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This chapter is from the book

Where Is Everyone?

All this has to be taken into consideration when creating a social media strategy. A strong awareness of where the target audience spends most of its time is very important to any organization. Before committing to a particular channel, any organization should confirm that the people they want to communicate with are actually using that channel. This is true of all organizations but especially so for the smaller business. For these, the choice of social media channels can seem bewildering. "Where will I find the time?" is the most often asked question by the small business sector when thinking of social media. For already time-constrained businesses, the prospect of spending hours on Twitter or Facebook or trying to create content for a blog seems just one more task that will go on the to-do list, never to be actually crossed off. Worse still is when businesses try a shotgun approach to social media and attempt to use all the channels at once in the hope that they will reach someone, anyone, just so that they can show that it works and that they are in fact "engaging" the audience.

Whereas an element of experimentation is always good and often attractive given the relative low cost of entry of social media, it's also true that it can produce results that had not been previously considered. All this should be undertaken with an element of caution. Blunders in social media can be very high profile, and the audience has become increasingly unforgiving in its response to campaigns it considers to be disingenuous to the medium. Audience identification does not necessarily require the use of sophisticated tools. There is no shortage of social media "listening" tools, many of which are worth considering as part of the broader strategy. However, utilizing free tools to establish a basic understanding of the platforms is usually all that is required. Using the search tools built into free social media tools will be effective. In fact, you can save a lot of wasted effort and false starts by taking the simple approach first. Regardless of whether the strategy is for small or large business, a strategy that starts small and builds as competency increases is much more likely to produce results than one that proposes multiple launches across multiple platforms.

After you have identified a starting place, it is not enough to set up a Twitter account, or a Facebook business page, or any other social media presence and then sit back and expect the people to arrive on their own. The strategy has to include the content that will attract the potential audience and the methodology for making that audience aware that the content is available. The belief that the audience will generate the content is sadly untrue. User-generated content has long been seen as the panacea to the issues of developing compelling content for organizations. Compelling content was seen as the solution to driving traffic to a website. Driving website traffic was seen as the solution to online brand awareness and brand elevation. This is the flaw that so many social media strategies are built on. User generated content is not like graffiti. Just because you build a wall, it doesn't mean someone will write on it.

Although conversations happen about brands, products, services, and organizations on social media platforms, they do not necessarily happen at the time and location of the organization's choosing. In fact, the majority don't. So the "build it and they will come" philosophy is flawed.

Instead of expecting users to generate your content, you need a strategy that places your company where the conversations are happening and positions it to listen and then respond. Early social media strategies focused a lot on the listening piece. In fact "listening" was the mantra of the social media world in 2009. Whenever a social media "guru" was heard to be giving advice, the word "listen" was always uttered. However, I disagree with this. If your social media policy stops at listening, you are neutering your organization. Responding to what is being said and preempting what might be said are the keys to a successful social media strategy. In the world of social media, actions do speak louder than words. Acting on what an organization is hearing is the key to executing a successful strategy. Many companies struggle in deciding what action to take. That is not to say listening is not a part of the strategy—it most definitely is. To reiterate, the listening isn't where it ends.

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