Sunday, January 3, 2010

Where You Are Doesn't Matter Until You Know Why You're There

One of the questions about Social Media I have heard most is "Which Social Network should I focus on?"

Part of the inconvenience of Next Big Thing-itis is that whatever the current "Next Big Thing" is gets most of the media coverage. Whether it's Facebook hitting X number of users (a totally meaningless number, since many accounts on Facebook are dead or nearly so,) or the current flock of celebrities who Twitter (another meaningless set of numbers since nearly all celebrities post communications meant to be read, but rarely respond to comments they receive), this kind of coverage means that the noise is way louder than the signal until the Next Big Thing is something else.

The side effect of Next Big Thing-itis is that for most people, putting the cart before the horse is their main issue. They ask where they should be, before they even know what they want to do there.

Effective Social Media is not a popular dance club. Being seen is not enough

So let's back up and take a look at the difference between Strategy and Tactics.

Strategy is the theoretical plan you start with. Taking into account your own Strengths and Weaknesses and those of your closest competitor(s), you take a high-level look at your market and formulate a plan based on as many variables as you can find data for.

For instance, this blog. My Strategy in creating this blog was to provide a single place to gather my thoughts on Social Media. Rather than build a website listing all my great skills and clients other stuff you may or may not care about, I decided to cut to the chase - here's my thoughts on Social Media. Having one place to collect them allows me to disseminate them easily.

I was well aware that there are many Social Media and Social Marketing blogs already in existence. I'm not competing with them, because my Strategy was to create a single place to gather *my* thoughts. Not to sell services or books (although that is not outside the pale, eventually.)

Tactics are the specific techniques and tools you use to execute a Strategy.

I chose a blog rather than a Facebook page, because a blog allows me more free rein with my ideas. If I want to try out a thought, a tactic, a marketing campaign, a design element, a blog offers me the most freedom to do so. It provides more space for exposition than, say, Twitter, and more personalization than LinkedIn. It's not a corporate presence like a company website or a presence on Foursquare. This blog is the conversation I have with - ideally - you, my readers.

If you can't articulate your strategy beyond "to have a Social Media presence" then it doesn't much matter where you are, because you don't know why you are there anyway.

Let's say that you are working on a new project - book, website, product, whatever. If you ask me what tactics should you use to promote that project, I'm going to tell you that it doesn't matter. There is no *thing* to promote, outside of your head. I mean this sincerely and with all due respect - very few people truly care about a project that you "are working on."

This is true for any widget, event or concept that is not about to be in existence. Any gleam in your eye might be of interest to those people who are close to you; your friends, your fanbase, etc, but for the large majority of people out there you'd like to reach, the fact that you are "working on" something means nothing.

So, what tactics *can* you focus on while you're writing that book or designing that site? You can pick one or two main Social Networks and Build Your Audience. It honestly doesn't matter what Network you choose - unless you focus your energy and time on one or two, you'll just have a small, diffuse audience all over the place. Pick a space and work it. Make it a base of operations - call all the shots from there. Refer back to it on your secondary and tertiary networks, mention it in casual online conversation - put it on your business card. Pull people into that space over and over and over. Build Your Audience using that space. Then, when you finally *have* something to promote, you'll have that audience to reach out to and hopefully, be able to convert them into your market.

Next post, I'll be talking about some broad categories of Tactics, so you can better target your efforts to the spaces you inhabit and the actual phases of Social Media Marketing.

In the meantime, your homework is to finish your End-of-Year review of your Social Media efforts and pare them down into the top few spaces where you'll spend most of your time and effort in the coming year. (I.e., for me, working on this blog.) Next Time we'll talk about what you'll be doing there to start the new year off with a strong Social Media Plan for you and your business.
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