The social media strategy – a starting point

There’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t hear someone discussing social media and wondering how/where they should start. There’s also not many days that happen where I don’t receive a request from a company or a PR person regarding how they should go about "doing social media" or how could they get started.

Given the popularity and importance of social media lately indeed these questions are quite valid. Many companies are still on the fence (often for very valid reasons) and are hesitant to jump in with both feet. However, like many things, you really don’t want to get left in the dust by your competition regarding social media – reading this article is a great start and likely suggests that it is a topic that’s going around your water cooler.

Why Social?

Many people are still wondering, why do I need social media? Well, in the geospatial arena that’s likely a good question. My first response would be, well, everyone’s doing it! Surely you don’t want to be left behind do you? If anything, establishing a social media presence simply to learn the ropes and get your feet wet is a good thing. If you have no idea how you’ll use social a good place to start is simply to listen in and see/hear what and how others are doing their social media. Watch you competition, watch some people and companies that you admire, monitor some social media "experts" (beware of experts that really don’t have a clue!)  and try to pick up on some tips and tricks of social. within no time you’ll be thinking about some ideas and solutions that may work well for your business.

If your still unsure, consider attending a local tweet-up, meet-up, un-conference, Ignite event, or other "cool" meet-up that attracts web2.0 junkies and social media geeks! Putting yourself in an environment surrounded by social media experts, newbies, and wanna-bees will definitely get your wheels turning and will likely result in a couple of good ideas that you can run with. Finally,  think of social media as a way to engage and communicate with your staff, your colleagues, and your clients – I’m sure that you likely have a need to improve your communication flows so this is a great place to start.

It’s better to give than to receive

First and foremost, "doing social media" really should be thought of as a business process and will hopefully become an integral part of your workflows. For many companies social media and marketing go hand-in-hand, however, you should remember that being social is not simply about receiving but its likely more important to think about giving. If  you think that going social is simply about getting your word out and promoting yourself (or your apps and/or services) then think again. Companies and individuals that appear to be having the greatest success ala social media have lots to give – some give advice, others give tips, tech support, discounts, even free stuff! Remember to pay it forward – and if people Re-Tweet or share your stuff, be sure to thank them… it will go a long way!

I follow a local "social media expert" who’s had tremendous success evangelizing social media and branding himself, however, I find that all of his efforts are focused on himself and on selling himself and his products. If I were a betting man I would guess that his social media life will be short lived mostly because he’s one-dimensional and only uses social media to sell himself – beware of falling into this cycle.

Build that brand

Integral to your social media strategy is your brand and how you intend on branding yourself or promoting your brand. For many people, qualifying the ROI on social media is difficult (although there are many tools and apps out there that can help) although if you specific items for sale and market them only via a social media outlet you likely will realize if you are having success. Sales aside, perhaps the most valuable return on your social media efforts is your branding. As you build your connections and expand your reach, your social media strategy will determine how others see you, what they know about you, and how much they trust you. If you’re unsure what your goal is for "doing social media" building your brand will inevitably be on the top of your list.


Your Social Media activities will extend to your brand and how you brand yourself and your services

For the corporate users, branding and appearance is an important issue. You’ll need to think about  who’s going to represent your company on your social media efforts, how they will represent themselves and the company etc. this will take some thought.  Something hugely important too is what tools will they use to interact with your social media services and what kind of content you’ll be sharing.

Who to friend

So, you have your social media presence, now who are you going to connect with? Some no-brainers include: your customers, potential customers, business partners, service providers, competition, social media experts, journalists in your industry, local talent and technology providers. These are all great places to start! To discover people on Twitter browse the Twitter search utility, third party directory apps, and look at followers of some of your existing followers. who do they follow? On facebook and LinkedIn look for groups of interest and then listen in on discussions and even take part in some of them (remember to give). Avid users of groups and forums can eventually establish themselves as experts by offering up regular bits of useful information. Finally, don’t stop there. Venture out of the confines of your office and network with others. Take part in tweet-ups when you attend a conference, go to a local tweet-up or social media training meet-up, take part in a local gathering like Ignite where you’ll meet up with others that are interested in social media, attend un-conferences, bar camps, mobile Monday, or similar industry-focused meet-ups and social gatherings.

At a local Social media meet-up

Don’t just Tweet

Finally, don’t just Tweet!  I like to compare this to a mobile strategy where I evangelize to people not to simply develop a mobile strategy solely on one platform (like for iPhone). A truly successful mobile strategy will involve a plan for porting your app or service to a Java client, Symbian OS, iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Similarly your social strategy should consider a number of popular social services including Twitter, face book (think fan pages), Linked In (think Groups), Youtube, Flickr, along with plans for a blog. Done properly and with some planning, these services can work nicely with each other and can all be integrated into the apps and tools that you use to manage and maintain your updates.

Depending on which services you use you’ll also need to consider how you plan on managing, maintaining, and tracking your social media progress. Be sure to also consider the following:
  • What media do you want to share and extend via your social media outlets (videos, photos, power point slides)
  • What apps and tools will you use to update your social services
  • What mobile device(s) will you use and with which tools
  • What Twitter client will you need to effectively update your account(s)
  • How will you track your progress
  • What media will you include (photos, videos, audio)
  • Who’s going to manage/update services
  • Who has access to accounts
  • Do you need a social media policy and committee
  • State clearly who owns the accounts and content and document access mechanisms and passwords.

