Social Media Strategy – Book Interview

Heidi Cohen Interviews Keith Quesenberry

New book: Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for marketers?

A: The biggest mistake I see is starting with social media objectives. In social media strategy you must always start with broader business objectives. Many brands entered social media without a clear strategy. It was added to existing plans as another outlet to deliver the marketing message. Often brands simply take their existing social channels and set goals for raising their numbers of likes, comments, and shares.

This approach sounds right, but it traps you in a social media-only perspective. What is that like, comment, or share really worth? Who is your target audience? Are they active on existing social media channels?

Unless you connect your social media actions to broader business goals from the beginning, ROI can be elusive, and social media becomes an end unto itself. You can’t succeed by chasing the latest platforms, tactics and features. Simply increasing your activity on current platforms may not bring you closer to meeting business objectives.

Q: What was the inspiration for Social Media Strategy?

A: I was struggling to find a book or text that addressed the broader business marketing perspective in social media and provided a process for creating a comprehensive social media plan for undergraduate and graduate courses. Much of what is out there is very tactical, very specialized on one social channel or a recap of one organizations or person’s path to success. I wanted a sound strategic approach that provided the context for social within the broader business, marketing, advertising and public relations perspectives.

I wanted to present a framework to create a social media strategy unique to each business or organization and would work no matter the latest social media channels or features. I also wanted to create a guide to social media that I wish I had when I was figuring social media out as a marketing communications professional.

I believe there is big gap in branding knowledge today. There are a lot of social media specialists, but that will only take you so far and can limit success. Social media is moving more towards being required knowledge for any business, marketing, advertising or public relations professional.

Specialists will still matter, but specialists with branding knowledge or brand experts that are social media specialists will thrive. They need to be able to see the big picture and speak the language of management. This book presents the latest social channels and tactics, but also fills that brand strategy gap.

Q: What is the key concept behind the book?

A: In Social Media Strategy I lay out a five step process:

  1. Situation analysis (target market, social media audit, setting business objectives)
  2. Developing key insights and a big idea
  3. Selecting social media channels
  4. Integrating other business functions
  5. Linking business objectives to social media metrics with KPI’s in each channel

A key component of this process is the social media audit. This systematic examination of social media data is a snapshot of all social media activity in and around a brand evaluated for strategic insights. Before graduating as an advertising major in college I spent time as a journalism major. The inspiration for my social media audit template came from the concept of the Five W’s that journalists use to write news stories. Thus, it is organized by:

  1. Who—company, consumers, competitors;
  2. Where—social media channel (YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and environment (describe the look and feel);
  3. What—type of content (articles, photos, videos, links, questions, etc.) and sentiment (positive, negative, neutral);
  4. When—frequency of activity (number of posts, comments, views, shares, etc. per day, week, or month);
  5. Why—purpose (brand awareness, promotion, drive traffic, customer complaint, praise, etc.)

Why? Different organizational objectives and target markets may require different social media messages and platforms. Existing brand accounts may be wrong for current business objectives and new social media platforms may be ideal, but were never considered.

Perhaps brand social media was started by marketing or public relations, but now customer service requests are overwhelming the system and increased integration is needed. Every time someone performs the social audit they have obtained valuable insights that lead to smart social media strategies.

Another mistake I see is brands limiting their social media presence to only the most popular or existing brand social channels. Different business objectives and target markets may require different social channels than brands are currently using. The social media audit helps point this out.

Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book

A: I would like them to change their perspective of marketing communications from a control mindset to an engagement mindset. We live in a post control marketing world. The marketer, their advertising agency, public relations firm or digital agency have lost control over much communication about the brand.

With the rise of social media the power of the consumer’s voice is now equal or even more powerful than the brand’s voice. You can’t have conference calls with consumers and send them your brand standards, marketing plans and creative briefs.

If we truly want to control brand communication today, we must be willing to give up control. This is not an easy thing for professional disciplines that are taught and practiced in the very opposite manner. Pick up any Marketing, Advertising or Public Relations or even Digital Marketing text and you will find the same – methods, strategies, and processes all designed to control the message.

