If Social Business Is Always Changing, Can You Keep Up?

Shama Kabani says consistency and commitment to community are key to social media success.

by Kate Pavao

skabani headshot

First published in 2010, Shama Kabani’s The Zen of Social Media Marketing describes some fundamental strategies of social business: how to build a social strategy, ideas for content generation, and tips for connecting with customers and prospects via Facebook and Twitter. “My goal with the book initially was to give people a tactical, hands-on primer,” she tells Profit.

Flash forward three years. Social is now a necessary—but still rapidly evolving—business practice, requiring Kabani to release a new edition of her successful primer on the subject. But it’s not just new social tools she thinks executives need to learn. It’s a new view of business that needs to be mastered.

“Of course, the sites and features change, and that’s important to keep updated,” she says, explaining the need for a new edition -- the third -- which was released in January 2013. “But I don’t think the bigger picture is changing much, which is that people are the media.”

Here, Kabani talks about how executives can shape smart social business strategies, make good policy — and get back on track when they’ve made a big mistake.

Profit: The first edition of your book was first published in 2010. What’s changed since then?

Kabani: Social media used to be the priority of marketing, public relations, or communications, but really now it’s becoming so inherent in everything we do. That’s the big shift that’s occurred. It is important for members of the c-suite to have social literacy. It’s not just important for their businesses—it will also be important in terms of producing thought leadership and creating a personal brand.

Profit: What do you tell executives who are concerned they have no time to do social?

Kabani: There are three things they need to know: First, avoid “shiny toy syndrome.” Too many people get excited and say, “I want to do a Facebook campaign,” or “I want to do this on Twitter!” If time is a concern, you need to decide what you are trying to do. Start with your business goals first and then funnel down.

Second, consistency matters more than chasing every new app and network under the sun. If you have a presence on one or two networks, and you know that is where the majority of your audience is, make sure that you really develop a base there.

Finally, create a calendar about the kind of posts you want to share. It doesn’t have to be very rigid; it can be 70 percent planned content, leaving 30 percent for changing trends, news, and items like that.

Profit: How do teams determine what efforts are paying off?

Kabani: There’s no way around it: You have to do a lot of testing. You have theories, you test to see what works, and then you tweak. There always needs to be room in any good campaign for adaptations. You have to be able to pivot very quickly.

I think this is also the hallmark of good companies: How quickly can you respond to something in the media? How quickly can you see a coming trend and leverage that? It’s all about how you make the most of opportunities that come your way.

As far as metrics, when you decide what you want to accomplish, that’s exactly what you measure. We have non-profit clients who come to us looking for donations and volunteers, or for-profit clients looking for visibility, credibility or thought leadership.

You need to measure both quantitatively — What are the numbers? How many site visits did you get from social media traffic? How many likes and retweets did you get? — as well as qualitatively — What’s your reputation like online? If I search the internet for your company’s name, what do I find?

Profit: Do you still see people making mistakes?

Kabani: People make a lot of mistakes with social. For example, a lot of people think it is a short-term thing. They get excited about doing a social media campaign. But a campaign only works if you already have a community or greater platform from which to run it. And it is a long-term investment. It’s not something you can set up for 90 days and see results from a bottom-line perspective.

The tools may be free, but social requires time, strategy, consistency and patience. These things don’t sound as sexy as “social media,” but they are important to making it work.

The other big mistake is ignoring negative comments. Hiding mistakes and deleting comments can really backfire. In the world we live in now, you really are judged more on your response to a mistake than the event itself.

If someone leaves a negative review of your company, it’s so much more your response that people look at and say, “Wow, they really stood up, owned their mistake, responded to the complaint and showed they cared.”

Profit: How do executives create a good social media policy?

Kabani: Obviously, you need to know your community. You want to keep your policy straight-forward and easy to understand You need to spell out the purpose of your community. What are things that you will respond to and what are things that will be deleted on sight?

I think a lot of people get sucked into social media without realizing you can have certain boundaries and dictate some rules. It doesn’t have to be the Wild, Wild West, and a good policy certainly helps you do that.

Profit: Who should drive that policy?

Kabani: Certainly, leadership has to really, really be on board. Ideally you’ve got multiple departments working together, whether that’s legal, marketing, communications, etcetera. Get input from different departments, then have one member from each department that’s accountable for the final policy.

You might also want to look at the people who are your social champions already. Who already talks a lot about your company? Who is already excited and out there? Taking their input can be very important, because they are already in the day to day of it.

Profit: You warn against “shiny toy syndrome,” but how do executives stay in the know with what tools are coming?

Kabani: Certainly the media does a good job of introducing new concepts. There are tons of blogs and sites out there, and Mashable does a good job of covering what’s new and trending.

But in the end, really focus on what you’re trying to accomplish and what tools will help you do that job best. Pay attention to where your audience is going, too: Sometimes you’ll find that suddenly your audience has shifted to another network. That means that you have to pivot that way, too.

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