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Socially cool, seriously business. Get a plan.

February 12, 2010

In our first few posts, we laid the groundwork for The Social Coop experiment, introduced the subject – Soul Food Farm — and presented our advisory team. I’d like a way to get this WordPress template to index post titles in the archives, making it easy for the droves of visitors to search by topic; I’ll dig around for that. Stay tuned. . .Ok, let’s head into the Coop.

From the get-go, social media just looks cool. It’s quick, it’s casual, young people are there. It makes the business of communications less business-y. When email first leached out of the software developer’s lab into the business scene, the ee cummings style of programming languages came with it. In those last days of DOS, the barriers of communications were instantly more porous, tempting business folks to loosen up their written tone along with their Friday dress code. We started corresponding more; for better or worse, email empowered people to “speak” up and more often. Email took the term “connected” from peripherals to people. In this way, email was the earliest form of social media and remains the most prevalent. It made business more social and marketing communications more fun. And thus was born its first glitch. By the same token that the cool factor makes social media a more entertaining job function, it can distract that job like an ADHD attack in a game arcade. Now more than ever, you gotta have goals.

I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley launching start-ups back when AOL became the first killer app of the Internet. As director of account services for a small public relations agency, I assessed many prospective clients who made a beeline from Sand Hill Road to our door, pockets stuffed with seed funding. Surprisingly, many of them came without business plans. What would my boss and mentor, Winnie Shows, say? “No plan? No PR.” She wasn’t being a PR snob; she learned the hard way that a commitment to strategy promises measurable success, and quantifying success means more business. Paradoxically, it’s usually the small businesses bootstrapping their mousetrap-to-market plans that are more willing to risk cutting corners. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them, so here’s some free and well-seasoned advice about marketing/communications (social or otherwise): It’s a serious investment; and if you’re serious about doing business with something that by its nature defies organization/control/discipline, don’t overlook social media strategy. Just don’t.

Luckily, social media offers many more tools and techniques to measure success than traditional public relations ever did (analytics will come into The Coop shortly). So, if you’re interested in demonstrating to investors (that includes your mom), your social media ROI, make a plan. Know your target audiences. Learn their online and offline behaviors. And because social media fosters advocacy as much as sales, you’ll need to know more than their buying patterns in this space. Most of all, in your plan, include specific goals and make them measurable. That’s our aim for the Soul Food Farm experiment – demonstrate how social media can support increased pastured egg and chicken profits. Soul Food Farm has a business plan. And like a lot of small businesses, Alexis continues to work it. But we did make two things clear when we started: 1) She wants to increase profit (business goal), and to do that, she 2) needs to increase the membership of the community supported agriculture program, add more merchant accounts and sell more to existing merchants, and launch new “products,” like a cooking school (marketing goals). That alone helped us develop social media communications goals:

  • Increase awareness for the health, quality, and sustainable-earth virtues of pastured chickens and eggs
  • Reinforce the convenience, cost, and community-sustaining benefits of CSA membership
  • Establish Soul Food Farm as an expert advocate for the humane treatment of pastured chickens and for organic, whole foods
  • Build Alexis’ profile as an expert pastured chicken/egg farmer who supports local restaurants and merchants with like values

You’ll notice there aren’t any benchmark percentages and numbers involved. We’ll talk about that and present them when we get to those analytics.

Next post: How now Facebook and Twitter?

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