We recently attended the 2014 Social Media Strategy Summit in Chicago, where we had the opportunity to learn from industry professionals about what they’re doing to further social media efforts for their brand. Topics were segmented by strategy, analytics and measurement, and content strategy, but a few key themes made their way into many sessions during the course of the conference.

These topics are being incorporated into many successful social media plans around the globe. And whether your business is involved in social media today or you are contemplating a start into the social media world, here are the big ideas you need to be thinking about right now:

1. Audience segmentation
Knowing who your audience is and what they’re doing on social media is a key component to social media success. But taking this idea a step further by developing audience personas based on demographic information and information gleaned from their behaviors and conversations can be a valuable tool in developing content that is geared towards their specific interests. Which brings us to our next topic …

2. Content strategy
Once you’ve identified and defined your audience segments, take a look at the content you want to share. How can you rework that content to be more relevant to those specific audiences? That same piece of content could be used multiple times throughout the course of the year, but rework the messaging to appeal to different audiences and you are able to not only be relevant to more people, but you are able to maximize your time and investment in that content.

3. Influencer relations
Organic reach is harder and harder to obtain, so social media marketers need to get more creative in ways to amplify their message. Every brand has people who are passionate about them and their products — the key is identifying them online and then engaging with them. Whether you develop a formal rewards strategy or you engage in more in-depth and personal conversations with them, the key is to make them feel a personal connection with your brand so they feel empowered to talk about you to their audiences.

4. Join the conversation
Every day, millions of people are having conversations online. Depending on the size and reach of your company, they may or may not be talking about your brand. But even if they’re not, they’re talking about things, events, people or products that are relevant to your brand. Seeking out these conversations is a way for your company to expand its social presence — but remember to join the conversation on their terms. This isn’t to say that consistency in communication isn’t important, but key messages mean nothing if your customers and fans aren’t listening or don’t engage with you and your content.

This is very important to remember when trying to engage in “real-time” marketing. Richard Goldsmith of Mike’s Hard Lemonade gave great advice — know thyself: understand your brand and consumers’ view of it. Also, understand your role in the conversation. Are you providing context, commentary or a different perspective? And perhaps most important — plan for the process, not the moment. You can’t predict where and when you’ll want to join conversations to take advantage of real-time opportunities. But you can plan to keep decision-makers prepped and in the loop, have a creative on-hand and ready, and work with PR/legal to understand what topics to avoid entirely.

5. Prepare for crisis
Investing time and resources until building a strong social media presence — one that is supported by a content strategy and focuses on developing influencer relationships and properly joining the conversation — is fruitless if you aren’t prepared for a crisis on your social media channels. Many organizations have a crisis plan in place, with detailed instructions for evacuation routes, meeting places, communication trees, media statements and myriad other steps for adequately responding to crises of all kinds. Social media may be an aspect of that plan, but it’s likely that it is addressed only as a medium for sharing pre-canned statements or disseminating information. Two-way communication and the parameters for how to monitor and listen, what information can be shared, who will share it and how to say it are probably not included.

However, a true crisis plan should ensure that your organization is prepared for a full-blown crisis on social media channels, in addition to a physical office space or plant. Social media channels are an opportunity to both manage the online conversation from the get-go and disseminate important information for those involved or affected by a crisis. And the first step in preparing a plan is understanding and cultivating your reputation. As presenter Janelle Logan of Spectrum Health in Michigan noted, build engagement and cultivate positive relationships with influencers now. A crisis is not the time to try to make friends.

About Two Rivers Marketing

Two Rivers Marketing is a full-service business-to-business (B2B) marketing communications agency. Email us with your thoughts or questions at blog@2rm.com.