Putting the “Social” Back Into Social Media Strategy

The more I play with social media and explore ways that we can leverage the web to advance our business, the more I understand that simplicity is the key – and that many of the best ways to connect are just new takes on tried and true ideas.

Last week, I met with Rob Cassidy, Editor-in-Chief of Building Design + Construction. We discussed quite a few things relating to online strategy, but he shared one story that jumped out at me as a phenomenal way for our brands to build real engagement and conversations on their websites.

Here’s the story:

From 1979 to 1984, Rob worked for Medical Economics magazine. After an article was written, but before it was published, their editorial team did the following:

  • Sent out a copy of the article to everyone interviewed for its content.
  • Sent out a copy of the article to a list of "experts" – academics, industry experts, consultants, editorial board members, etc.
  • Asked them each to review the article, and to write a short response to it – nothing fawning, more a reaction to the ideas in the article.
  • These responses would be used to fully vet the article, included as "Letters" for the magazine, used as ancillary material in within the article itself, or used as boxes, sidebars, or quotes.

What is most striking is how formal the process was.

In that spirit, I wanted to extend this idea to build meaningful conversations on your website, and engage your industries even further:

  • Identify Thought Leaders in Your Industry
    This may include bloggers, other journalists, leading experts, members of industry organizations, executives, active commenters on your websites, those in your industry who Twitter, LinkedIn power users, or just regular folks who happen to be active in online social media or offline industry networks.

    Some of these folks may have yet to made the leap into social media. If you can be a catalyst for bringing them online, you will have laid the groundwork for a powerful online relationship. Those who are already active in the online world can have a significant affect on driving traffic to you.

    Together, these are the folks who you respect and those who are building online communities within your industry. The goal is not to spam these people, but rather, find ways to help them.

  • Create a "Vet and Promote" List for Each Major Article
    In addition to the list of folks above, create a list of people who would be interested in particular features you are working on.

    Some of these names will come easily – the people who were sources for the article, or are known experts on the topic. Ideally, this isn’t a chore, just a bulleted list that grows as the article does. A single 10 minute brainstorming session with your editorial team will likely produce a strong list for you feature articles.

  • Surprise Them With Kindness
    Now the fun begins. Once the article is finished, and prior to publication, get feedback from these people.

    Some of the experts should receive a draft of the article, along with a friendly email. For others, perhaps you can’t share the full text, but you want to make them aware of the topic and ask for their take on it. At the very least, you can let them know when it comes out and that you would love their reaction.

    For the more formal feedback – the people who receive the actual article in advance of publication, ask for the to review it and give brief feedback. Set specific parameters on word count and deadline. Perhaps you will come up with a few questions you want answered.

    Tell them that they are welcome to be critical and point out things that were missed in the article. Be sure to explain the benefit to them: how you will likely use this information, how their standing as an expert will be promoted, and how much you appreciate their involvement.

    Keep it light, keep it fun. This is supposed to bring you and your industry together, not add another layer of bureaucracy or work.

  • Add "Community" to Your Content
    Now its time to erase that line between us and them. When relevant, add the feedback you receive to the articles – use it as sidebars or quotes – begin working on "feedback" articles that speak to the reaction you have heard. Use this feedback to solicit even more feedback from others.

    This truly makes your readers a part of your brand – certainly much more so than simply "friending" them on Facebook. This is how fans are made, and how you can find ways to profoundly influence their lives.

    Hopefully, this will extend the reach of your content, elicit comments on your website, and garner inbound links.

    For those who responded with feedback to the article, let them know when it is posted online, and directly ask them to add a comment to it. If you create a follow up article, let them know. Look for opportunities to help these people, and be mindful to find small ways to direct them towards the community on your website.

  • Watch Your Content Grow
    All this feedback can lead to follow up articles, blog entries, and perhaps other products such as webcasts. Turn a single yearly feature into something updated consistently throughout the year, building stronger recognition and involvement in the overall value of the feature.

    If someone engages with your brand, leaves a comment, or sends a letter and there is no follow up from your brand, it is like a tree falling in a lonely forest. Does it make a sound? Who knows.

    Let your readers know that you are listening, and find ways to get them to talk to each other.

  • But What About "Social Media?"
    You know, stuff like StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Digg and the like? Where does this work into everything discussed above?

    The key is to not forget that "social" is the most important half of the "social media" equation. These are real relationships with the goal of helping each other – not spamming and marketing to each other.

    Many people pin their hopes on a "if you build it, they will come" social media strategy. This won’t happen. A Digg strategy is less about adding a Digg button, and more about building relationships. Social media strategy has to start with people.

All of the above is just one way you can arrange this. Likely, you have been doing some elements of this for years. In any case, the goals remain the same:

  • Stronger editorial
  • Engage your industry and serve their needs

Both Building Design + Construction and Library Journal are doing this for their February cover stories. In BD+C’s case, they are already receiving amazing feedback that is making the feature even stronger. I would love to hear about similar efforts from your experience.

Thanks so much to Rob Cassidy for the inspired ideas!

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