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Has your boss started asking you the so-called “tough questions” about social media yet? You know the ones. Is anyone making any money on this? Are we going to make any money? What’s the ROI for this social stuff? When are we going to see some results? And my personal favorite: What’s in it for me? How does this make me look good to my boss (or shareholders, board of directors, core customers, etc.). Now, don’t get me wrong. These are great questions. They’re just not the right questions to start with. (Don’t worry, we’ll come back to them in just a moment).

So, if these aren’t the right questions to start with, what are the right questions?

Actually, I recommend just a few:

  1. What is it you want? What are your goals and objectives? What matters to your business? Are you trying to increase the number of leads you generate? Or drive increased sales? Or improve your PR efforts? Social can fill a vital role in each of these areas. Not only is it good for those, but social media can do lots more, too. Are you trying to get better market intelligence? Improve customer service? Monitor your reputation? Each of these tasks—and a number of others—lend themselves to social solutions. More important, by looking first at your objectives, you can better apply all the tools in your toolkit—social, search and so on—to find an integrated solution to your company’s challenge. Of course, to address that challenge most effectively, you’ve also got to ask…
  2. What does your customer want? Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, ask yourself how it aligns with what your customers want. Are they looking for the best product? Or do they have questions about how to get the most from that product? Are they satisfied with your service? Or do they need to talk to someone? Also look at the tools and services your customers use to solve these problems. While Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla of the social media world, it’s useless for you if your customers are doing their socializing somewhere else. (It happens. How many hotel reviews do you find on Facebook versus, say, TripAdvisor?) Also keep in mind that “your customer” varies by objective. For example, if you’re looking to boost PR, substitute “journalists,” “bloggers,” and “social media influencers” for “customers” to ensure you’re asking exactly the right question.
  3. How will you measure success? Now, this relates closely to #1 above as well as to those questions you hear from your boss that we started with. But, make sure you’ve got the right measures in place that align with the business result you’re looking for before you begin. Many initiatives go off the rails because, for lack of other measures, C-level folks start asking for financial measures when the initiative aims to achieve some other end. Don’t get me wrong. You’re usually well-served by including some financial measures as part of your efforts. In fact, I almost always look for a “dollar value” measure along with any alternative measures for each initiative. But, if it’s really about reducing customer service calls, for example (which, in itself has a financial benefit to most companies), make sure you’ve got buy-in across the organization that that’s what you’re going to measure.

The problem with many social media campaigns is they start, for instance, by asking “How can we use Facebook (or whatever the hip, new social space is)?” That lack of focus leads to the sort of backlash against social media you’re starting to see. It also leads to business results that lag your competition.

Instead, by starting with the three questions above, you provide the proper framework for determining which of Facebook or Foursquare, LinkedIn or Last.fm, Twitter or Tumblr will accomplish your goals. Or if a different solution altogether is what you need.

And that will help you answer your boss’s tough questions. Or, even better, provide her the answers before she can ask.

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Tim Peter

About Tim Peter

Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs that have delivered billions of dollars in revenues. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

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