The Marketing Strategist:

The Five Pillars for Integrating Social Media into the Marketing Strategy

August 11, 2011

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There is no such thing as a social media strategy and ROI. There is only marketing strategy and marketing ROI. Yes, social media channels have value on their own, but the true value comes when social media are used to complement other marketing channels. In fact, ITSMA research shows that integrating social media into the overall marketing mix is the number one priority for social media marketing. So how do we do this? In the course of ITSMA’s research, we’ve seen five key foundational pillars emerge in the ways that companies are integrating social media into their larger marketing strategies. Let’s talk about each of them:
  • Create an idea culture. Nearly all marketers tell us that getting subject matter experts to commit and remain committed to social media is by far their number one roadblock to success. Employees see blogging as a life sentence with no parole. Worse, the personal and organizational benefits are unclear. Social media participation should not be an end unto itself. There must be a larger goal—and payback. For years, some companies, particularly the strategy consulting firms, have made idea and intellectual property (IP) creation part of annual goals for employees. Want to become a partner? Get published. When subject matter experts have an idea expectation as part of their goals, commitment is better because the personal and organizational motivations become higher. Create some new IP, get recognition internally and with customers, and make more money. Sounds better than a life sentence.
  • Use business themes to force an outside-in perspective. Business themes are clear, succinct expressions of issues that are relevant to customers and prospects and link back to a company’s strategy. The best business themes are outwardly focused on clients’ business needs but also have subtle links to the company’s offerings, as with IBM’s Smarter Planet. The boon to social media engagement is that the themes can give inspiration to internal thought leaders and content creators who are looking for ways to line up their ideas with the larger goals of the company.
  • Back it up with research. With research, especially high-caliber research, ideas become fact based, and therefore much more credible. Research has particularly long mileage in social media. People are hungry for facts and stats capable of cutting through the haze of uninformed opinion that makes up much of the content in social media. Social media also provide good avenues for performing research. In our social media survey, 78% of marketers reported using social media in the thought leadership development process. Why are social media so well suited for this type of research? Because social media are informal and episodic by their very nature. The phrase “to be continued” is in the DNA of blogs and tweets. Customers have fewer expectations about the rigor of thinking in a blog post than, say, a white paper. For subject matter experts who have struggled to create white papers or detailed conference presentations, social media can be the supply chain for honing content and testing points of view.
  • Create an idea development and dissemination engine. You can’t be successful with social media unless you have deep, relevant content to link to. And creating that deep, relevant content requires having processes for both idea development and content dissemination. The processes have to be formalized. Marketing traditionally has been focused more on the dissemination of thought leadership but must be just as vigilant when it comes to idea development.
  • Build centers of expertise (thought leadership, social media). The demand for specialized skills—particularly content creation and community management—is increasing. A shared services or center of excellence model for thought leadership development and social media works well to concentrate resources, formalize processes, create governance, provide professional development and support, and develop a talent sourcing plan. The idea isn’t to keep the skills exclusively in one place but to provide the services, support, training, and governance that the organization needs.
To learn more about the five pillars, and to hear a case study on integrating social media and thought leadership at IT services providers Cognizant and Fujitsu, listen to the ITSMA Online Briefing Fulfilling the Promise of Integrated Marketing with Social Media.

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