Social Media Is Easy... Or not.
Social media is easy. Businesses and organizations can sign up for free on Facebook and other services and then slap a bunch of logo links on your website and... end up with several ghost towns for social media efforts and a website that has more logos on it than a NASCAR entry.
Why do so many sites end up there? And what should they be doing differently? Read on...
In the Beginning..
Back in the day, websites were just another channel to broadcast content to visitors. Sure, it was (slightly) easier to do than publishing a catalog or making a TV ad, and the content might have been more interactive, but it was still just pushing information out to visitors.
This early approach to websites (which, to be fair, still can work for some businesses and organizations) is below, with the big purple circle being a website and several purple pawns representing visitors.
Giving Users a Voice
Websites, of course, did not stop there. As the "Web 2.0" era opened, sites became platforms where users could react to what they saw, and these reactions (at least in theory) enriched the experience of other visitors.
You can see this represented in the graphic below with the green arrow bringing information from one of the users to the website, and then the website pushing that content back out to all of the users.
The Move to Third Party Platforms
A problem with those early websites is that they could not reach critical mass. There may have been enough potentially interested visitors to support an interesting and healthy debate about the website's content, but those people were already spending their time on MySpace (and currently Facebook/Twitter/whatever).
In the interests of reaching the audience members "where they are", companies and organizations needed to put effort into those social media platforms. In the graphics below, I have simplified "third party platforms" into a single blue circle with a single set of blue pawns as audience members. Clearly not all of these platforms are equal, and maintaining more than one is more work, but for simplicity's sake we're just going to this way.
One advantage of the third party platforms is secondary audiences. A contribution by a user doesn't just enrich the experience of the immediate audience (the followers), it also has the ability to spread, virally, to the network of that user. This not only drives awareness of the content and brand to a secondary (and potentially tertiary, etc.) audience, it also can build the primary audience as people click on Follow/Like
What's the Challenge?
The reach of content has expanded, which is great. Effort to create and monitor and maintain content, though, has gone up... often significantly.
Additionally, the conversation is potentially diffused as audience members talk about the same thing on the website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Some of this diffusion is unavoidable (some folks stick to one and only one social media channel) but the impact can be managed and minimized.
What's the Solution?
There is no one correct answer except to plan. The extent of the planning and the specifics of that plan vary for each business and organization, but some consistent things to consider are:
Know Your Audience
You need to know who you want to reach. You need to know what they want. You need to know what you want them to get. Without knowing your audience, you will only stumble across success, and it won't be done optimally.
Match Up Content with Channels
Determine what content you can provide that your audience will get value from, and figure out the best place to reach them. Blanketing all major social media sites with every bit of content you generate will be less effective than targeted, intentional content placement that is optimized for that channel.
Commit to Invest Beyond Launch
There are costs with setting up a website and social media plan, for sure, but the costs don't stop there. Content generation takes time. Responding to audience members takes time. Monitoring metrics takes time. Time, as we all know, is money, but all of those things are critical for success and that means success is going to cost you.
Be Ready to Adapt
Which cliche should I choose? "You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"? "If you build it, they won't necessarily come"? "A definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results"?
All of these dance around the fact that you need to try things to see if they work. Watching user patterns to see which content is effective and which is not will lead to more focused and valuable content for your users. You need to not be afraid to fail, understanding that without trying new things you can't hope to improve.