We shouldn’t be figuring out how to compartmentalize social media as a nice little addition to our current marketing efforts. We should begin with social media and figure out ways we can integrate the consumer’s voice across the discipline silos of advertising, PR, and Digital and across the business unit silos of marketing, operations, R&D, customer service, etc.

A funny thing happens when you give up control, your product and service becomes better. Your customers help you create the products they want, the communications they’re interested in, freely share your brand messages and help you improve your service. Everyone gets more of what they want.

The consumer is no longer a target to be conquered, but a business partner for mutual benefit. And in the end you meet and exceed the marketing and business objectives you wanted in the first place.

Q: How do you describe yourself professionally?

A: I am a social media expert who is a marketing professor, researcher and consultant with professional marketing communications experience working for brands from startups to Fortune 500s.

Q: What are the books that inspired your work/career?

A: The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinburger. This was one of the first significant books that addressed the core issue that markets are made up of people and that we need to talk to them like human beings. As I say in my book, “The Cluetrain Manifesto reminded us that marketing originated in traditional physical markets. In those open squares, ‘Markets are conversations, talk is cheap, silence is fatal.’” Social media has brought us back to those marketplaces, but now they are digital.

I continue to see that brands are not engaging with consumers in social media. Real ROI comes from engagement. Many marketers get so focused on creating more content that they forget social media is a two-way medium. Some research indicates that brands only reply to 1 in 10 social massages that require a response.

The Idea Virus by Seth Godin. I love this book not only because it was an early look into things going viral and presents a formula that still applies today.

But I also love it because the book itself and the way Seth Godin released it was an Idea Virus and one of the most financially successful books he has written.

Data Strategy by Bernard Marr. Big Data has become such a buzz word but few still understand how to leverage it. Collecting big data and using it strategically are two very different things. Marr breaks big data down into a concise and simple to understand text. This really helped me put big data into the proper context. It is not really about collecting everything and looking for patterns. There is simply too much. He says to start with the business strategy to ask the right questions and then find the data to get the answers you are seeking.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

A: My biggest challenge was making this digital and social media transformation. I was a mid-career, successful advertising creative. I knew how to make really good TV, print, radio and outdoor ads that won awards and met business objectives. Then this pesky thing came along called the Internet and then social media.

I still remember when our agency president announced that we were going digital and we all had to learn it on our own or we might as well pack up our desks and leave that day. I had a three young kids depending on my job.

So I read, experimented and eventually learned. I sat next to a guy in the interactive department and learned as much from him as I could. At the time many of us thought we would all be replaced by digital experts. But overtime I learned that you still needed to be a branding expert and that digital and social media were simply new tools to build business.

Q: What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?

A: I love to run. Last year I ran my 10th marathon with my daughter who was running her first. My goal is to run the Rocky Challenge in Philadelphia where you run the half marathon on Saturday and then run the full marathon on Sunday.

Q: Is there a piece of content, a social media campaign or a marketing campaign that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

A: My latest Harvard Business Review article sums up nicely the social media mistakes many brands are still making today. It was also on the HBR Weekly Hot List.

Q: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to share?

I haven’t heard anyone say this, but I think that organic social will become important again. Ad inventories will tighten and move social back to where it started – voluntary engagement.

Paid social media is a necessity today, but exposure does not equal action. Management will eventually stop paying for engagement that doesn’t lead to bottom line action. In fact, spending on social media recently has failed to meet previous expectations – because more than half of marketers still struggle to prove ROI.

Social should still be created with an “organic” mindset then pay for reach, Yet to get anywhere beyond that paid view the content must be organic in that it will create voluntary engagement. When you know that paid will get a certain number of views and that is your only measure of success you may get lazy and simply create a lot of mediocre content or worse simply revert back to promotional ad messages. That is why my best piece of advice is to always start with business objectives.

Keith QuesenberryContact information

Thanks, Keith.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.


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