Amber MacArthur’s 10 keys to the perfect social media strategy

Amber MacArthur was at SES Toronto yesterday and offered some spectacular tips for organizations eager to delve into social media—the right way.

Exposing information to the online world can be very damaging to an individual or an organization. In the opening keynote to SES Toronto, Canadian social media expert and tech personality Amber MacArthur explained how to engage in social media in ways that get a desired effect, and to deal with gaffes more elegantly.

US Congressman Anthony Weiner is the latest example of someone whose disastrous use of technology has effectively ruined his public reputation. What’s also shocking is how many companies are making less obvious mistakes when it comes to their online reputation, which may not wind up in the New York Post, but are nonetheless scathing to their public image.

MacArthur outlined the following 10 guidelines for using social media at an organization.

Create a policy – Anyone representing your company through social media should understand the organization’s expectations, and be trained to follow best practices.

One of the tools that she recommended as a starting point in creating a usage policy is PolicyTool, which uses a 12-step questionaire to give you a customized social media policy for your company. Some organizations have even made their social media policies into videos, so that people are more likely to view them and share them with others, to build greater awareness.

Be authentic – A great example of authenticity is found in the example of BlendTec, whose quirky CEO uses the company’s blenders to puree items such as an iPad, and posts those videos on YouTube. Within a period of six months, sales of BlendTech blenders had risen 500 per cent. “They shifted peoples’ minds,” MacArthur said, making them believe that “it’s worth investing in a quality blender”

Be original – Toilet paper maker Charmin made a “Sit or Squat” app, which helps people find washrooms in a particular city. It also lets users rate the facilities as either clean (in which to sit in), or fowl (in which to squat).

Be consistent – It’s important to have a plan in place, and stick to content production schedules. Old Spice is a great example of this with its regularly updated YouTube channel.

Choose the right tools – Different networks work for different organizations: coffee chain Starbucks, for instance, uses its presence on Instagram to help make its customers feel more involved with the company through interesting photos. Users are able of join in and participate in the Starbucks brand for which they have affection.

An example of a tool that did not work for an organization was found in he American Dental Association, which had used TV commercials in the past to try and get young people to brush their teeth, but was finding that TV wasn’t reaching the audience it once had. MacArthur said they wanted to use Twitter, but it would take about 14 days for the legal department to sign off on each message, so it was clear that Twitter was not the tool for them.

Listen well – The “United Breaks Guitars” video from a passenger who had his $3,500 Taylor-brand guitar broken by careless baggage handlers cost United Airways a 10 per cent drop in shareprices, and cost the company’s reputation the equivalent of 80,000 new Taylor guitars. This was the price of not listening to its customers. Taylor, on the other hand, seizing the opportunity, started blogging about how to travel safely with their guitars. In this case, it certainly paid to pay attention to what others were saying.

Measure – Applications such as HootSuite let you measure social analytics. It’s also important to tailor your content on different social networks to those particular audiences. Don’t, for instance, post as frequently on the business-focused network LinkedIn, as Twitter, where a larger update volume is more tolerated.

Go home – While there’s lots of talk about the disappearance of traditional websites in favour of Web and mobile applications, it’s important not to focus all your effort on applications. These “social” efforts often bring people to your business’ website, and it’s important that that site remain modern and up-to-date.

Go mobile – Make sure that your site displays well on mobile phones and tablets, because more and more people are interacting with online content through mobile devices.

Watch trends – It’s important to stay up-to-date with current trends. Group buying sites like GroupOn that offer general interest coupons are popular, but also services such as UForce that create custom marketplaces for niche interests. Question and answer site Quora is a quickly growing crowdsourced website. It gives individuals and companies the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and experience in a particular topic by answering questions on it. A furniture company, for instance, could weigh in on home furnishing dilemmas.

It’s also important to take note on what doesn’t work. For instance, many women are weary of location-based services, Amber said, because of their “creep factor”. These steps help organizations deal with a new world where modern technologies become more integrated into our lives. Having a two-year old that effortlessly plays with an iPad, Amber said, makes her especially conscious of how new generations will interact with online applications.

“It’s really is a race against a new generation,” she explained. “People in high school … are getting out of school, and getting on the technology that they’re using, and social media services that they love, and they’re coming into the workforce.” She said it’s more important than ever to move quickly to create strategies that will make organizations relevant to this generation, which others have described as “digital natives”. Most importantly, the online world can be a dangerous place where the online savvy have enormous power.

Her message is not to be afraid, but to be prepared.