This is the first of a four part series on getting your brand involved in social media. We’re going to be discussing laying the groundwork for introducing your brand to the social web by posing and expanding on a few key questions. You’ll need to get a handle on these as you begin formulating a corporate plan for social media involvement.\

It might seem like the obvious first step is determining whether or not your brand should even be involved in social media. The truth is, your brand is quite possibly “involved” in social media already. Is your brand big enough that people talk about it in real life? Then guess what? They’re probably talking about it online. Do you have employees who are under the age of thirty? Guess what? They’re probably on Myspace, or Facebook, or blogging, and your organization’s brand is in their profile.

So let’s tackle the first question. What is your current, “unofficial” level of social media involvement? Are you monitoring for brand references in social media in any way? Are there any employees or communications team members who are actively blogging or otherwise participating in social media independently, who are openly affiliated with your organization? Does your brand already get strong “organic” social media buzz? Is RSS understood and utilized internally so that everyone in your organization can stay informed on the relevant conversations in your industry?

What are the critical goals that you will need to achieve to justify a social media plan? These will directly influence the level of involvement and kinds of activities you’ll need. Do you need to improve SEO, web traffic, conversions, or other e-commerce and lead generation goals? Is online reputation management and public relations a concern? If so, what metrics are you looking for: faster response times, higher ratio of positive to negative mentions, or would 4-5 positive posts from an authority blogger in your industry be an acceptable goal? Are you trying to improve internal communications, customer support, or consumer engagement with the brand? If so, what are the specifics that will help you measure that goal?

What is the desired and appropriate level of involvement for your organization? Are you looking to create an ongoing social media presence and use social media as a strategic communications platform (for example, with a corporate blog)? Is your goal strictly monitoring to get advanced warning for when your PR firm needs to do damage control? Do you want to do blogger outreach to leverage the influence of authority bloggers in your field? Do you plan to use social media as a way to get extra mileage and buzz for your advertising campaigns by deploying creative as widgets or gadgets? Are you looking to add an interactive online community element to your support or CRM programs? What about corporate social networks, like intranets, to improve internal communications?

Is your corporate culture ready for social media participation? If not, what can you do to get there? Do you have a corporate/employee blogging policy? Do you know which (if any) of your employees are currently blogging? Do you have adequate internal resources to commit to executing your plan, or are you willing to budget for adequate help from partners and vendors? Have you checked your goals with someone with social media experience and expertise to ensure that your goals are realistic and achievable, including the timeframes? Do you have buy-in from the necessary parties to engage at the level it will take to achieve your goals? Are you willing to bind and gag the entire legal department for a few months? (Just kidding on that last one. Mostly.)

What elements of social media participation will dovetail well with your existing marketing efforts? If you’ve got great, fun video content, then widgets or social video deployment makes sense. Are you planning a campaign with grassroots appeal?

What are the smart first steps to take? (I’ll help you cheat just a little on this one: monitoring. At some level. Even if it’s just setting up a Google Alert on your brand name. Find out who’s already talking about you online. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your agency, your PR firm, or any trusted partner who has expertise in social media. It’s better to get them involved early.)

Obviously, there’s room to go into much greater depth on any of these points of discussion, but for the purposes of a (lengthy) blog post, this captures the essentials that need to be addressed when forming a corporate social media plan. I think they should be good for sparking discussion among your internal team as you investigate adding social media to your marketing and communications strategy.

Next week, we’ll be talking about bringing outsiders on board: Creating an RFP for Social Media Partners.

img: “Getting Suited Up” by GoodOilMan on sxc.hu

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://knobee.com vdegeorge

    “The truth is, your brand is quite possibly “involved” in social media already.”

    This statement is very very important and worth repeating. It’s why brands should be involved in social media even if they don’t initially see the intrinsic value. With any brand, the last thing you want to do is play “catch up” or caught needing to put out fires in a medium you’re unfamiliar.

    Fantastic topic and a great start to the series, Kat. I look forward to next week!

  • http://www.communplug.com/ Ed

    I feel you have put forth the most important question to be asked, is the corporate culture ready to participate?

    What exhilarate me 9 out of 10 times, is watching companies adopt social media at the urging of their PR firms, but not engaging consumers in conversations. And not surprisingly, even social media “gurus” commit that very same mistake.

  • KatFrench

    vdegeorge: Fear probably shouldn’t be the primary or initial motivation for organizations to get involved in social media, but it often is, isn’t it?

    Ed: I think maybe you mean “exasperate” rather than “exhilarate,” but otherwise, I’m totally in agreement. Very often, companies strangle the effectiveness of their own social media campaigns because they weren’t adequately prepared to participate.

  • http://www.communplug.com/ Ed

    Sorry for the wrong choice of word there. I’m looking forward to reading the upcoming articles.

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  • http://danielhonigman.com Daniel

    In my experience, “unofficial” social media is usually better. You just have to know what you want to do, and in the media biz, it’s easy to get ham-handed.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Daniel: Maybe, but even with the “unofficial” stuff, you have to have internal/organizational awareness and transparency. And general guides don’t hurt either.

    Frankly, I think it’d be great if more companies did internal training sessions with their employees about how to use personal social media activity responsibly, so that it benefits their own career and their organization. But that’s a whole other conversation.

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  • http://ericadewolf.wordpress.com Erica DeWolf

    Great post! Everyone should be monitoring their brand online and become involved in their own reputation management. If a “crisis” breaks out, i.e. somebody important in the blogosphere starts bad mouthing your brand, you can catch that and be the first to comment on the post- defending your brand / apologizing for a faulty product, etc. The key is- you’ll be able to react.

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