Six Guiding Principles for Developing a Successful Social Media Strategy

Earlier this year, Eckel & Vaughan launched a new digital division focused on enabling our partners to more effectively integrate social media into their marketing and public affairs campaigns. We have always defined ourselves as a “conversation agency,” and social media platforms provide unparalleled opportunities to start conversations and get people talking about an idea.

Like so many other organizations, we were faced with the question: How do we apply the lessons we’ve learned over the years to social media?

Here are the six principles that guide us when developing a digital media strategy for a partner.

Principle 1:  One Size Does Not Fit All

One of the most common mistakes an organization can make is to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to social media. Just because your top competitor is using Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Bebo doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the answer for you.

Every organization needs a strategic, customized approach to engage targeted communities through social media, get them talking about you, and inspire them to action.

Principle 2:  Be True to Your Brand

You’ve spent years—or perhaps decades—building a brand that your partners, customers, and employees trust and respect. If you create an organization Facebook page and begin haphazardly posting without a thoughtful social media strategy, you may be putting that investment at risk.

What you say through social media should reflect your identity and protect and enhance your reputation. Don’t try to become something you’re not. It’s too easy to sniff out the pretenders.

Principle 3:  Social Media, Like Nature, Abhors a Vacuum

Successful social media campaigns never stand alone. They are a natural outgrowth, and highly integrated cornerstone, of your overall communications strategy.

The conversations you create through social media should be interwoven with more traditional marketing tools, knitted together within a strategic marketing plan.

If what you’re doing online is not helping you to achieve your primary aims, then it’s time to revisit and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Principle 4:  Good Data Leads to Good Decisions

What are you hoping to accomplish? Who do you want to get talking about you? When you have the answers to those questions, it’s time to find out where they communicate and interact online. Which social media platforms are they using and why? Who are the established, respected voices in the community?

Using good, hard data will enable you to make smart decisions about where to invest your time and resources and get the biggest returns down the line.

The availability of social media monitoring and reporting makes it possible to determine how effective your campaign is and recalibrate to get the desired outcome.

Principle 5:  Start a Conversation…and Keep It Going

Social media is all about building and strengthening relationships. The process consists of engaging in two-way communications by providing relevant, thought-provoking content and responding to your community.

Mind you, these are not masses of people or “audiences,” but individuals. If, in fact, you are hoping to have a conversation, then you must thoroughly and completely understand the person you’re talking with: who they are, their lifestyle, what they think and care about, their motivations, what makes them tick.

Building a community requires active listening. It must be a conversation that leads to truth, honesty, and actions that ultimately benefit both parties.

Principle 6:  Become a Thought Leader

It’s no mistake that the most successful social media campaigns are led by organizations that are trusted and highly respected by their networks. Become a thought leader by providing real value (information, deals, and thoughtful analysis) to your followers, fans, and friends.

Leverage the expertise of your organization and your coworkers and share that knowledge with the community.

After the death of Osama bin Laden, one Twitter post was retweeted more than any other and was credited with circulating the story worldwide before the official White House announcement. It wasn’t because it was the first tweet, and it wasn’t because the author had the most followers. It was because the author had earned the trust and respect of a core group of devoted followers. What he said mattered, because he was already considered to be a thought leader.

Social media is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. It can influence the political process, raise awareness about a new product or service, and earn you new business.

You’ve earned the trust and respect of your community. Use it wisely.