25 November 2009 24 comments

Six (scientific!) steps to social media success

25 November 2009 · 24 comments

in Uncategorized

Einstein sticks out his tongue

Advertising is dead!
PR is dead!
Marketing is dead!
Control is dead!

Um…Ever feel like you’re surrounded by irrational exuberance for social media?

I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as exuberant as the next girl (I mean, have you met me?), but irrational I’m not. While social media has been plenty long on irrational exuberance, it’s been maddeningly short on rational evidence.

We’ve got plenty of social media true believers, but not yet a lot of truths.

But how can you know? How can you separate truth from belief? How can you just…take a breath and look at the situation, rationally, and figure out how best to use social media in your organization—if at all?

This isn’t rocket science, is it?

No, it’s not. But we can borrow from rocket science (in the form of the Scientific Method) to decide how best to use and implement social media in our organizations. We can apply a rational—even scientific—approach to figuring out what all this (previously) irrational exuberance is all about.

The Scientific Method for Social Media™
Scientists answer questions by applying the Scientific Method, a series of steps designed to produce rational evidence that reveals whether a proposed answer to a particular question—a hypothesis—is, in fact, true. They define questions to answer (goals), observe and investigate current states (research, to provide baselines for measurement), hypothesize about the effect of certain actions on current states (set strategies for using specific tactics to achieve desired results), experiment (plan and execute), and analyze their results (measurement! hooray!) to determine whether or not their efforts worked.

Sounds kind of like good business practice, doesn’t  it? I think we need to get us some of that.

So grab your lab book, and let’s get started.

STEP 0: Define the question
Defining the question (i.e., your goal) provides a framework on which to build everything else you do. That’s why it’s “Step Zero”: you have to start there.

The question can be broad (“How can we best use social media in our business?”) or granular (“Is podcasting an effective way for us to generate prospects?), but it likely already exists in your head (“What is all of this stuff about, anyway?”).

If you don’t know what question you’re trying to answer, please stop here and hang out for a while until you figure out what it is. I’ll wait.

Here’s why: with no goal, you have no direction, and that’s deadly…in both business and social media. (Don’t know what the difference is between goals, strategies and tactics? Sue Spaight does.)

STEP 1: Observe
While you may hear this called “listening,” it’s really old-fashioned research. Before we undertake any action in business, we need to understand the environment to which our question, our goal, applies. Call it a SWOT analysis, call it an audit. Call it whatever you want. The purpose is to understand the landscape.

The same is true in social media. You need to listen to if and what your current and potential customers and competitors are saying, and (please don’t give short shrift to this:) watch where and how they interact with various social media tools. Both require ongoing monitoring.

So yes, grow bigger ears. But grow bigger eyes, too.

Step 2: Investigate
Once we understand the landscape, we need to investigate the parameters we have to work with. For social media, that means clearly defining and documenting the scope you’re working with; which audience(s) you’re addressing; what contenttools, and resources you have available; what outcomes you want; and—most importantly, whatmetrics we’ll use to measure our success.

This is also known as the Big Fat Reality Check. If any of the above doesn’t make sense in context with one another (you have a vast scope but no resources, lofty outcomes but no metrics, etc.), it’s time to readjust. Here are some questions to think about:

  • Scope. Your observations likely will provide clarity about where it makes sense to get started. So, what’s that scope? Does your question (your goal) relate to your whole organization? A department? A specific initiative or cause? An individual?
  • Audiences. For that scope, what audience(s) make the most sense? Where are they? What tools are they using? What are they saying about you? How do they currently perceive you?
  • Content. For your defined scope and audience, what are the best types of content? On what topics? What content already exists? What do you need to generate? How will you do that?
  • Tools and resources. For your scope, audiences, and defined content, which tools and tactics make the most sense? What else do you need to use them effectively? People? Time? Money? How will you get what you need?Will your culture support it?
  • Outcomes. What do you want to have happen? The classic marketing funnel can be useful here: are you trying to achieve awareness? comprehension? participation? loyalty? support? (And no, “all of the above” isn’t an option!) Defining your desired outcomes up front materially changes what the rest of your social media interactions look like.
  • Measurement. What does your success look like? How will you measure it? And how will you tie those measures to concrete business results?

Step 3: Hypothesize
A hypothesis proposes an answer to a question. In this case, your hypothesis is the specific social media strategy you’re testing and the measurable results you expect it produce.

Thankfully, after the work of observation and investigation, this one’s easy.

For [SCOPE], the [CONTENT] from [SOURCES] used across [TOOLS] will produce [MEASURED] [OUTCOMES] with [AUDIENCES].

You need all the detail, of course (that’s what all that research and investigation is for), but it’s handy to have a one-sentence answer to give all the people who’ll ask, “What the hell are you doing?”

And you may occasionally need to remind yourself.

Step 4: Experiment
This step has two phases: design and execution. In design, you’re outlining the steps you intend to take, when, and how—and at what point you’ll declare the experiment over so you’ll know when to stop and assess your results.

Wait a minute! That sounds like a…a plan! (Yep, it is.)

So go do it. (That’s execution.) Implement the steps you’ve outlined and document what happened, as in any proper experiment. If you didn’t end up taking a planned step, why not? If you took a step sooner or later than intended, when did the step actually happen? Why then? What else happened that could affect your results (a media outlet referenced an article on your blog, for instance)?

This is all about logging actions, impressions, and results. So check regularly on your measurement data points and document those, too. Remember: you’re gathering (rational) evidence.

Step 5: Analyze
Now look at all that evidence and figure out if your hypothesis—your proposed answer to your Step Zero question, your strategy—was the right one to achieve your goal or not.

In other words, how did you do?

Look at your results together with the steps you took and those “other things that happened.” In other words, tie your monitoring to your measurement. What steps moved the needle? Which ones didn’t? Which results are inconclusive?

This is important: monitoring does not equal measurement. I’d say that again, but Olivier Blanchard says it better.

Step 6: Retest
Ultimately the results either confirm your hypothesis or they don’t. If you’ve confirmed your hypothesis (your strategy worked), congratulations!

Now go define a new goal.

If your strategy didn’t work (either because the results weren’t there or you can’t clearly connect the results to your efforts), look to your analysis to find where you need to explore further, or define parameters better. Then, revise your strategy, plan and implement new tactics, and analyze again.

You’re trying to figure out what actually works, and that might take some time.

Becoming a social media scientist
All scientific inquiry starts with questions: why? how? what? Since your head is likely already filled with questions about social media and what it means for your business, you’re already well on your way to becoming a social media scientist…and you already know how to do the rest of it.

Define your goal. Research. Set strategies. Plan. Execute. Measure.

So what’s changed? Not much. Just some of the tools, and in some cases, the names we give them. The basic rules of communication—and of solid business strategy—are the same.

New tools, old rules.

And it’s not rocket science.

My thanks go to Jeremy Meyers, who helped me redefine my hypothesis.
Note: this post originally appeared on Round the Square.

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