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3 course-corrections for your wayward social media program

About once a month I get a call from company desperately seeking a content or social media program turnaround. Sometimes, metrics are ailing. Follower-building is flat, no one is clicking or sharing, comments are nearly nonexistent and engagement? Forget about it. Other times, the issue is more existential in nature: someone in a C-Suite or board chair has issued an ultimatim: if this program is not helping the company grow, we either need to fix it or stop spending on it. Stat.

Here’s the approach I usually take: I use my yoga teacher voice to bring some calm to the room, then my strategist voice to bring in some well-founded hope, too. As I laid out the turnaround plan for a recent Social Media SOS, I was reminded of a vintage U.S. Forest Service flyer from 1946 which was re-discovered last year in a Colorado cabin, “What to do When Lost in the Woods.” (See the original in full, here.)

Whether your social media program has gotten a little off-course or is completely lost,  here are a handful of best practices for course-correcting wayward digital, content and interactive marketing efforts, filtered through the wisdom of the U.S. Forest Service:

1) “A clear head will find itself.” “Stop, sit down and try to figure out where you are. Use your head, not your legs,” the find-your-way-in-the-forest flyer reads. Smarts are also more important than action when it comes to righting what’s off-kilter about your social media and content programming.

Resist the urge to fix a broken program by adding more posts, more community managers, more contests, more campaigns or more content as your first step. The right first step is to double-down on insight and strategy, asking your whole team these questions to cultivate clarity before springing into action.

Strategy:

  • What are the program’s objectives? What should they be?
  • What are the top-line business objectives (think: traffic, downloads, net promotion (word of mouth), existing user engagement, etc) your CEO, CMO and board members expect the content or social media program to solve?
  • What are your brand’s or company’s promises and messages?

Insights:

  • What’s the problem or pain point that got the program diagnosed as in trouble?
  • What data can you tap into about your current followers, customers and target audiences in terms of their activity (or lack thereof) on your owned content and social media channels?
  • What data exists or can be gathered regarding their content consumption patterns and cravings, outside of your channels?
  • What aspirations and emotions do your brand stand for or want to trigger in its target audiences?

2) “Don’t wander about. Travel only downhill.” Once you’ve cleared your head, don’t just take any old action. Follow the Forest Service’s advice and take persistent, targeted action in the direction of your newly-clear objectives. To do this, you must first know (or find someone who does) which digital, content and social media levers have the power to move the needle on your individual target metrics and to affect your strategic objectives.

This takes nuanced, strategic and often senior-level insight. For example, a series of social media challenges or missions can cement core messaging about your brand’s meaning in the minds of your target audiences, helping grow both new followers and engagement among those you already have. Branded data programs, on the other hand, are perfect for building awareness of a new brand or product. E-mail newsletters have proven efficacy at driving loyalty, return visits and repeat purchases.

3)  “If injured, choose a clear spot on a promontory and make a signal smoke.” Keeping your online content trapped within the walled gardens of your owned social media and content channels is self-sabotage to the social media Holy Grails of community growth, repeat visits and engagement. I call this ‘Silo Syndrome.’ But there’s a cure.

If you’re struggling to build new followers or get existing users to come back and interact on your site, blog or social media channels, double-down on distributing that content to the high-traffic third party sites your target users are already visiting on a daily basis. The single-most efficient, effective strategic approach for making this happen is to integrate some or all of your social media campaigns with your company’s content marketing and PR initiatives.

In well-executed, integrated programs and campaigns, every social media initiative has a set of companion blog posts, data points and tips or other lists that your PR team can pitch and place on target sites – along with some high-value or provocative reason for readers to visit your social channels: social media smoke signals, so to speak. This lures the right audience members back to you. And if you continue to feed them valuable content at a consistent cadence, you boost the chances your social channels will stick on their short list of go-to sites.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is the Founder and CEO of RETHINK Multimedia, an integrated digital marketing and communications consultancy. RETHINK specializes in driving business objectives with Transformational Consumer® insights, data, spokesforce, editorial and Lean Content programs. Tara has developed and executed content strategies for brands including HGTV, Trulia.com, Aol. and Time, as well as VC funds and tech startups like ModCloth, Lookout Mobile Security and Comcast Ventures.

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