SMMHardly any topic is currently as hot and controversial as social media marketing (SMM). Hype or savior? "Nice- to-have" or silver bullet? The truth lies - as most of the time - somewhere in between. Undisputable, however, is the fact that social media marketing can be a more powerful tool for customer retention - if done right!

SMM requires entrepreneurial virtuousness, planning, discipline, continuity and a serious devotion to the virtual multiverse. Then - and only then - social media becomes a success. If this foresight and perseverance is missing in a company, a haphazard and arbitrary use counteracts not only the success, but eats beyond that into valuable resources, too.

Crown your social media engagement with success through more customer contacts, a distinctly higher level of awareness and eventually more sales:

1. Define strategic and operational objectives

Before you opt for SMM, you should define your objectives clearly. Do you want to support your image in general or underpin the reputation of individual qualities, such as your service culture or your liability in the customer journey? Would you like to gain more leads for your online marketing or attract new target groups? The meta-goal you define will be the starting point for all further planning steps. So take all the time you need for this: Discuss these goals with marketing, sales and business development. And if you have defined your goals, you should make them measurable as well. Before starting your social media campaigns, define meaningful indicators in addition in order to demonstrate success and identify necessary corrective steps.

2. Identify the target group: What about profiling and assimilation?
Before the start of each campaign on the social web, define your target audience as precisely as possible. Become a profiler! Break-down your target audience not only by age, gender, socio- economic status or position in the company. Better think about what characteristic style your target group regards as adequate and which media instruments can inspire the audience best. Conducive assimilation tailored to suit market need of information supply, added value and entertainment provide credibility, inspiration and high acceptance in the long run.

3. Identify communities: Where is the perfect location?
Monitor how your target audience communicates. Take your time for a smart selection of social communities that you wish to use for your campaigns in the long run. Don’t be blinded by absolute numbers of users - Facebook isn’t the number one choice for every company – as "bigger is better" applies in SMM only conditionally. More important than the absolute number of community users is the quality of the social dialogue culture in the forums. This is especially true for companies in the B2B segment and in general for companies with small niche markets. But that does not mean, conversely, that large horizontal social media platforms such as Facebook may have no meaning for highly specialized industries with small target groups. But do not forget under any circumstances to consider the smaller, vertical specialist forums and communities for your point of view and benefits.

4. Prepare main topics: What about the content?
Successful social media engagement is subject to the same success factors as any other field of public relations. Orient yourself consistently on your USP: Are you still authentic and distinguish yourself, without bending? Communicate systematically rather than impulsive. Be proactive rather than reactive. Offer your target audiences real value through your communication. Always act planned and methodically. Take advantage of the entire range of multimedia tools. Provide, if possible, valid information in a lean and entertaining packaging. The result: your company's messages are not only noticed by your target audience - but also heard, understood and appreciated.

5. Assess the cost-benefit ratio: What pays off?
In the run-up of your activities, take enough time to examine and calculate different scenarios for the implementation of your SMM carefully. Invoice all planned activities as specific as possible and then decide which model is the most profitable for your budget and purpose. Question the usefulness of individual scenarios from a cost perspective: Does it make sense to build a proprietary social media monitoring and engagement department? Wouldn’t it be better to assign this performance to an external partner? Does it make sense to make use of proprietary electronic analysis and engagement tools? In the medium term, how safe is your workflow and process? Plan carefully and farsighted - then you are on the safe side!

By Daniela La Marca