December 12th, our own Gabriella Sannino, Garret French (Citation Labs) and Doc Sheldon (Doc Sheldon’s Clinic) joined the Search Geek Speak radio panel to talk about content development, strategy, social media and other properly geeky topics. As the conversation turned to social media strategies, the idea for this article was formed.
Terry mentioned that “social is where SEO was 20 years ago”. In other words, social media as a business marketing method is still in its infancy. Unless you’re doing entrance/exit surveys or something similar, it’s hard to track the Return on Investment (ROI).
Yet, even though ROI is a guestimate (whether it came from this platform, that network or this contact, for example), what goes into a strong social campaign is far from guesswork. Tried, tested and true examples abound. One particular part of a campaign is discussed here, by Doc Sheldon and Level343: the creation of a social media persona…
The Cambridge Dictionary defines persona as:
"…the particular type of character that a person seems to have, which is often different from their real or private character."
As the term applies to social media personas, that’s still an accurate definition. It’s the image we wish to project to the public.
Businesses are trying to embrace social media more, realizing the importance of engaging with both customers and potential customers. This engagement begins long before a business relationship is ever formed, and continues well afterward.
Some businesses go wrong at the very beginning. Before you actually put anything into public view, there are some questions to be answered first, such as:
- How will we form our social media personas?
- Who decides the strategy?
- Will the CEO write a weekly blog post?
- Will, perhaps, a customer service person be given the task of putting the company’s best foot forward?
Business in the Public Eye
You wouldn’t pick anyone off the street for your T.V. or radio ad, would you? Of course not. Yet, the person set to the task of running a company’s social media account is often just placed there – sort of by default.
“Who are we going to use?”
“I don’t know. Bob’s not very busy right now.”
Social media is public. It’s in-your-face-transparent. As you read the rest of this article, remember this. Take as much care with finding someone to create a social media persona as you would with someone to be your “face” on national T.V.
- They have to be real – you can’t force passion
- They have to be interested in connecting – pretention is noticeable
- They have to genuinely care about how your company is doing and how it’s perceived – lose guns with chips on their shoulders can ruin a company
Who Was That Masked Man?
When building a social persona, there are three big questions to ask. These questions help you fill out the details, so your business doesn’t end up being the professional “masked man” with no personality, use or “follow-able” features:
What is the nature of the business and its relationship with its customers?
It’s often more difficult to establish an effective social persona for say, a nationwide insurance company, than for those with whom the customers are more able to interact directly. Too many levels of contact between the user and the spokesman back in the corporate office, and it can be difficult for the message to be taken to heart. Several large chains, successful in other forms of marketing, still struggle with projecting an image on a one-to-one basis, via social media.
Your Company: Generally speaking, the larger your company is and the broader its geographic spread, the more difficult it is to get your brand message across. It’s like playing a game of “grapevine” – one person tells another person who tells another person… By the time you get to the last person (the one driving the social media persona), there’s no telling what might come out on the networking platform.
Your Take Away: Prepare for this issue ahead of time. Designate a clear, yet short, chain of command from company head to social persona.
Interaction is the key
Tom Bodett, pledging to “keep a light on for you” works great on radio and TV, but a social media persona shouldn’t just speak…. they must interact to be effective.
”Aye, there’s the rub”, as Hamlet said. At the customer service counter, on the phone, even via email, there’s a palpable presence to deal with; on Twitter or Facebook, although the difference is slight, they freeze. At that point, many go into pulpit mode by default, and any hope of interaction is lost in the ensuing monologue. This, of course, is a monumental fail…
Your Company: It’s difficult to grasp the concept of interacting when you can’t “auto” magically detect the presence and attention of your customers.
Your Take Away: Interaction begins with you – your social media persona. Don’t watch numbers: neither the number of followers nor the traffic generated. As interactions begin to happen, watch the quality of those interactions. Quality communication does more for your business than quantity ever did.
Where are the difficulties in creating a persona?
Let’s examine that. Why does it seem easier for Susie Brown or Geraldine Dakota to adopt a professional persona, yet many companies fall flat on their corporate face?
Social Media Psychology 101 – Step into the doctor’s office
Regardless of how “genuine” you believe yourself to be, you use different personas on a daily basis. The way you interact with your boss, employees, spouse or the cop that pulled you over differ – often, they differ a lot. You turn one persona off and another on almost subconsciously. It’s just natural behavior for us.
Your company, on the other hand, is a different animal.
Typically, a large company is represented by an appointed staffer – often a very junior staffer, at that (sorry, Bob). That staffer is given an image to project, but it’s not their image. In fact, for some, the “mask” is so ill-suited for the individual’s actual personality that it falls off.
- That young staffer isn’t invested in the persona; they’re invested in keeping their job.
- They don’t feel the company’s values and policies, they obey them.
- They aren’t the persona, they’re a mouthpiece.
Every thought, every response, every statement they make is forced.
There may be an honest effort to fulfill the desires of whoever stuck them in that position, but it will almost always fall short.
In some smaller companies, the owner may actually perform the social outreach which eliminates much of the problem. But pressing duties, travel, meetings and a general shortage of time will usually end up causing their efforts to become more and more sporadic, and finally cease altogether. Enter, junior staffer, but with even more baggage.
– And that, friends, is very detectable by the customers on the other side of the monitor. The lack of sincerity or conviction is evident, and credibility suffers for that lack. The staffer, being no dummy, can sense that, and frustration just adds to the cloud of mixed signals.
Your Company: Choosing the right individual (as we mentioned in the beginning) to carry through with the social persona is as important as part they’ll be playing.
Your Take Away: The individual you choose to play the part must be comfortable that they fully understand the company’s position and policies on essentially any topic, and confident they won’t be second-guessed on every statement they make. In that mode, it’s possible for them to actually believe they’re representing the company, not just role-playing. That, too, is detectable.
What part is the persona playing?
The part being played may be a fictitious owner or senior manager of the company, or it could be someone ghost-writing on behalf of the real owner or manager. Many companies choose a fictitious “person”, which has one distinct advantage: if the person performing the duty should leave the company for any reason, continuity needn’t suffer.
Your Company: The higher the position supposedly occupied by the persona, the more natural credibility they’re likely to hold. But there’s also a certain amount of skepticism encountered regarding the CEO or owner of a larger company. Many people won’t believe the individual is who they say they are… how many CEOs have/make the time for such activities, after all?
Your Take Away: Plan ahead of time. Rather than set a deadline for having a social media persona in place (“Phoenix by sundown,” he says as he leaves Baltimore…), give yourself and your team the time to focus. Ask questions and brainstorm with your team. If you have a small company, let your employees be involved. After all, one of them may end up being the driving force behind your social brand.
Regardless of the direction you decide to go – DIY or use an employee – it’s a decision that should be taken only after serious thought. Changing horses in the middle of the race is never a good idea.
Much of a viable, successful social media campaign has to do with the initial planning. The person you choose to run the campaign, as well as the part they’re playing, is a critical part of the success. Take the time to look at your options and consider them heavily. Take the time to interview your potentials.
Your social media persona has to be able to realistically pass your brand message on, and is the front line of customer relations. Don’t – as too many companies have done – take this position lightly.