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December 01, 2009

Working Smart

Launch Your Social Media Strategy: 5 Factors to Consider

by Jennifer Fong

Working SmartEngagement with social media is becoming a critical factor in a company’s growth and sustainability. Our next generation of consultants and sales leaders finds communicating online more natural than speaking on the telephone. If we want to reach them, we need to meet them where they are, speak in their language and create an environment that allows them to communicate easily. Otherwise, companies will find their customer and salesforce average ages moving up rapidly. And that is not a sustainable business model.

There are financial reasons to consider social media, as well. A recent collaborative study conducted by Charlene Li of The Altimeter Group and Wet Paint looked at the top 100 global brands (across many industries) and their engagement with social media. According to the study, “The most socially engaged companies typically enjoyed revenue growth of 18 percent on average over the last 12 months, while the least socially engaged brands saw revenues fall 6 percent.”

As this study so clearly articulates, social media is becoming a critical factor in a company’s financial growth and overall profitability, no matter what industry you are part of. This is not something that is going away. Instead, social media is something that direct selling companies must invest in to understand and use well. As direct sellers, we need to look at our unique culture—most important of which is the independent salesforce—and identify ways to make social media a viable part of an overall business strategy, if we are to take advantage of the benefits that social media is providing to so many other industries.

Many companies within our industry are currently establishing a social media presence. They are also finding that, in many cases, the salesforce is far ahead of them, interacting with others on social networking platforms with varying levels of success. After studying the approaches of many companies within our industry, it seems clear that what is providing the most success is a comprehensive approach that includes sound policies and training for the field as well as a corporate social media presence that both communicates the company’s message and provides resources that the salesforce can use to build relationships with their contacts.

There must also be systems in place to measure the effectiveness of your company’s social media efforts. Simply establishing a presence on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platform is not enough. A comprehensive strategy must be designed to fully reap the benefits of social media and calculate the return on investment (ROI). Social media can take up a lot of time, and you do not want to waste any time (or money) on ineffective strategies and activities. Make sure the key players within your organization at a corporate level are educated about social media, and then take the steps necessary to plan your social media strategy up front. When you plan first, you can make sure that all the time your company invests in social media contributes to the company’s overall goals and financial health.

While there are many elements that should be included in an overall social media strategic plan, there are five key elements that are critical when creating your company’s social media strategy:

  1. What you want to accomplish through your company’s social media efforts
  2. The resources your organization is willing to commit to social media
  3. What you want the salesforce to be able to do with social media
  4. The social media tools that will best help you reach your goals
  5. How you will measure success

Let’s explore a few of these elements in greater detail.

Corporate Objectives

There are many things that social media can do for your organization. But unless you have a staff of folks you are willing to dedicate to your social media efforts, it is best to start small and do just a few things well, rather than trying to do everything all at once.

Some potential goals you may want to consider include:

  1. Increased brand recognition
  2. Increased monthly sales per consultant
  3. Increased overall recruits per month
  4. Increased reorders
  5. Improved brand sentiment
  6. Increased consultant loyalty

By clearly identifying goals for every social media action your company takes, you can then measure the results of those actions, and determine where the time your company invests in social media is best spent, as well as where adjustments need to be made.

Committed Resources

Companies that experience success with social media typically have someone who is the lead on the company’s social media efforts, and who is trained in the use of social media. Even if this person has other job responsibilities (which usually happens in smaller companies), it is important to have someone who ensures the company’s social media efforts remain on track and consistent. Good use of social media requires daily interaction, both in terms of actual engagement using the tools, as well as monitoring.

Whomever you select to lead your company’s social media efforts, it is important to make sure that the person is well-versed in your company’s message and authorized to speak on behalf of the company. It is never a good idea to assign this role to an intern or some employee’s teenager who is already on Facebook. If something happens online that could negatively affect your brand’s reputation, does the person leading your efforts have the judgment and knowledge necessary to either address issues, or escalate them appropriately? Are they able to answer questions and lead campaigns?

Your lead should also understand the way your salesforce thinks, because you can be assured that everything posted through your company profiles will be seen by the field.
The Salesforce & Social Media

Left to their own devices, most independent sales consultants use social media ineffectively. Instead of making the most of a relationship-building and content-marketing strategy, they spam social networks with your products and opportunity, annoying their connections and giving the industry as a whole a black eye. It is up to you to decide what you want your salesforce to do with social media, craft policies to support those actions and then provide the tools and training necessary to do that effectively.

There are benefits to having your field communicate through social networking. You can gain a great deal of exposure for your company while also building loyalty among consultants. By and large, consultants appreciate your willingness to support them in the tools that they want to use, and benefit greatly from the connections they build with one another, along with prospective customers and recruits online. But you must plan how to manage your consultants’ use of social media if you want to ensure that your brand is represented accurately and well.

Next Steps

Once you have made key decisions about your company goals, available resources and salesforce use of social media, you are ready to select tools that will support your corporate strategy. You must also be prepared to define the measurement criteria for each tool, so you can determine the success of your social media efforts. This is why an education in social media as a whole is so important before you begin to create your social media strategy. Tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, corporate blogs and more are only effective when they are used strategically and have measurement criteria assigned to their results.

By taking the time to craft a social media plan, prior to establishing a corporate social media presence, your social media efforts will be more effective, and you will be able to measure the actual results of the time your company invests. With clear measurement criteria in place, you will also be able to make the adjustments necessary to be sure the time your company spends on social media is a wise investment in line with your company goals. Only then can your company enjoy the growth social media brings to so many companies today.

Jennifer FongJennifer Fong is a social media consultant with Luce & Associates. You can read more about social media and how it specifically applies to the direct selling industry on her blog at