Go Mobile

I’m a firm believer that users of mobile technologies are the savviest (is that a word) and most prolific social media users around. Mobile devices and services enable users of social media to stay connect 24/7 and provide a number of innovative and clever ways to keep up with your social services and bookmarks. Using a mobile device or smartphone, the user can check updates quickly and efficiently, location-specific updates and notes are easy to add (like photos and videos)  and spontaneous status updates can greatly enhance your presence and enable your followers to experience the time and place with you – updating social media resources from events is very popular and a guaranteed way to attract interest from your followers and potential followers. For corporate users, you might consider setting up a couple of your employees with a smartphone and service data plan if anything as a nice perk! Equipment is a valid write-off and exposing your workers to the latest mobile technologies will enable them to keep up with technology, provide them with 24/7 access to some of your corporate mobile assets, and it will also be a nice perk for them – hook your social media strategist up with a nice iPhone 3G S!

GISuser iPhone Geo App of the week

Use Social Location Tools

GIS professionals and Geo geeks that are jumping into social media should definitely take advantage of location sharing technology – after all, we’re in an industry that’s focused on location, location provisioning, and location awareness! Using social location tools to enhance your social media experience is a great way to add value to your social offerings and it also shows your followers that Geo technology is important to you. A number of amazing third party applications and services are available and easily connect to your social media streams (like Twitter and face book), enabling you to share location specific content (posts, photos, and video) with your followers. Some of the applications that I take advantage of to share location-relevant social content include: Loopt, Brightkite, Schmapp, and foursquare.

Use other cool, web2.0 tools particularly for your events. If you’re involved in any way with planning or promoting an event, webinar, social activity, tweet-up or ?? Use a service like eventful or meet-up and be sure to also list and promote your events on your social media outlets, create and promote official tags and a twitter hash tag, and list your events through LinkedIn events and face book events applications.

Think Video

Video on the web is all the rage. Business people, in particular those charged with marketing and PR tasks, need to think about this. You can create all the press releases you want and start blasting them all over the place, however, if you really want to show off what you have consider creating a video. I’m amazed at how under-utilized video is, particularly by marketing people. For example, if you have a press announcement about a new piece of hardware, a new web service, or something else that you can actually show off with a demo then make a video! A simple, 2-3 minute video is perfect. create the video and upload it online to YouTube and any other social media sharing services that you can think of like Flickr, Vidler, Qik, uStream, Ovi Share etc.  Then, be sure to include the video on your corporate website, blog, and any video sharing services you subscribe to. A photo is worth 1,000 words but a video is worth a million! Remember, the next time you distribute a PR announcement or shout out your news via social outlets include a link to your youTube video. Don’t have a YouTube account for your company?? Get One! Tip… I also just recently stumbled onto a great video creation service called Shwup… this is another fun service where anyone can easily create a fun video to show off an app, service, or ??

A Cool video montage with some interesting maps and webmaps… enjoy!

The Committee

So who’s going to do all this? Well, if you’re a small business owner then I guess the boss is going to take charge (that’s you!). set aside a slot of time each day (maybe 30 minutes each morning to work on your social updates). Try to stick with your schedule, try not to do too much at once, and attempt to try a new application, tool, or service each week in order to stay up with things!  For the corporate user, consider starting a committee to oversee your social media strategy. Look around you and locate some existing "power users" of various services and invite them to take part. If there’s a savvy Twitter user in the office have him start your Twitter strategy or at least offer up some idea; empower a face book fanatic to look into creating your corporate fan page etc. don’t simply treat this as a "computer thing" and hand it off to the IT department. if anything, your staff skilled in marketing, tech support, and project/application development will be your greatest assets – use people that have been getting their hands dirty and draw from a pool of people with varying skill sets.

Tracking your Results

One of the toughest things people seems to be struggling with on social media is quantifying and qualifying their efforts – determining an exact ROI is likely a huge effort and is beyond the scope of this post.  Implementing some form of tracking is hugely important and something you should consider from the get go. Many twitter apps provide some level of tracking. If you plan on maintaining multiple profiles then a tool like Tweetdeck, HootSuite, Seesmic will be necessary. I suggest starting out with HootSuite mainly for several key reasons:
– manage multiple profiles
– scheduling tweets
– tracking stats
– pushing RSS feeds

Another great tool to integrate with your Twitter efforts is Su.Pr. The app enables multiple profile management and scheduling, however, it also provides for tracking and statistics and it ties in nicely with social bookmarking tool Stumbled Upon – definitely check it out!


Su.Pr gives instant results

Finally, A useful tool for sharing content and tracking your link click-throughs is tiny url. You’ll be able to monitor some statistics and best of all, you’ll be able to share, short, user friendly url’s with your followers regardless of what social media services you use
Most important, stick with it, have some fun, experiment, use cool, new Web2.0 services whenever possible, surround yourself by others interested in social media, and network!

Some useful tools for your Social Media Toolbox: (try a simple Google or Twitter search on the following)

- Hoot suite – hoot
– Seemic –
– Tweet Deck
– TwitterFon
– Twitterrific
– PixelPipe
– Shozu
– friend feed
– Cligs
– Qik
– Twitpic
– bright kite
– eventful
– meetup

For more articles on the topic of Social Media see this Archive. In particular check out:

In our industry directory of resources see the following sections of interest:

Finally, see also the "Twitter Topic Archive" on my blog for loads of great tips and resources


Editor (18230 Posts)

Glenn is a geographer and a GIS professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. He's the co-founder of GISuser and several other technology web publications.

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