strategery
Any social media strategy — before you tweet, before you pin — starts with listening PHOTO: William Iven

Social media marketing leveled the playing field for marketers in companies of all sizes. 

When done right, it offers a direct connection with your customers and insight into their needs, their attitudes towards your (and your competitor's) brand and their context.

When done wrong, it's amazing the outsized headaches 140 characters can make. 

In this four-part series I'll be sharing the eight mandates that set your social media marketing strategy up for success so you hopefully avoid those headaches.

1. Start Listening

I believe that listening is the single most important key for marketers who want to be successful in social media.

Although the average person spends about 45 percent of his or her waking hours listening, most of us are simply not very good at it. Various studies conducted over the years have shown that we comprehend and retain only about 25 percent of what we hear.

With that challenge so prevalent, applying good listening strategies and skills in the social media environment becomes even more critical. 

"Intentional listening," as my friend and colleague Eric Fletcher calls it, should be front and center in your social media marketing strategy, as it plays an integral role in ensuring that you can find your target audience, hear and understand their wants and needs, and then effectively communicate with them in such a way that establishes trust and strong, long-lasting relationships.

At the outset of your social media marketing program — even before implementing your listening tactics — do your homework. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Gather responses and evaluate. And spend some quality time "lurking and learning" on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels to find out what your target audience has to say.

Finally, make sure you're carefully monitoring your competitors as well. Are they listening to their constituents or just broadcasting marketing messages? You'll have to do a little old-fashioned detective work, but remember that with social media, the playing field truly has been leveled. You don't have to guess about who's doing what — just listen.

2. Plan Carefully

Too many marketers jump right in and start using various social tools — such as Twitter, Google plus and blogs — before they've even developed a strategic plan or thought about how those activities might impact the rest of their marketing initiatives. 

Don't make that mistake. Take a little time to determine how to best integrate social media into your existing marketing strategy and mix. It'll pay off for you.

Step one in the planning process is to nail down specific social media objectives, based on the listening activities detailed in the first mandate. Now that you know what your constituents care about and are discussing on social media, how does that impact the messages you need to communicate to them? Step two is to integrate your social media strategy into your overall marketing strategy to ensure you can leverage your resources efficiently and effectively and that common goals can be more easily reached.

If you work for a large enterprise, you have two significant advantages over a small business when it comes to planning and budgeting for a social media marketing program. First, your company's DNA most likely has a built-in "think strategically" strand, and second, it also probably has a fairly large wallet. 

If, however, you work for or own a small business, you have an advantage as well. You most likely can make strategic decisions and launch new marketing programs fairly quickly. That can be a huge benefit in the fast-paced social media world.

Finally, be sure you're prepared to monitor and measure your impact and progress. Establishing benchmarks and other metrics that can be tracked over time will help you better understand what's working and what's not, and thus be able to make whatever adjustments are necessary to ensure the success of your social media marketing activities.

Check in next week for the next post in this series, where we will discuss developing relationships and establishing trust.