Disclosure: Brian is a cofounder of the pay per tweet twitter marketing service, TweetROI.

A bit egotistical of me to call them THE 4 steps of social media marketing but HEY big claims, big prizes- if I'm wrong, you'll tell me in the comments, right? :-)

Fuel Interactive's 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing

Anybody who's tried to do social media marketing, or tried to conceive social media marketing programs and sell them knows that this young industry has faced some big new questions, including:

  • Can we be confident about getting an ROI right away from social media?
  • What KPI we should use or do we need a custom set of metrics for each effort?
  • Should we measure social media like direct marketing or PR?
  • How long does it take to get traction and results? What kind of results can we expect?
  • Which of the hundreds of social media sites should we be on?
  • Is there a standard way to do social media marketing, or does every campaign have to be completely custom-designed?

Social media has been hard for people to wrap their minds around, because it's a mix of previous paradigms. It's like:

  • PR: Social Media builds awareness and can require reputation management
  • In-person networking: Social Media is conversational
  • Online direct marketing/advertising: Social Media can be measured and optimized

It took our agency, Fuel Interactive, a while to create a framework for social media marketing that puts all of this together and answers a lot of the questions. I call the result "The 4 Phases of Social Media Marketing". Of course, "steps" is sexier in a blog post title. 😉

Fuel Interactive's 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing

One: Strategy and Planning

Traditionally in PR, if you want to raise awareness and project your brand into the marketplace, you need solid, well-conceived branding. If you haven't already done that, we (in partnership with The Brandon Agency) provide that as part of the social media marketing process. Even if you do have a brand plan, there are still unique questions to consider about how to convey that brand in social media.

Planning also includes choosing the best social media platforms to invest time in, and strategies to virally accelerate participation and results.

Two: Developing Presence

You can't engage people in social media if you're not participating, so you need Twitter profiles, Facebook Pages and Groups, etc. Phase two is about building these profiles and enriching them with existing assets like photos and videos.

This is a phase that many companies jump into without the planning of phase one and without the relationship building of phase three, and the unfortunate result is stagnant, neglected, impotent social media profiles. This approach could doom your social media efforts because ultimately the people who decide where the marketing budget go won't see the value… because you didn't create any. Make sure that what you build here helps people want to engage with you in phase three.

Three: Engagement and ORM

Part of this that needs to be figured out in phase one by the business owner is: who is doing the engagement? Your agency? Your own people? How much time do they have to devote? Can they do it several time a day, rather than once a week? If it's a mutual effort, work out the logistics- cotweet is a killer solution for co-managing Twitter engagement.

For ORM (Online Reputation Management), you need a social media monitoring solution (like Radian6, for example), someone to monitor that, and a plan for responding. Some responses will be like the above typical engagement, but others will be brand-threatening emergencies that require special consideration and the involvement of PR experts and company decision makers.

Phase three is where all of this relationship-building and reputation management happens. The only way to accelerate the influence you get from phases two and three is to co-opt the power of existing influentials. You can do that with viral acceleration plans like blogger involvement or a pay-per-tweet platform like tweetROI.

Four: ROI Offers

Once you've built strong relationships with your fans and followers on your social media platforms of choice, you can think about sending offers, discounts, specials, etc. to them. The reason to wait is that the nature of social media is more personal, more networking-oriented. I've written elsewhere that social media is like a big conference- a lot of people never go to the exhibiter's hall because they don't want to be sold to. But if they're hanging out with you at the bar, after they strike up a friendship, they'd be open to hearing about what your company markets.

Certainly, Dell went straight to the discount offers on Twitter and made $1m in 2008 doing that. But they already had a strong, well-known brand, and an offering that fits most Twitterers (they all use and need computers). The average business does not have that kind of notoriety or brand trust. You need to build it through the first three phases above.

It's All Crystal Clear Now, Right?

By no means. Social media campaigns still need to be designed, fit your brand, use metrics meaningful to your tactics and goals, and be accelerated by creative viral strategies. There's a lot you need to think about before these four phases will get you where you want to go.

At this point in the social media industry's evolution, unless you have experience and skills in PR, advertising, marketing, strategy, analytics, and social media engagement, I'd suggest you do all this in partnership with social media experts. Partner with them until you've made it through the first year of your social media marketing, and then you may have a clear enough plan, enough experience, and confidence to take it from there.

Check out my follow-up post: The 6 Spheres of Social Media Marketing for more details and a clearer map of the process.