Social media proficiency is fast becoming a requirement relevant to most industries and professions. With 2.34 billion people using social networking platforms worldwide, social media has become more than a potential marketing opportunity. Instead it is a vital tool for managing customer relationships and day-to-day communication.
It is not always possible (or financially feasible) for a business owner to outsource social media activities. Often the responsibility is left with internal staff who may have social media experience from a personal perspective, but little knowledge in using it to represent a business.
Using social media for personal communication can be very different to using it in a business context. It is this gap between personal and professional proficiency that prompted the development of a minor stream in social media (four courses) to begin next year at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. My aim when developing these courses was to provide undergraduate students from any area of study with the opportunity to improve their social media competence before entering their industry of choice. The subjects can be undertaken individually or as a full minor, don’t have any prerequisites and all are available online and on-campus to best suit individual student needs.
The four key skills and knowledge areas on offer are applicable to any business, so even if you’re not planning to be a USC student, learning more about them through other providers would be greatly beneficial to anyone currently (or soon to be) responsible for their organisation’s social media presence.
The four key areas include:
1. A Social Media Overview
It’s important from the outset to have a clear idea of what social media can and cannot do, its positives and negatives, its strengths and its deficiencies and what is most appropriate in terms of ethical online conduct. Having a solid foundation regarding the capabilities of social media as a communication tool is a fundamental first stepping stone, as it enables the next stage (curating and creating content) to come from an informed and knowledgeable position.
2. Content Curation and Creation
Another essential part of social media proficiency is the ability to source existing interesting, informative and entertaining content and present it in a fresh way that is both ethical and of value to a target audience. By serving up the best content in your specific topic area, you can offer your customers something that Google never can, a human element.
Just as important is the knowledge of how to develop strategic content (text-based, images and video etc) that leverages the specific characteristics of each social media platform to resonate with your customers. But first, you need to know your customers well, know what social media sites they prefer and create killer content that keeps them looking out for you on their newsfeeds when they’re not buying your product or service.
3. Transmedia Storytelling Campaigns
My research has found that using social media as the only method to connect with customers and stakeholders can often prove to be ineffective. Instead, integrating content across a range of communication channels can greatly increase the impact of a campaign. Adopting a campaign approach called Transmedia Storytelling harnesses the power of storytelling and the two-way nature of social media to connect with audiences by allowing them to participate in telling the story too.
Transmedia storytelling can be most simply described as:
- using a range of relevant (and complementary) communication channels (online and traditional) to tell a story,
- leveraging the specific components of each channel so that it adds something unique to the story and,
- empowering the audience so that it can also contribute to the telling of the story.
It sounds complicated, but storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to connect with an audience. Using multiple communication channels that are relevant to that specific audience, plus encouraging and facilitating members of the audience to add their own personal contributions to that story can only add to the power of the overall campaign. It is also great for businesses that are resource poor in terms of creating content, because many fans are happy to share theirs.
A classic example is the Best Job in the World campaign.
4. Monitoring and Measurement
Finally, and of utmost importance is understanding how to monitor what social media users are saying online about your business and measuring the performance of your social media activities. Word-of-mouth can make or break a business, and electronic word-of-mouth can spread faster and further than ever before. It’s essential to know your true reputation, not the one that you are trying to project, so that you are aware if there is a gap between the two. With this knowledge you can make informed decisions about how to improve or maintain organisational reputation.
Similarly, understanding the types of content that resonates with specific audiences helps to enhance social media performance. It won’t always be surefire, but having some idea of what types of content receives the most positive response and the most optimal times to post is better than guessing.
Measurement also delves much deeper than ‘superficial metrics’ (measurements such as likes, shares, comments, favourites and retweets etc). It is also important to devise ways to measure more tangible outcomes from your social media activities. For example, how many people attended an event because they saw it on Facebook? How many people donated via the website after clicking on a social media post? These sorts of measurements should relate directly to your business objectives to provide a more accurate idea of your true social media performance.
Above All: Put the Audience First
The most essential social media skill that underpins all of the ones mentioned is to put the audience first. The four skills explored above will work together to create memorable and valuable experiences for your customers, so that they will continue to feel connected to your business even when they’re not in your store or using your product.
What other social media skills do you think are essential for business?