with domain over their social media efforts.  This troubles me a bit, but that's an entry for another time.

For most of you, you ARE the marketing department, as well as the CEO, the janitor, the PR spokesperson and everything else involved with running a business.  This means you are the one making the decisions on how to use social media and PR.  Because communications can be overwhelming enough by itself, let alone on top of everything else you have to do, integrating the elements of social media and PR into your plan can seem downright impossible.  But it's not as hard as it seems, and it might actually help you stay on top of your overall communications efforts.

Putting Together Your Plan:

A quick look at most basic communications plans shows us that it is heavily weighted towards marketing.  This generally includes details involving pamphlets, brochures, direct mail, community outreach and generally some mention of PR.  Today, plans often also include some element of email, usually building an email list and sending out either a newsletter or direct communication like Constant Contact or MailChimp.

What most communciations plans DON'T have, though is an integrated social media plan.  So how do you do that?  Well, you start from the beginning, actually.

Start with your goals - What do you want to achieve, not only with your communications plan, but with your company overall.  Most of you probably have a one year, three year and five year plan in regards to finances.  But how about market placement?  Have you set a goal for where you want to be in terms of the overall market share?  If not, do it.  Figuring out where you want your organization to be will help you craft a communications plan to reach those goals.

For instance, if you want to be the market leader, you're going to have to have an expansive communications strategy that involves constant community outreach, aggressive PR, a relentless social media effort as well as the more traditional marketing tools you might already be using.  However, if your goal is a little more modest, say, reaching specific financial milestones every year, you can tailor your communications plan to help you reach those goals.  Such as a scaled back PR plan, focusing more on social media to hit the specific groups and target demographics that will help you bring in business at a more steady rate and build more slowly.

Identify The Who - No, not the band, we all know who they are.  I'm talking about figuring out who your communications efforts will target.  Again, this goes back to your goals.  Your product or service might already have a built-in audience.  If this is the case, then you're in good shape.  But more often than not, you will have to specify a target audience to talk to.  This doesn't mean you speak to them at the exclusion of others.  It simply means you direct most of your efforts to reaching that particular group of people.  This will help you in your social media and PR efforts down the road.

Identify the What -  It's starting to sound a little like a news story, right?  This element goes back to something I've been hammering over and over in this blog and that is; have a clear and consistent message.  Knowing what you want to say to your audience is almost more important than knowing who to say it to.  You can have an auditorium full of potential customers but if your message fails to connect, you will have missed a great opportunity.  Developing your message is perhaps one of the most important aspects of your communications plan.  

Keep this in mind.  Your message is NOT your mission statement.  Your mission statement goes at the top of your business plan.  Your message goes at the top of your communications plan.  Put another way, your mission statement is an expression of what you do and how you do it.  It's the who, what where and how.  Your message goes beyond just the facts.  

Example:  You own an auto repair service.  Your mission statement may look something like:
"To provide the best quality auto-repair service in the area and becoming a leader in the female-oriented auto-repair industry through innovation, price management, honest and world-class customer service."

You wouldn't say that to someone you met at a party.  Instead, you might say,  "We are a garage where women can go and feel comfortable, will be treated with respect and will be informed every step of the way on what we're doing with their car and why we're doing it."

Your message has now identified a target audience, and a demographic that your business has targeted.  You can tailor your message around that target audience, using language that appeals to that group and addressing the needs and wants of that group.

Identify Your Tools - You already know what your traditional marketing tools are.  Direct mail, pamphlets, brochures, business cards, email.  Now you have to start adding in social media tools as well.  Because there is so much change happening in social media, plus the fact that there are so many options out there to choose from, you can't integrate all of them.  But you CAN identify which social media platforms will work best for you.  Choose, three, maybe four to use right from the start.  You could even start with two if you're feeling overwhelmed.  

The usual suspects include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  But there are other tools that might work better for you.  Take some time to research the pros and cons of each tool you're considering.  For instance, you might be better off with a blog instead of LinkedIn.  You might consider using a location-based game paired with Twitter instead of Facebook.  Eventually, you will find two, three or four options that appeal to you most.

