The barrier for getting started with social media is low, it’s dependent on your involvement level, objectives and goals. The facilitators of the message, our tools, are the key components that make it all work. They are the tools in our digital toolkit that every strategist, marketer and PR professional should already be learning and using. The sole purpose of these tools are to; create, manage and distribute content, build awareness, drive traffic, connect with our customers and hopefully turn a lead into a prospective sale.
Tools for your social media toolkit can be broken down into the following categories:
Your Black Box – The flight data recorder for the Web
The default tool in any toolbox always starts with Analytics. On all commercial airplanes there are Black Boxes. They record crucial flight data in the event of equipment breakdown or catastrophe. Your website’s Black Box is Google Analytics. Before you can get clearance for take off, you must be armed and recording website traffic data. Knowing where your existing traffic or lack of traffic it is coming from, will yield a goldmine of data that can be strategically utilized.
Listening: monitoring the social web and beyond
If you’re a PR professional or marketer who uses social media for marketing purposes, you need to be able to listen and monitor your surroundings for conversations about your clients and their respective brands. Incorporating these tools into your toolkit and using them in combination will track the vast social media landscape, but there are limitations. Depending on what data you’re trying to capture, these tools might be suffice. Monitoring other media such as print and TV require the use of paid subscriptions to media tracking services such as Cision.
The other limitation is data harvesting and processing. Ask yourself, who is going to be responsible for capturing, filtering and presenting this data? If you’re a large corporation this task is most likely farmed out to a Brand Monitoring service, Public Relations firms or an advertising agency. Social media, after all is about the conversation. Make no mistake, the bigger you are the more people are talking about you online and in real time. With that being said, it makes sense to have a third party harvest and filter this data. Depending on your company size, the task of social media might be the responsibility of the marketing dept/advertising dept/ web assistant or non existent position at this point in time. Whoever is tasked with this needs to use these tools in an efficient and productive way that yield measurable, understandable, and explainable results.
Alerts: Yep, there is an app for that
Every social media toolkit needs to contain a listening station. Ideally, your listening station is your email inbox. My toolkit uses alerts for the following services:
Google Alerts is still worth mentioning as it used to be very reliable, nowadays it’s not so relevant and it’s far from real time. It’s still a tool that should be in ones arsenal though. Set it and forget it, just don’t depend on Google Alerts as your sole notification provider, otherwise you surely will end up missing timely and relevant data. At the time of writing this post, my findings with Google Alerts is that they are often several days to several months behind.
Google Blog Search, which like its counterpart Google Alerts, used to be very consistent and timely. Today it’s hit or miss with accuracy and timeliness, which I think is partly due to the way Google changed how it indexes new blog content and updates its search results, meaning it’s not at fast as it used to be. Search results generate an RSS feed for output, so you can plug that into your Google Reader, or Social Media Dashboard.
Google News may not be applicable to everyone, but if you’re a PR professional this tool belongs in your toolkit. Clients make the news and hopefully it’s our message that’s being aggregated across the web. Beyond that, Press Releases, ones that are done through a paid wire service such as, Business Wire are syndicated with Google News, and often appear in Google News search first. Google News search results also show for a period of time in organic search results. Clients like results, this is one metric among many we use for campaign measurement.
Google Search is pretty much self explanatory. I will say this, learn how to use the advanced search feature. This will cut down on time wasted searching through countless pages of search results.
TweetBeep is Google Alerts for Twitter. TweetBeep monitors the usual Twitter data such as, @replies, @mentions, keywords and urls. It will email you hourly reports. Upgrading to the paid version will give you more timelier reporting and alert functionality.
Twitter Search is used for searching Twitter.com directly. It’s always a good idea to go straight to the source and not just rely on one application that feeds into Twitter’s API. Twitter search is real time, with no delays, granted Twitter’s servers and databases are running one hundred percent. Twitter’s search has one other feature which I heavily utilize, it’s RSS. All search queries will give you an RSS feed for output. The RSS feed I export into Google Reader, which I use to track certain brand and keyword mentions. I tap into Twitter various different ways, but my main preference is still using Twitter Search. It’s the old school, plain jane look, smell and feel that keeps me coming back, repetition I suppose.
