How to Get Started Building a Digital Media Strategy

Too many companies take a reactionary approach to social media, pouring resources into the 'next big thing' that's already happened. It's better to develop a comprehensive digital media strategy that targets the right social platforms, customers and disruptions and addresses the necessity of remaining flexible and responding to criticism.

It's a different world out there. In 2013, digital media—social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, plus other digital avenues such as YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and others—will become increasingly important to brand awareness.

Frankly, too many companies are entirely reactive when it comes to these platforms. There is no comprehensive strategy, no cohesive plan to interactions across all aspects of digital media.

Let your organization be different. Start the New Year right by establishing a new digital media strategy or updating an existing one. Here are several key points to consider as you build your plans.

Target Digital Media Efforts in the Right Places

What's most important about a digital media strategy is knowing where your customers are. It does your business no good whatsoever to have a presence in a place, a network or a community where your customers are not looking. Worse, it could indeed be detrimental—to those folks who aren't your customers but who see your unresearched, unstrategized presence in these incorrect places and networks, your brand seems out of touch and dense.

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It is paramount, then, to find out what sites, forums and social networks your customers frequent. When examining those places, ask yourself and your digital media team the following questions:

  • Do people look for engagement from your company on those places or forums, or are they on those sites primarily to interact with other users?
  • How do your customers behave on those sites? Have they come for product support, to seek out advice or ideas, or primarily to rate your product and recommend it—or complain to others about it?
  • Are there contributors or customers who are frequenting the community? Do some of the same names come up in searches and in examination of site activities?

Understand the Power of Customer Influence, Referrals

The real power of digital media takes the reach and the influence that traditional media has had and distributes it among your customers, their friends, your prospects, their families and even complete strangers. This power to build awareness, to hold conversations and to shine light on companies and products magnifies and multiples with each passing interaction.

This is really what "going viral" means: Something is passed from person to person, building a popularity "snowball" that reaches proportions that in the past only the most costly, sophisticated traditional media campaign could have hoped to achieve. This distributed influence is powerful. In the world of digital media, it can turn with you—or against you—almost in the blink of an eye. Every move your company makes and every headline your organization generates can trigger a reaction.

For teams without a plan to manage this reaction, it can be simply overwhelming. What's worse is that a lack of engagement with that reaction can develop into another reaction itself, on the order of "Why is ABC Corporation not listening to its customers?"

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To guard against this phenomenon, develop an engagement plan with your digital media team that includes factors such as the following:

  • The tone of your interactions with customers and visitors, whether it's short, conversational, casual or more formal
  • The level of engagement with your visitors, including whether you are having a conversation or sharing their content or simply pointing them to existing resources such as customer service and technical support
  • The frequency with which you will post to these digital media locations
  • What types of posts you will make--be they company news, updates, product suggestions, responses to customer service and support inquiries or others
  • How you will approach negative posts and manage the negative reactions that will surface

Digital Media Strategy Should Be Innovative, Disruptive

In this day and age, falling in line with another brand's digital media strategy is only half the battle. To be seen as a real contender—a brand, company or product on the cutting edge—you have to be disruptive. Turn customs on their heads. Create powerful energies that run against what is seen as normal. Be especially eager to embrace changes, and even powerful disruptions, if they are implemented with a view toward enhancing or improving the customer experience.

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At the same time, being disruptive involves taking risks. Traditionally, corporations have run their communications through public relations and advertising departments. This method has worked well for a while in controlling messaging and ensuring less potentially offensive or tone-deaf communications are released. With social media, however, things are less buttoned-down, which creates more room for error.

It's important to be careful that the overall reality of current events, the environment and the "mood climate" are all taken into account when considering new, untested plans and strategies. For example, it's advisable not to run promotions when natural disasters strike, and sometimes it's unreasonable to continue to post to social media when tragic events like the Sandy Hook massacre happen.

Take care to consider whats happening in the world at the moment. Otherwise your brand could have a reaction disaster on its hands.

Know What Your Social Business Strategy Should Avoid

While building a list of things to do in digital media is important, there are also a couple of points to avoid. Here are two very big don'ts to add to your list.

First, don't be cheap. Social and digital platforms, especially consumer services that are free to join, often evoke thoughts in executives such as "Free advertising!" or "This shouldn't cost much." This is the complete wrong way to approach digital media. While you won't have a budget in the millions like you did with traditional television and radio advertising campaigns, you do have the cost of being unique, attentive and interactive. This means you'll need a staff, a marketing budget and tools such as analytics software to adequately service digital media properties.

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The primary goal should be to be effective, not just to serve your customers in social media at the least possible cost to the exclusion of quality. A good balance point to target: As good as it can be while spending the money most efficiently.

Second, don't force it. The allure of being seen as cutting edge, "with it" and hip to the social and digital media scene can be very strong—and it can often result in strategies and concepts aimed at nothing more than achieving that one viral video or that hugely popular contest. While you can be innovative and disruptive, you must try to avoid doing things only for their potential social media value.

Some advertising concepts, for example, can't really be made social without really stretching the idea. Some contests and promotions that try to generate and leverage consumer interest and interactions in digital media simply go too far.

Other concepts and campaigns are not necessarily forced, but they don't result in any significant achievement. The payback from those strategies is limited. The bottom line: Don't force social, and don't force digital. Organically grow in these areas and use strategies designed with social in mind but not exclusively at the forefront of the plan.

With time and consideration, you can build a digital media strategy for your business that pays dividends and is more than just a constant reaction to the latest social media trend.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte. He's also an editor with Apress Media LLC. Reach him via email and on Twitter. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.

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