Social Media Strategy: Platforms

How to choose the right set of platforms on the social web. This is part of our series about our social media strategy framework.

This article is part of a series about our social media strategy framework.

Don’t start with this

As described in the article about People, this is where most social media “strategies” start these days: by choosing a platform that is hot right now before anything else. By now, it should be clear why we consider this to be a bad approach to social media. It’s basically choosing the vehicle before choosing the destination, just because a lot of people seem to like it for whatever reasons.

[…] choosing the vehicle before choosing the destination, just because a lot of people seem to like it for whatever reasons.

Following our framework, we have already defined the business objectives we want to achieve, gotten a closer look at the people we want to talk with and have chosen what to talk about. This gives us the ability to make much more informed decisions about where the conversations should take place than just going for the latest hype.

Defining a set of platforms

There’s a mind-blowingly large number of social media platforms out there. And the landscape is changing all the time. New platforms go live every day, others are bought and closed. This is usually the part of the presentation when we social media experts would show you Brian Solis’ “social media flower” with the sole purpose of scaring you with the breadth and diversity of platforms available for a social media strategy. Let’s just say that we need a strategic approach to defining the right set of platforms for our strategy.

That approach is actually pretty straightforward. First, we need to define a set of criteria based on everything we learned and defined so far about Goals, People and Content. Then we can prioritize the relevant platforms into a list based on the criteria.

Here’s a good example set of criteria:

  • Does it fit your ‘added value’?
    Is the platform well suited to distribute your content and engage with it?
  • How is the reach?
    Is your target audience active on the platform, and can you reach a significant part of the audience there?
  • Can you build relationships?
    How well can your brand build relationships with your customers on the platform?
  • Opportunities for brands?
    Are brands welcome on the platform, and what are the opportunities for them to engage their audiences there?
  • Existing accounts?
    Do you have existing accounts on this platform and have you already gained some experience with the community?

We found that a scale from zero to three points works best for us. It’s a good way to start comparing platforms without going too deep into details.
At the end of this, you will have a list of platforms that seem to be the best fit for your strategy so far. Now, the final decision regarding which platforms to approach first should be informed by this list, but in the end it has to come from the gut.

A company should always go for the platforms it feels comfortable with, especially in the beginning.

If I’m new in town, I most probably will head first to the parties where I know some people and share the preferred tonality before trying to find some new people and places that might be interesting to me and my business.

Keep that set of criteria close by. It comes in handy when the next hyped platform emerges, as it gives you a quick way to evaluate if you should inspect the new player more closely.

Building your own community?

A word about the possibility of building your own community platform. This still holds big appeal for companies as it allows for total control over the experience and the relationships. In times when Facebook seems to change what brands can do on their platform every week, this seems like a better alternative.

You need to find a very plausible reason in 2012 to build your own thing.

People are already heavily involved in networks and communities on the web. You’d have to give them something absolutely amazing to convince them to invest their time and attention into yet another social network.

And yes, it is possible. If you’ve found a group of people with a niche interest that hasn’t been catered to yet or that hasn’t built its own set of platforms yet, there is an opportunity to create a community. It’s a very rare case, though.

Social as an integral part of communications

We think that it’s not only important to choose the platforms according to the strategy but also to integrate them into the overall communication efforts of a company from the start.

Social media should never happen in isolation

Social media should never happen in isolation, in a sandbox without context and connection to other campaigns and service initiatives. The customer is not distinguishing between the different types and formats and neither should we. Only when social media has its place in the combined efforts of a company can it find its purpose and special role for a company.

To work out how all the different entities should work together, we’ve seen the best results from working with the Bought-Owned-Earned media model. No doubt, there will we be contexts where a different model will be more appropriate. And there will come a time soon, when this model is outdated, no doubt about it. But until then, this model remains one of the most accurate for us.

Bought media

This is the classic media stuff, the attention you can buy with hard cash. The TVCs, the posters, the Above-The-Line-stuff. But also the AdWords and SEM campaigns, the social/engagement ads, the seeding of virals etc.
This stuff isn’t going anywhere and still has its mission. It’s here to gain the attention of our customers. And it does that much better than any of the other media types because it’s so fast and can go anywhere. You can set up a Facebook page for a campaign and see almost no traction before the campaign is already over. Put some money into Facebook ads and your page will get the attention you want. Now, instead of building a campaign page, do it all on your brand/company page so that you can have a continuous conversation with the people you gained through the campaign and with the bought media and you will get some long-term results.

Owned media

These are all the platforms and accounts that you own, where you can call the shots and define the experience. These are your stores, your websites, but also your social media accounts like your Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
This is where you want all your leads and customers to end up so that you can have a continuous relationship with them. Unfortunately, you have to get them there first, since they won’t be on your platforms from the start. This is why you need the help of the other media formats. But the other media formats are also a waste of time and money if you don’t have your own platforms where you can cultivate the relationship. Without owned media, every bought media campaign has to start from zero attention and will take much more budget and momentum to get going. But with a cultivated customer base, that grows bigger with every campaign, every new campaign gets a bigger head start.

An ecosystem of owned media should be well balanced to foster to the interests of the customers.

Usually a company will use its websites to provide all the information a customer wants about the company and the products. A Facebook page will connect the customer with other customers and keep her posted about new things happening. Twitter accounts might provide coupons for upselling or a 1-to-1 channel for solving service problems. All of the platforms are heavily cross-linked.
That’s just an example. Defining this ecosystem of owned platforms and accounts is an important part of a platform strategy and should be highly individual for any company and its customers.

Earned media

I always call this the “Holy Grail” of social media.

It’s all the attention you can’t buy but have to earn1. It’s customers being so happy with your products that they tell all their friends. It’s bloggers blogging, Twitterers twittering, Video-Bloggers publishing videos etc. It’s 5-star ratings on customer review portals.
In times when people trust the recommendations of their peers much more then traditional advertising, it’s the gold currency. Earned media is very tough and slow to gain, but once it’s getting momentum for a company, it will create enormous, long-lasting results, bigger than any other media format. But it’s also very fragile and can be gone in a second if a company messes up.

Now, as earned media has to be, well, earned, a company can’t force it into existence. Nevertheless, part of the strategy should be a plan for fostering it. This ranges from making sure that products and service are top-notch to encourage customers to leave reviews and give bloggers access, etc. But the main way to gain earned media is to give customers the clear feeling that company puts them first. This will come through in everything a company does. How it communicates, how it cares about problems, how it listens, etc. This is much bigger issue for a company than just its social media strategy. It’s one of the most interesting aspects about social media: if a passion for the customers doesn’t come from the heart of the company, its social media efforts will always show that.

So, this is how the bought-owned-earned media model can help to define an integrated ecosystem of platforms and communication efforts where every entity does what it does best and works with the others.

We now have defined our social media strategy by looking at the people we want to talk with, the content we want to talk about and the platforms we want to have the conversation on. Next up: defining how this strategy is iterated and implemented.

The next article in this series is: Social Media Strategy: Analysis.

  1. Some might argue that you can buy bloggers to write about you, for example. But for me that’s plain bought media then, because that’s how the people will perceive it. Most people are usually pretty good at spotting bought media disguised as earned media. 

Author: Johannes

Johannes is a strategist and consultant for digital communications. His work is informed by his experience of working with brands like Deutsche Telekom, MTV, Postbank, Maggi and Nike and by his insatiable appetite for finding the bigger patterns behind current developments in technology and science. Holding a diploma in Media System Design, Johannes is a regular speaker at web and marketing conferences like Republica and the Social Media Summit.