#Dear Ken: HELP! How can I drink from the #socialmedia fire hose without drowning?

social media drowningThink “social media marketing” is just about posting on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn?  Ha!  Think again! Monitoring, analyzing, and participating in the discussions your target audience, existing customers, brand fans, and worthy competitors are having everywhere on the Interwebs can be daunting.

But, it has become a critical requirement for all marketers.  Complicating matters further, research from social marketing software company Awareness Inc. predicts the continued rise of once “niche” social networks.  Get ready for the rise of Slideshare, Quora, Tumblr, Path, Pinterest, Gentlemint, and others!

Thank you for your question.  The opinions expressed here are my own, and come from my experience managing social marketing campaigns, leading social marketing teams, and consulting with social marketing clients.  Your brand is unique.  Use what works for you, and toss the rest!

The good news? For the price of an Internet connection and a mobile device, we can now track – in real-time – the conversations taking place about our brands in any language, anywhere on the Internet.

The bad news? For the price of an Internet connection and a mobile device, anyone – customer, competitor or bored teenager – can instantly talk trash about our brands without our knowledge, consent, or awareness.

Welcome to 2012, where people outside of your company and around the world can command more social AND media influence over your brands than you do yourself as the marketer who created them!  Knowing how to drink from the social media “fire hose” is no longer a “nice skill to have.” It’s a mission-critical requirement for effective marketing, regardless of your product or customer.

Why the fire hose analogy?  Content about us, our brands, our companies, and our competitors gushes out via social media, forcefully and unpredictably.  Thanks to Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, content from any website can instantly go viral, reaching millions of people within minutes.  How can marketers “drink” without drowning?

Here are my seven tips!

1.  Know IF you should be drinking

My marketing formula?  Simple.  It’s one-half creating, and one-half crunching.  Start by asking yourself if this intense, constantly-changing, math- and technology-driven approach to marketing is for you. If it’s not, then firefighting may be a more secure, lower stress career option for you to consider. As a marketing leader, an ever-increasing part of your job will be to identify, assess, and leverage radical new technologies, tools, and practices to get your brand where you need it to be.

2.  Know why you are drinking

Now that you have made the commitment to drink, clearly articulate what it is you want to achieve. Grow revenues?  Identify and chat up potential customers?  Increase brand awareness?  Asking yourself these questions up-front will help you to identify the social analytics and intelligence you need.  Your goal is never to “collect data,” – the prize is for “most profits”, not “most stats!”. Your goal is to have the actionable intelligence you need at your fingertips to make the best possible business decisions.

3.  Know your limits

Less is more.  Any college or university student will tell you that binge drinking leads to lost weekends.  Prioritize.  Focus!  And ignore data that does not matter for your brand. Plan to reevaluate, often.  New social networks pop up daily, so don’t shy away from the “next big thing.”

4.  Never drink alone

Social media monitoring benefits from a “divide-and-conquer” approach.  I acknowledge that one-person marketing teams, including solopreneurs, don’t have this option.  If you’re unable to delegate, then stick to the big three: 1) Google Alerts for your company’s name, principals, and brands (if you’re public, don’t forget an alert for your stock symbol!); 2) Facebook and Twitter alerts (even more important if you do not maintain an active presence on either social network); and 3) Site-specific alerts for every social network on which you have an active presence.

If you do have the luxury of a marketing team, think about dividing up the monitoring tasks by tool and network. Let your team members pick which social networks they want to monitor.  Each social network has its own specific culture, so let your team members monitor the network(s) on which they are digital natives.

5.  Know when to say when

By definition, the social media fire hose never runs dry, but your money, people, and time do.  Know your limits, and don’t cross the line.  The simple rule?  Stop drinking when you have the information you need. After all, you don’t keep looking for your car keys once you have found them, so why continue to drink from the hose once you have what you need? This is why up-front planning is worth the investment.  If you don’t identify the knowledge you need, you will never know when you have it.

6.  Drink from the right glasses

Be obsessive in seeking out and testing new tools to determine your very own  “Frankensteined” mix – using the parts and pieces from a large variety of different tools – that works best for you.  I have written in earlier columns that most marketers now rely on an ever-changing portfolio of free, freemium, and for-pay social media tools to meet their needs.  Sadly, there is no one “perfect” social media monitoring tool (sorry radian6!), not even for marketers who have generous budgets.  Whether you prefer it “shaken” or  “stirred”, it is this proprietary mix of social media monitoring, analysis, and engagement tools which will be the enabler of your successful marketing strategy.

7.  Embrace your fellow drinkers

Continually ask other marketers (and social media geeks) what works for them, and why.  Drink in social media posts and follow Mashable and TweetSmarter.  Subscribe to Social Brief on Social Media.  Read #DearKen and other social marketing experts’ columns.  We are all learning how to thrive in a changed economy with reduced resources.  Learn what works for others and share what works (and doesn’t!) for you.

Speaking of sharing, please let us know the approaches and tools that work best for you!  How do YOU drink from the fire hose of social media without drowning? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Editor’s note: Do you have a question about social marketing technologies, tools, and best practices? Tweet your question with the hashtag “#DearKen”.  All tweets will be acknowledged, and considered as being submitted for publication.

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