Tie it all together with a Social Media Dashboard or Social Media Listening Station.
Image by Richard Carter under Creative Commons License.
Processing this data can solely be done using an RSS reader such as Google Reader. All of the above services will supply you with an RSS feed, using this method you can bypass email completely for alert notifications and monitoring. Google Reader and Gmail are two different comfort zones visually, use what works best for you. The second roll-your-own listening station option is, Netvibes. Netvibes is an Ajax-based, personalized start page much like Pageflakes, My Yahoo, or iGoogle. With the use of RSS and widgets you can create, as I did, your own customized Social Media Dashboard.
The White House – Home Base, Your Blog
Image by vgm8383 under Creative Commons License.
Your White House, used to be your website, it’s now your blog. From an SEO and CMS standpoint, it’s inexpensive and often free, easy to use out of the box, and allows any entity to create and publish content on a global scale. Creating this foundation from scratch, or adding a blog onto an existing website requires a blogging platform. It should be no surprise the obvious choice here is WordPress. There should be no question at all, self hosted is the way to go. There is no need and no advantages to having a wordpress.com hosted blog, other than reserving your name for vanity purposes, before a name squatter does. Web hosting is cheap nowadays and most web hosts have scripts that will automatically install WordPress on the back end, a host that I recommend is Bluehost.com. Alternative blogging solutions that will allow you to mask a domain to a service hosted blog are, Blogger, Type Pad and Movable Type.
Build your blog community with RSS
Give your readership ways to stay up to date and informed with your blog, by encouraging them to subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed.FeedBurner, another Google owned product is the only game in town for feed management. It will give you statistical data about your feeds content, distribution and subscribers. Even though the data can be taken with a grain of salt. The real benefit of Feedburner for me is the ability to offer email and RSS reader subscriptions to readers of my blog. The trend I find is shifting more to email subscriptions than RSS subscriptions. Feedburner’s email delivery service works very well and it can be customized rather nicely. If we can’t educate consumers on using RSS readers, we can at least educate them to subscribe via email, something everyone has done at some point.
Social Networking/Social Signage
Image by stevendamron under Creative Commons License.
Think of Outposts as a sort of a toll booth or exit. This is the analogy I’m making here. It’s pretty much the same in real life. On the Internet there are many exits for many destinations. You need to own and operate that toll booth, instead of your competitors’. Branded outposts and social profiles should be filled with useful automated aggregated content so that it serves as a teaser or mousetrap to send traffic back to your main hub or another destination. Take advantage of free advertising opportunities. Spend the time and fully complete all social media profiles, upload a logo, add company information and optimize accordingly. Consistency is the name of the game. If there are services that you will not be active on, then be sure to aggregate content into and place them on autopilot.
LinkedIn is the tool of choice for professional networking. At the very least, if you’re not using the site for employment purposes, fill out a completed work history, resume and profile. Set your profile to public so that it ranks for your name. LinkedIn allows you to aggregate third party service content such as, blogs and SlideShare presentations into your profile page. Use your profile to showcase your work and talent.
Facebook love it or hate it, it’s here and its the 800 pound gorilla force to be reckon with. Use Facebook for professional or personal networking. Be cautious on how you combine the two, because they can very easy spill over onto each other. If you’re going to be doing any marketing on Facebook, set up a public fan page. Facebook is a completely different beast and should be treated as such. There are a ton of bells and whistles that will allow you to customize your Facebook page, in addition to aggregating content from other third party sources.
Twitter is a social megaphone. There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter, however due to 140 char limitations it’s best for megaphoning links and information back to your home base. Establishing a Twitter presence is standard protocol nowadays, but ask yourself what do you want to get out of Twitter? Your objectives and goals will dictate how you use the service.
Create a Google Profile and control to some extent what information people see about you online. As long as your profile is set to public, it will appear in search results for your name. You can also link all your social profiles. This is outpost number one, spend the time and optimize it correctly.
