Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

The Networking Exchange Blog is a place for business professionals to learn, share, and engage. I often share my thoughts specifically for small businesses or enterprise organizations. But with this article, I would like to talk to the broader group of business professionals without reference to the size and shape of your company. Here and in many other media outlets, networks, and blogs around the web, social media is one of the most prevalent subjects in business today. While advice is everywhere, advice is becoming a commodity. Insight, however, is precious.

I would like to take this time together to share with you my thoughts on some of the most often asked questions and how your role in finding the right answers and putting them into action is more important than you may think.

While you may read success story after success story, we cannot make any great assumptions in how they’ll impact your work.

There is a great myth that a winning formula exists for success in social media; that if you deconstruct the most popular case studies, you’ll find a winning recipe for your social media strategy.

It’s easy to get caught up in the creative examples we read about. Many times however, they feed the very impressions that can work against you.

 

- If we can introduce the right viral content we can get more views or friends.

- If we can maintain a rhythmic editorial calendar we can spark conversations that create a social effect.

- If we can develop the most amazing app, we can rise to the top of our customer’s attention span!

- And, my personal favorite, if we get our company in social networks, we can build better relationships with our customers.

Rather than seeking shortcuts, we should see these examples as inspiration. In the end however, we each have our own question we need to answer…what do successful relationships and experiences look like in social media for our customers?

The formula for success in social media begins with first defining what success is and how it will be measured. This is one of the most important steps in any social media strategy, yet it is the first step that many businesses miss. The truth is that there is no formula for success. It requires something special for each strategy and it’s dependent on the people you’re trying to reach, their expectations, your business objectives and how this engagement ties specifically to your organization (sales, marketing, service, products, etc.)

To help, let’s put social media strategy into an approachable framework. Begin by organizing the most important themes to form what I refer to as The 5 Pillars of Social Media Strategy. This will contribute to a meaningful social media presence as long as you revisit this approach through every step of the strategy process.

1. Listen, Search, Walk a “Day in the Life” of your customers: Research is critical in understanding how your connected consumer makes decisions, how they’re influenced and where they engage and learn. You’ll learn that your social customers are not at all like the traditional customers you know. Please note that they’re still important, but a new approach is required to expand your reach.

2: Rethink your Vision, Mission, and Purpose: When’s the last time you read your company’s vision or mission statements? Did it or does it speak to you? Would you Tweet it? Take this time to redesign customer experiences and articulate your vision for how you will use social media to improve customer experiences now and over time.

3. Define Your Brand Persona: Take some time to answer the following questions…What do you want people to see and appreciate? What do you want customers to hear, see, think and feel? Who are they engaging with? What do you stand for? Defining your brand persona will humanize engagement and make takeaway impressions and value consistent across every network and in every scenario.

4. Develop a Social Business Strategy: Make your presence matter. This isn’t just about concepting the next Facebook Like or Twitter Retweet campaign. Based on the first 3 steps, develop a business-level strategy that meets the needs and expectations of your connected customers. As you’ll learn in step 1, new touch points emerge. If you are not part of the awareness stage of the decision making cycle, you will not benefit from consideration nor a decision in your favor. They key is to also tie social media back to key business objectives while investing in the necessary roles to engage customers at the functional level (service/support, sales, marketing, collaboration/innovation, etc.)

5. Build and Invest in Your Community: Don’t just think about social media as an editorial or marketing program. That’s just table stakes. Community isn’t defined by Likes or followers. Those are essentially “in the moment” actions. Community is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter. Participate in the communities that you host and also the communities that host the conversations that are important to your business. That’s the secret to earning a lasting affinity the contributes to you becoming a trusted resource.

Repeating steps one through five over time will help you achieve empathy which will inspire meaningful strategies to earn relevance. What’s important to remember is that in social media, there is no box to think outside of. In fact, there is no box. There is only a blank slate and a series of unanswered questions that separate you from your connected customers. Seek inspiration from the examples of others, but use The 5 Pillars of Social Media Strategy to learn how to reach, engage, and enchant your connected customers now and in the future.