Top ten milestones for social media success

Too often, social media commentary or discussions focus too much on tools, tactics, and strategies. Instead today, I’d like to focus on the life-cycle of branding that is essential if a company hopes to reap the full benefits of social media engagement and the support their customer community.

I’ll break these down into ten steps that highlight the life-cycle that any brand must consider when creating a brand story that effectively leverages social media for amplification.

 1. Define your purpose: This can take the form of a mission statement, which is a few paragraphs that articulate for leadership, employees, and customers exactly what a company stands for and the core values that inform its products, services, and marketing.

2. Distill your mantra: The most persuasive brands in the marketplace always distill their purpose or mission statements down to a singular phrase. In all cases, that language is simple and emotional, and communicated consistently, so that both employees and customers can help spread the message.

3. Internal integration: Too many brands overlook the fact that employees are your first line of word-of-mouth advertising. So, instead of starting with your customers, make sure that your purpose and mantra are clearly communicated to your employees. This will have bottom-line benefits in terms of employee retention, satisfaction and productivity, and also ensure that they use social media channels to promote the brand that they work for.

4. Architect Community: Even when a brand does the difficult work of defining what its message or story is, they often still frame that story in a way that talks about themselves, rather than the value of their purpose to their customer community. So before considering what marketing a brand should do, always revisit the story you tell and re-frame it in a way that allows you to build a community based on shared values.

5. Define Business Objectives: Many brands apply a one-size fits all mentality to their use of social media and the metrics by which they measure success. Yet just as with any other marketing channel, the tools, tactics, and strategies must be chosen specific to the business goals, whether they are raising awareness of a brand, improving customer service, or optimizing your supply chain or employee productivity. So be sure to clearly define your distinct goals before looking at social media tactics or tools, and then let those goals inform your metrics for success.

6. Forgo Silos: Customer engagement using social media is a delicate balance. You have to communicate with customers in a way that’s specific to a platform like Facebook or Twitter, and then integrate those platforms in a way that allows customers to migrate, discover new content, or try your products and services. So rather than seeing social media as a series of independent channels, see it as a fluid conversation that migrates from one platform to another, and challenge your brand to become sufficiently fluent in each of these tools that it can migrate seamlessly tracking with conversations.

7. Show your humanity: There is no doubt that it is challenging for any brand to act in a more human way, particularly when they face legal and intellectual property issues. But social technology demands a new type of relatedness from brands. The bad news is that this often takes place in real-time, which means companies must be more timely in their response than ever before. The good news is that they’re allowed to be more human, with all that implicit fallibility. So as long as your brand can admit to making a mistake and take responsibility for it, this can in fact endear a brand to its customers.

8. Lead with listening: Every brand faces a series of hurdles before it can meaningfully enter a conversation being conducted by its customers about the brand. The first of those is the patience required to be invited to join a conversation. At first a brand must listen to the nature of the conversation, and validate the issues being raised by its customers, rather than try and dictate it or move the narrative in a new direction. In fact, the companies that will succeed in the future will be defined by quality of listening, because the capacity of your customers to promote your brand is in direct proportion to your capacity to listen to their wants and needs.

9. Move with them: Social technology is changing faster than ever, and this challenge is compounded by the fact that customers often use new technology in ways that were never imagined by its developers. Still, a successful brand must maintain contact with the ways that their customers like to relate to each other. So this means a persistent fascination with emerging social technology, and also a curiosity as to the new ways in which it’s being used. Only then can a brand stay in sufficient contact with its customers to be seen as a relevant and consistent part of the community.

10. Let go of ‘right’: Just as with human relationships, social technology has an emotional dimension and a qualitative nature that precludes any notion of being “right” or finding the “perfect” answer. Instead, brands must recognize that it’s is an ongoing and tireless challenge, but one that also gives companies an unprecedented opportunity to connect emotionally with their customers.

If a brand walks itself steadily and consistently through these ten steps, and maintains a fascination with emerging technology, they will be able to maintain contact with their customer community, which over time can becomes their greatest asset.

This process is the subject of the upcoming We First Social Branding seminar, in which, we walk through these stages togther ensuring you walk out with an actionable Social Branding Blueprint based on the best practices, case studies and bottom lines benefits of the world’s smartest marketers. I invite you to join me and other world class experts as we work on your business to ensure it’s social business success in 2012.

Are there any other key steps that you would add to this list? Which do you find is the most challenging for your brand?