How to turn your social media strategy into results

Here are six factors that are essential to make your online efforts meaningful. Hint: Successful implementation flows from the top.

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After working as a marketing consultant for more than a decade, I know how exhilarating it is when a client really executes well on a strategy.

Unfortunately, I too often see deeply embedded cultural baggage weighing down a company’s full potential to succeed. Here are the common elements that make the difference between a strategy document gathering dust on a shelf or becoming a dynamic business driver:

1. Active executive sponsorship

I was recently brought in to do a social media strategy workshop with a big health care company. The president of the company greeted me and said: “I know we need to do this. We are counting on you to lead us in the right direction.” Not only did she verbally demonstrate support, she was actively engaged in the entire meeting and led the part of the program determining next steps. This active leadership is critical to organizational change.

There is no such thing as grass-roots cultural change. The person at the top must “get it” and make people accountable for the change. Measurable expectations for change must be driven into performance objectives. Here is the most important thing a leader can do to keep the change going week to week: Ask questions about it in staff meetings.

2. Immersive learning

“Can you just do this for us?”

When I hear that question, I know my client is not ready to commit to the organizational change needed to make a social media strategy work.

The big difference between a company that’s “checking the box” and one that is really transforming is that people are rolling up their sleeves and learning by doing. They’re not outsourcing tweets and blog posts. They’re making “content” and customer engagement central to the company’s marketing mission and adjusting job requirements accordingly.

This is excruciatingly difficult. For 100 years, we have been conditioned to pay an advertising agency to handle our customer media and then sit back and wait for something to happen. Certainly advertising is still an important part of the marketing formula, but a content strategy must be organically linked between employees and customers for it to “take” in the company culture.

3. Patience and resources

Starting a social media strategy from scratch is like putting a soccer team together while the game is under way—you still have a business to run. Certain players will rise or fall; certain strategies will work or be abandoned as we adjust to the competition and the reaction from the market.

To persevere in this rather chaotic transition, a team should be provided the appropriate amount of resources and enough patience to allow them to jell and perform. The change is not sustainable if it is simply an “add on” to an already full plate. You wouldn’t set off on a cross-country trip in a broken-down car running out of gas. The first few miles might be fine, but for the long term you need to have a vehicle and the fuel to help you get to your goal.

4. Focus

Chasing the shiny red ball is a strategy killer. If you have done the upfront research and planning, you should be confident in following a plan long enough to give it a chance to make an impact. Shifting priorities without following through on a plan will waste time and money faster than anything else.

5. Creative application

A few years ago, I might not have made this such a priority. Back then, it was probably novel enough just being on the social web. But today, everyone has a blog. Everyone has a Facebook page. Are you devoting creative resources to these efforts to really stand out and deliver the goods for your customers? That is becoming increasingly difficult, isn’t it?

6. Measurement aligned with goals

Repeat after me: “I will measure my marketing efforts.” In today’s data-filled world, there is no reason not to measure. It’s just this simple: How do you know your strategy is working if you don’t measure? Don’t get caught up in the endless ROI debate. Pick meaningful key performance indicators that help move the needle for your business objectives.

Well that’s my take on what it takes to make a social media strategy work. What’s your view? Which one of these is the most important to you?

Mark Schaefer is the author of “Return On Influence” and blogs at grow, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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