social media trainIt's not news to most of us that social media is the train hundreds of thousands want to get on.  It's fast, it's fun and it is going places.

Many are hopping on, spending precious dollars, time and resources on learning new tools, creating Facebook fan pages, Twitter backgrounds, training customer service to leverage for increased service enhancements. Teams are being reorganized, processed morphed, new interns hired, debates on hiring an internal or external agency and the list goes on.

No doubt that it is easy to hop on the train.  The seats are free, the food tastes good. Response is immediate so many feel a false sense of early return on investment (ROI). Plus, it's fun.  The economy stinks and social media can simply make ya' feel good.  A retweet, a repost, diggs and stumbles.  After being laid off, fired or just down in your current job the social media love feels gooood!

However, what many are disregarding is where their train is going? What is your destination? What will be at the other side? How do you know when you get there? What do you do when you get off? What happens if the train gets stuck? What if the seats get filled up and someone takes yours while you make a trip to the ladies or mens room?

Before you know it your market niche has no empty seats.  You are left with half a seat.  Now what? You aren't getting the “social media love” you once did.  Your return on investment…hmmm… you don't know as you didn't think about that. You didn't have a plan, metrics, an understanding of your market, competitors. You don't even know what makes you better?

Worst part is you find yourself with a seat that was never really free to begin with.  Now that you look back six months your “free seat” actually cost you some real dollars. Dollars you can not justify because you had no plans, no goals, or metrics for success! OUCH!

So now, the question… what do you do? Get off the train? Throw in the towel? Fire the new social media guy you just hired and blame it on him? Or pick up the pieces and realize it's time to get your social media integrated and aligned with your business? YES, right answer!

11 Tips to Maximize Your Social Train Ride & Prepare for the Next Leg

1.  Don't freak out. Don't pull the plug and call it quits. You have invested precious dollars.  With a little effort you can leverage your investment to date to learn, measure and improve.

2. Document Objectives. Pretend you are back at day one, before you got on the social train.  Document what your objectives should have been and are. Who are your key target audiences?  Do you want to increase brand awareness? Generate leads? Increase revenue? Increase customer satisfaction? Decrease prospect to close time?  Build community? Grow into new markets? Increase customer intimacy? Grow customer list? All of the above?

3. Organize Your Social Cabin. Make a list of all of your social media profiles, log-ins, monthly paid subscriptions to tools and services.  Make a list of the projects you've completed, tasks accomplished, campaigns you've executed and integrated with your business and other marketing activities.  Basically build a resource bible for what, when and how you did what you did.

4. Search for Data. The key is to focus in on your objectives and dig for the data that will best align to the key priority metrics you identified. Coming up with real metrics and results may sound impossible if you didn't do your initial planning up front? However, it's not impossible to get a base level of metrics.
-There are many tools for measuring and listening.  Do a quick Google search and you'll find many blog posts on the topic.
-At minimum there are basic metrics and reports available for most popular social media platforms.  YouTube provides demographics and general reports. Facebook fan pages provide insight reports and data.
-You can use tools like TwitterCounter to document your twitter following growth over time, projected future growth.
-TweetReach provides real-time analysis of your reach, who your top Twitter followers are etc.
-What Twitter lists have you been added to? Do they represent the markets, messages and audiences that align with your offerings and objectives?
-Hop on Social Mention for a quick analysis of your brand sentiment, reach, and passion of your followers.
-Summarize engagement metrics for your key topical areas.  How engaged are your audiences? Did some topics drive more engagement? Why?

Be resourceful as this step is key in ensuring success on your next jaunt on the social train.

5. Develop a Summary of Your Investment to Date.  Be honest with the spend. Include personnel, late night tweeting hours, as well as cost for any design, web development, copywriting and training.  Don't forget to include the opportunity costs associated with putting other projects aside. What did you not do that you could have done that would have produced a real return?

6. Develop a Timeline of Activity and Results. Time to marry up your data with the activity and tasks accomplished. Create a calendar of the campaigns, email blasts, offline events.  Basically any and all marketing activity should be included in the summary.  Then, add your results and metrics.  Depending on your length of time on the social train, and how thorough you are about gathering and documenting results, this step may or may not provide you with a basic understanding of your  return on investment to date. What you are looking for here is trends, outliers, wins and losses.

7.  Summarize Results.  Document your results to date. What worked? What didn't? What activities increased conversation, number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers? What impact did these metrics have on brand awareness? Did you generate leads in new markets? Did you capture attention of partners or target audiences you weren't able to prior? What impact did the metrics have on revenue? Were there any real dollars gained via sales you can attribute to your social media train ride?

8. Determine Next Steps.  Based on the analysis and results you should have at minimum a half decent understanding of what your results have been to date.  Based on the result you need to make a decision for the next leg of your train ride.  Is it time to hire a consultant or agency to help you make the decisions? Does your staff need training to take you to the next level. Do you have the right staff to meet your objectives?

9.  Don't Be Afraid to Make Changes. Remember, if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.  Dare to take your business to the next level.  If change in staff needs to happen, then make it. If  tough discussions are needed, have them.  If you need to admit you messed up, admit it.  Better to fix the issues now than to continue on another train ride only to find more wasted dollars.

10. Be Honest With Key Stakeholders. If management or key stakeholders are not informed of your results and should be, then it is time you educate them.  You might be surprised of the positive benefits it could bring if you have the needed discussions.  The good news is now you have done an analysis to the best of your ability.  Share with them the summary and your recommendations for next steps.

11.  Build Your Plan & Execute. It is time to build your social media plan and obtain the necessary resources to execute.  Develop a short, medium and long term plan.  The purpose of this post is not to help you build your official plan but instead to help you get to a place where you can while at the same time maximizing your investment to date!  There are many resources available to help you build a plan including resources on my blog.  Do your research for what will help your business, get it funded, resources assigned and get-r-done!