Q&A: At the Crossroads of Business and Social Media

This article is part of week-long series of social media stories, which you can read by clicking here .

As a professor of social media and communication strategies at the Wharton School of Business and author of “The Social Media Survival Guide," Sherrie Madia knows a thing or two about how businesses can put social media to work. Here, she reveals which companies are using social media tools effectively and whether Facebook is better than Twitter for business.

BusinessNewsDaily: What does a company need to do before launching a social media campaign?

Sherrie Madia: Any business, company or solopreneur can launch a social media campaign in no time. But the smart businesses start with a plan—and not a plan for a one-and-done campaign but a plan for a long-term strategic commitment within the online space.

The social media plan must begin with an objective. This may seem like an exercise in Business Plan 101, but time and again, I encounter corporate clients who skip this critical step.  The first question to ask is, “What am I trying to achieve? Awareness and education? Stronger customer service?  Product sales? A base of support from my target group?" This will set the tone for the plan that you will create.

BND: What's the biggest mistake a company can do when using social media?

S.M.: Given that the Web 2.0 space is still so new, and given companies’ dramatically different levels of understanding of this space, we tend to see a number of missteps in this space, but the No. 1 mistake is companies who jump into the space without a full understanding of the power of these social networks.

Businesses who ask, “What’s the best social network to be part of?” are missing the important first question. This space is about researching your target groups (are they on Facebook? LinkedIn? A niche community?), then determining how best to engage them. Will you need to create a new group or community? Engage with them where they are? What content forms will you use: Video? Blog posts?  Photos on Flickr?

The strongest uses of social media strike the balance between choosing the right networks and the right content to meet consumers’ needs.

BND: Should a company hire a social media specialist or is it more effective for employees to do it collectively?

S.M.: Before bringing in a professional, businesses must determine their content needs. If their messages are best suited to video, then you may need some backup in this specialty. If resources for writing daily blog posts are what’s required, determine if this can be handled capably in-house.

When hiring for social media positions, remember these tips: Being a user is different from being a professional in marketing and communications, and the social media space requires a deeper understanding of marketing principles, as opposed to a baseline knowledge of the networks themselves. Pass on the intern, and spring for the professional who is able to capture the voice of your brand, service or product with substance and sincerity.

BND: What's more effective, Facebook or Twitter?

S.M.: That depends. What’s the objective? Where are the people you are trying to reach? The best social media strategies are based not just on one network, but on a network of networks, to enable a closed circuit of communications effectiveness.

BND: What companies are doing a great job with social media?

S.M.: We see examples from the telecoms industry. T-Mobile (@TMobile) does a super job of using its Twitter stream to humanize customer service. Why does this matter? Large companies and call centers can face criticisms for seeming less approachable.

T-Mobile’s real-time response team (tweeters’ photos and names are included on site) provides direct response to consumers’ concerns and the added benefit that a call center can’t provide—a “permanent record” of proactive customer service.

On the small business side, Liberty Bay Books (@LibertyBayBooks), an indie bookstore out of Poulsbo, Wash., does a super job of optimizing the social media space through consistent branding, an authentic voice, networking its blog, website, Facebook page and Twitter account, and providing content of value such as upcoming events and book reviews.

BND: What is your favorite form of social media?

S.M.: My favorite form is the one that works most effectively to foster relationships between brands and consumers—each network performs a slightly different engagement function and each enacts this function differently based on the business, its objective, its audience and its approach to content.

Of course, the ideal is to achieve that perfect orchestration of targets, platforms, timing and content that function like a symphony of brand engagement. Music to my ears.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer Brian Anthony Hernandez at Bhernandez@TechMediaNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BAHjournalist.