Delicious or Diigo both are the only two tools for this category. These bookmarking tools have proven that they can scale and have a solid track record. There are pros and cons to both, but they both achieve the same objective, tagging, saving and storing bookmarks. I currently use both bookmarking sites. The nice thing about Diigo is that it can save all new bookmarks automatically to Delicious. This gives you peace of mind knowing your digital data is archived. Do you remember what happened to Ma.gnolia?
Image by KaiChanVong Images under Creative Commons License.
A Doodle blog could also be called or used as a personal blog. It’s basically a repository for all things that need to be captured on the fly, non important, personal, or all things to be filed for another day. It can contain clippings, graphics, video, links etc. I use Posterous as my Doodle blog platform. My Doodle blog is a digital archive for my iPhone media. Posterous can also be used a lightweight blogging platform, nothing that comes close to WordPress functionality though. The beauty of Posterous lies in its simplicity and features. Publishing is easy, the preferred choice is via email. Send photos or text in a body of an email to your Posterous account and it’s live on the web. The other core feature is auto-posting, this will give you the ability to have your content sent to various other services such as, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and so forth.
Video and Photo Sharing
Image by Henderson Images under Creative Commons License.
Thanks to the advent of mobile technology, faster and more accessible broadband and sites that host, broadcast and share consumer generated content, the video revolution is upon us and has been for some time now. Social media, is well, social. Stories get people talking. Create informative videos that are relevant to your messaging and brand, encourage others to share it and to create their own video content. Viral videos are rare and lots of factors determine if something will go viral. If your content is good and worth sharing, people will take notice.
YouTube reigns supreme in this category and rightfully so. YouTube is yet another Google owned property, are you starting to see a common theme here? YouTube makes it extremely easy to host and stream videos. YouTube videos are easy to embed and are very shareable. Create a branded YouTube channel for your brand and always optimize your title and keywords accordingly. YouTube is a video sharing site at its core, but it’s also a massive search engine.
There are a ton of other video sharing sites out there, such as Viddler and Vimeo. The tool that I use for mass video distribution is TubeMogul. TubeMogul allows you to upload one video to their service and from there send it to approx 50 other video sharing sites. The paid version will also give you analytics such as, video views, audience geography and will allow you to distribute to all the video sharing sites they support, rather than the 7-10 with the free version.
Pictures are worth a thousand words
Photo sharing sites are in abundance, but the two that I use and prefer are Flickr and Google’s Picasa. Flickr has been around the longest and has lots of social components, specifically a built in die hard community. Picasa I use more often because it’s tied into my Google account and my desktop Picasa software. I use this for basic photo editing and easy bulk uploading to the web. Both services offer the basics, uploading, tagging, and sharing of photos.
Mobile Blogging & Lifestreaming
Mobile phones have now allowed us to capture and create content, anywhere, anytime. It’s mobile generated content that feeds today’s social media ecosystem. The tools in my mobile toolkit consist of the following:
Qik and UStream for mobile recording and live broadcasting. Both of these applications recently released an update that now allows you to broadcast live to the internet. This was previously done using only a jailbroken iphone. These two apps cover live recording and local (saved to your iPhone). The iPhone of course has a built in video recorder which you allows you to send your recordings to YouTube. Status updates and sending quick bursts of text goes to Twitter hands down. Tweetie is my preferred Twitter application for the iPhone. I have no use for location based apps such as BrightKite, it’s installed on my iPhone but never sees the light of day, same goes with Google Lattitude. Location based apps due serve a purpose for some people, but it simply does not fit into my routine. Twitter will eventually be rolling out geo-location, which reinforces more to me why I have no use for these other location services. There are a ton of other apps worth mentioning but this is a broad category, so perhaps that’s another post for another day.
Shared Documents and Collaboration
When it comes to sharing documents and online collaboration, the winner in this category is Google Docs. Google Docs suite of applications is all cloud based, very reliable and easy to use. While I still use some desktop based Microsoft applications such as excel, I’m starting to use Google Docs as my replacement to desktop applications altogether.
Toolkits come in different sizes and different shapes, it all depends on what the toolkit will be used for. This post featured some of the tools of the trade in my digital toolbox. Because of time restraints and attention disorders, I simple can not list them all. This is what a starter toolkit looks like, what did I miss? What’s in your digital toolkit?