Lauren Varges, Community Manager at Radian6, was nice enough to take time and lend her expertise and insights into questions regarding social media and online reputation management.  For many businesses owners out there, I’m sure you have wondered how you can get started with social media and how it can help your business.

Well Lauren gives some useful information you can apply into creating your social media strategy.

Are there certain types of companies that could benefit from social media more than others?

Any organization has the potential to benefit from social media if their culture is ripe for change and open dialog. Conversations about the organization, brand, industry and competitors is happening with or without the permission of the organization. Listening and monitoring across the web is the foundation for any solid, scalable social media strategy. From understanding how your brand is being perceived to knowing what’s brewing in your competitors camp, listening touches all aspects of the enterprise, and is not just the start of a great social media plan, but a constant and ongoing part of it.

Is social media only meant for larger companies or can a small mom and pop shop benefit as well?

The wonderful thing about social media is that there are no boundaries of participation. Any organization can benefit from social media. This question usually comes into play when the organization is not large enough to generate a lot of buzz in social media. This lack of chatter does not mean the organization should not monitor social media and begin engaging in the existing conversations. There are issues that are bigger than your brand that you should be listening for and engaging with those communities.

What key performance indicators should you look at when running a social media strategy?

First, your organization must decide what is the motivation for getting started in social media.  If you are entering the social web to keep up with the Jones,’ your organization will be hard-pressed for success. Next, articulate goals and measurable objectives.  These are key for success.  To get where you are going, you need to know how to get there.  Also, take stock of the resources you will need for success.  Be realistic about the time and human capital you will need to invest to monitor and participate in the social web.  Finally, track results and lessons learned.  Circulate this feedback throughout your organization to catalyze change and tweak future strategies for success.

How can you measure off-line conversions that should be credited from your social media campaign?

Social media should be integrated and aligned with overall business goals and objectives, rather than being an individual campaign.   Many factors, both online and offline, will contribute to the outcome of any campaign or program.  The key is to connect these dots of engagement and influence as they exist in connection to your organization. Think and practice social CRM.

What is the biggest factor that determines if your social media strategy is a success or a failure?

Measurable objectives.  Yes, it is that simple. Too many organizations jump into the social web without a clue of how they should proceed.  In order to determine success and move forward from lessons learned, having measurable goals and objectives in place before action is necessary.

What role will social media have 5 years from now?

I do not have a crystal ball and cannot, nor will I, predict the tools that will be the new shiny play things.  What I can predict is the social conversation will become an integrated part of the organization – honest and open communications between the organization and their communities will lead to better business function and goals.

What free tools are out there that will help you monitor your brand?

There are several tools existing to assist in social media monitoring.  I encourage your readers to check out this eBook to explore the various steps and options necessary for listening and engagement.

How should a company react if they come across a negative review or listing?

Here is some tough love.  I know you have heard everyone say you have no control of what happens in social media.  That is not entirely true.  You cannot control what others will say about your organization, but you can control your actions.  Do not use the myriad of social media channels and conversations as an excuse to ignore the negativity.  If you ignore, the ant hill may become a mountain before you can blink.  I am not trying to use this as a scare tactic to get you to jump into social media conversations; welcome to the new reality of business-customer relationships.

Responding to a negative comment by thanking the person for their feedback or requesting more details and context offline can greatly change the tone and direction of an unfavorable comment that could quickly spiral out of control.  YOU control the response.  If you respond with hostility or act defensive, be prepared for your actions to be mirrored and replicated. Keep your cool.

There are some battles you will never win.  Over time, you will discover there are those commenters that are just in the space to stir the pot and are not seeking resolution or relationship.  It will take time to identify these folks.  They are few and far between in the larger scope of your community, but they do exist.  Do not lock horns and engage in a battle of personalities.  Address the issues and move on.

Do not forget that you are not alone in the social media space.  In lieu of taking a defensive stance or addressing every issue, experiment by allowing your supporters to take up the flag and address the commenter or unreasonable negativity.  These evangelists are a force to be reckoned with.  Of course, this does not mean you can ignore and not engage all negative comments, but be aware that there are people who have got your back.

What can you do to get those negative listings bumped off the 1st page of the search results?

See above response and keep engaging.  Forge new relationships and look for opportunities to share the stories of your community.

What separates Radian6 from the rest of the Social Monitoring Tools out there?

There are several great tools for social media monitoring available.  You have to find the right tool that meshes with your organization’s culture and measurable objectives.

Comparing different monitoring solutions can be as difficult as comparing apples to oranges.  But here’s what our customers and clients tell us sets us apart, and some of the reasons they decided our platform was right for them:

  • Breadth of Coverage:  Every day, we deliver over 8 million (and growing rapidly with our customer base!) relevant results to our customers, pulled from a much larger set of scanned results (into the 10s of millions).
  • Ease of Use:  We’re comprehensive, but not so complicated that you need an engineering degree to use us. The Radian6 platform is designed to be easy to use and navigate for a novice, but powerful and flexible enough to meet the needs of the most advanced user.
  • Comprehensive Analytics:  Gathering data is one thing. Analyzing it and using insights to drive your decisions is another. From trends and influencer analysis to deep filtering, social media metrics, and data segmentation, we give you myriad ways to drill down into your data and understand how the social web is impacting your business.
  • Workflow Capabilities:   One of our more compelling advantages, Radian6 helps you scale social media listening and engagement throughout the company with our workflow capabilities. Assign and route posts, tag results with relevant information, classify and mark action status on items, and receive email or IM alerts for new posts in your topic profiles.
  • Support:  Put simply, we are proud to have a support team that is second to none. We’ll help you get started on the right foot with Radian6, and our entire support team is a resource to you anytime you have questions, issues, or thoughts about how to make the platform better
  • Community Focus:   Our users are what drive our development. The features we develop and create are all based on feedback and input we get from our active user community. That means we’re listening, and always striving to build a platform that’s more valuable for you in your work.
  • Thinking Ahead:   We’re not just trying to build a great listening platform, we’re trying to build a great enterprise social media platform for you. That means we’re bringing the best of breed to our own product like our integrated web analytics and CRM capabilities to bridge social media to all areas of your business. And we’re helping to power other leading software- like community, advertising, and marketing automation solutions to help bring the power of social to these enterprise platforms.

For more detail on our capabilities and differentiators, check out the Radian6 Advantages section and some examples of our platform applications.

About Lauren Vargas

Lauren Vargas is a community manager at Radian6, based in Boston, Mass.  She is a well-known public relations blogger and speaker who specializes in integrating social media tools into communications/marketing and business strategy.   Vargas is a multi-faceted communications professional with experience in internal and external corporate communications, governmental affairs and community relations.

Connect with Lauren on Twitter (@vargasl)