Establish Your Identity - This is your brand, your personality, your public persona.  It matters.  Are you a fun, exciting change from other options out there?  Or are you a more buttoned up, professional with years of expertise in your field?  In other words, how do you want the public to perceive you?  This is important, because it will influence the words you use in your communications efforts and it will influence where and how you communicate.  

A smaller, renegade company might be more freewheeling and let that sense of adventure and fun come through in its Tweets and Facebook postings.  A more serious company will likely be more conservative in its postings, as well as all of its other collateral.  Either way works, as long as your committed to your message and your plan and you are consistent with your efforts.

Start To Integrate - A social media campaign without an overall plan, as stated earlier is really like a group of people throwing ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks.  It's random, it's ineffective.  However, if you know what group you want to speak to, if you know what goals you want to accomplish, if you know what you want to say when the opportunity arises, then your social media and PR efforts will have a much better chance at success.

Integrating means taking all of the previous efforts and inputting them into your social media efforts.  Your message or messages (remember, you can have more than one outside of your primary message) should appear in every post, every blog entry, every Tweet, every press release, every pamphlet, brochure, email and newsletter.  Your goals and messages need to be in the forefront every time you communicate with the public.  

It doesn't matter if its an interview with a TV station or a conversation with a stranger at a party your communications plan needs to be evident at all times.  By integrating your social media efforts into your overall communications plan, you give your online efforts a direction and a purpose. You should also make sure to integrate your PR efforts into your social media efforts as well as your overall communications strategy.

By knowing your audience and message, you will have a clearer idea of who to pitch your stories to.  Your audience will dictate if you pitch to online blogs, industry or trade publications, specific radio outlets and which TV news slots you want to target for coverage.  More imporatantly, as you grab the attention of the media, you can use social media to double that exposure. 

If your organization is covered by your local TV news, that broadcast is over within 90-seconds, max, and you will have reached a few tens of thousands of people, which is great.  But why not release that broadcast or newspaper article or radio program and make it available to potentially millions more who might not have seen it, read it, or heard it.  You can post those items on every platform you use, and you can do it multiple time, there is no limit to what you can post or how often you post it on social media platforms. 

A few final thoughts:

Public relations is important to your organization, you know that.  By integrating your PR into your social media and communciations efforts, you make all three that much more effective.  You don't have to send out a release every time you do something or make a change.  But you CAN use social media to stay on top of the news of the day and even get an inside track to earning coverage in your local outlets.

Many newsrooms are using Twitter these days to listen to their audience and figure out what stories they want to see covered.  They're also using Twitter to stay up to date on breaking stories, which they then update on their Twitter feeds.  Some are even using Twitter and Facebook to solicit interviews for upcoming stories. 

This means you should be monitoring your social media feeds regularly to catch any opportunities for you to get coverage for your organization.  Part of your communications plan includes setting aside time as well as finances to make sure your efforts are successful.  Build the time to monitor your social media efforts into your plan.  You're already building time in to monitor your other communications efforts, and if you aren't then you're plan is incomplete.

Finally, make sure to include listening and feedback into your plan.  Too often communications plans are built on a one-way street.  You focus so much on what you want to say and who to say it to, you forget that a big part of communicating is listening.  As you put your plan together, figure out how you want people to contact you. 

It might include a weekly talkback with customers and potential customers on Facebook.  It could be through an email campaign, or soliciting comments on your blog.  The important thing is to integrate feedback tools into your plan.  THEN, once you have figured out a way to receive that feedback, you have to have a plan in place to respond to that feedback.  Again, it depends on your platforms, but your plan needs to include a way to monitor what other people are saying about you.  Before social media, this was difficult to do, not impossible, but difficult. 

However with social media platforms, you can now set up a Twitter feed that notifies you every time someone mentions you.  You can establish Google alerts and search engine notifications that will tell you every time you're mentioned in a blog or a Facebook post or a Twitter or a LinkedIn account. 

If you start from the beginning and integrate your social media and PR efforts into that overall plan, you will find that your communications outreach will be much smoother and will have a higher rate of success.  In the end it's about focus, planning and commitment. 

So go back, take a look at your old communications plan.  If it doesn't have social media and PR integrated into it, take the time to revamp it.  Your organization, and your bottom line, will thank you for it later.

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