I’m going to start off this month’s column by talking to you about baking – not because I don’t want to talk to you about training, but because I think all becomes clear when you compare work to life.

I’m taking you into the kitchen, where you’re baking gorgeous cupcakes and they’re all neat and tidy in their little individual cases. You’ve spent ages lovingly preparing the mixture, making it a perfect blend of ingredients, neatly divided up the mix and then popped them in the oven. The only job the oven has to do is to cook them, and keep them as perfect as they were when you put them in. Why is that so hard? Why then do they end up coming out all random shapes, having spilled over the sides, and by the end of it there is in fact nothing “neat” about them?

I know that there’s a certain charm about individuality, but I like things to end up like I have pictured them. The oven takes over and hijacked my cupcakes into a world of their own. This is why I hate baking.

In business this scares me. The fact that I can start a certain activity, but not be sure what the end result might be, is something that makes me really nervous. As a business owner and someone working with a wide range of colleagues and franchisees, obviously I’ve had to learn to relinquish a certain amount of control – trust me this hasn’t been easy. However I still feel that on the whole we have a plan, we have a strategy and we have a focus that everyone is united on. We know what we want to communicate and have a way of controlling how this information is distilled out to customers.

Then comes along the curveball of social media and everything changes.

As a business owner I appreciate that we need to join in. We need a voice where people are already talking to each other. We need to join in the conversations. But the fear is that we create a recipe of information we want to put out there, we have expectations of what we want the end result to be, but in the middle it goes into the “social media oven” and anything could be spat back out the other end! In this case the oven is the huge pool of people who are active online, who take content you post, and make it their own. They share it, then publically comment on it, they have opinions that they are more than happy to voice.

This is very different from traditional marketing. It’s very different to the way we’re used to conversing with customers and potential customers. It’s very different in terms of what could go wrong. Hence, I’m nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting feedback from our customers, and we have thousands of amazing testimonials to share, but it’s the lack of control that makes me wary.

But anyway, onwards and upwards, being a control freak gets you nowhere! So, as with any new challenge I’ve found that the way to embrace social media is with a good old-fashioned plan. Once you understand the role of it as a communications tool it doesn’t seem so scary. Once you understand the power of it as a marketing channel it becomes exciting. Once you appreciate the value of it from a business development perspective it’s insightful.

It’s all about the strategy
If you’ve been keen to integrate social media into the business you work for, and can see opportunities screaming out I suggest taking a strategic approach is the best way to get buy-in across the company.

Alternatively if you’re the one who’s nervous about tapping into it as a channel, but your boss is constantly muttering things like “we should tweet that” having a strategy and policy established as a guide will make you feel more confident about getting stuck in.

It’s the same as anything. Once you take stock, take a step back and start to understand the job something has to do, it all becomes clearer. The added complication of social media is understanding how others also behave, but you’ve got to be on these platforms to be able to appreciate this.

So here’s how to delve into the world of social media without getting your fingers burnt…

Establishing a Social Media Strategy
Pitman Training has just launched a new Social Media Strategy for Business Course. Through online bite-sized segments you work through practical tasks, supported by a workbook. Here are a few of the elements you’d cover:-

1 Entering a new world – trying out something new
It starts by asking the very broad question of “what is social media?” then looks at any worries you may have and why, as well as looking at the opportunities that lay before you. Effect of the social media it’s at this point some of the fear will start to seep away as you analyze your reasons for using social media and start to consider how a strategic approach could help you connect better with your audiences… the first trickles of excitement will be evident, I guarantee it!

2 Understanding the platforms – what are your tools?
One of the challenges when starting out is understanding what platforms to use. You don’t need to go in all guns blazing but it’s useful to be aware of what’s out there. The course looks at over 15 tools that are widely used in social media marketing and introduces them to you. This includes LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Podcasts, videos, forums, social media bookmarking, blogs and email newsletters as well as some of the monitoring tools such as Hootsuite. Once you feel more familiar with these, everything becomes a bit less scary.

3 Planning your content – what are your ingredients?
It’s all very well saying you’ll tweet twice a week and post updates to LinkedIn but what are you going to write? Where is this content going to come from? Are you going to have to sit staring at the screen for hours on end awaiting inspiration? No. There is another way. Planning content and identifying where you a) already have interesting info b) can get access to relevant industry information takes a lot of the pressure away.

4 Managing risk – don’t get burnt
One of the most frightening elements of social media is the fear of what happens if things go wrong. What happens if a member of staff posts something inappropriate, what if a customer complains to the world, what if a competitor is negative about our brand. By identifying the things that could go wrong, you can pre-plan for these eventualities.

Social Media policies help provide clear guidelines of what is acceptable and makes it easier for all involved to understand the dos and don’ts. Whilst there is standard “etiquette” of how to deal with things, these policies really need to be constructed with your specific business in mind.

Risk and crisis management puts in place some suggested, pre-planned responses to certain situations and offers confidence that if something negative was to happen you could take steps to deal with it.

Measuring success – what comes out of the oven?
Once you’ve started to get involved in social media even the smallest activity can make a big difference, so take note of this and shout about it. Record how many more new people you are communicating with via new Twitter followers or Facebook likes. Measure how far and wide your message has gone as a result of people sharing your posts. Then use this information to feed back to the business the power of social media. Prove to yourself and others that it works.

It may well be the case that you put something out there on social media expecting a certain reaction, and something entirely different comes back out, but I guess that’s half the fun. I’ve realised that not getting exactly what you expect is not the end of the world – it’s just a step into a new one.

Pitman Training has just launched Social Media Strategy for Business as a short online course. For more information see www.pitman-training.com.”

Claire Lister is the former Owner of Pitman Training Group (www.pitman-training.com). Pitman is a market leader in the PA and secretarial training industry, delivering exceptional results for tens of thousands of students each year. Pitman also provide ... (Read More)

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