Riveter at work (courtesy Library of Congress at Flickr Commons)I recently went against my own rules about working for free, but the result was winning a contest, connecting with a probable client and confirming in my own head that getting started with any organization’s social media strategy is actually pretty simple.

Here’s the story….

Every year, I always make time to go to SOBCon – a “think tank” event. It’s all about businesses, communities and customers, online and off and the attendees are some incredible people.  Founded by my friends Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker, the main conference is in Chicago (it’s April 29 – May 1 in 2011) and there’s also a smaller one in Colorado.

The Set-Up

One of the sponsors is Carlsen Resources, Inc (CRI), an executive search firm in global media and telecommunications. In fall 2010 they supported a SOBCon social media strategy contest:

“The prize? A FREE trip to our flagship event, SOBCon 2011 in Chicago!  (registration, 3 night’s hotel, air up to $750)

The contest? Propose, in 500 words or less, a Social Media strategy for Carlsen Resources.

How will the winner be selected? A team at Carlsen Resources will review and determine which proposal best suits their business. The SOBCon social media team will act in an advisory role only.”

Carlsen wants to connect with their market AND do a better job of reaching out to those who spend time on the social Web, particularly younger people. Pretty straightforward, and similar to the goals of many organizations these days who “know they need to do something besides having a website.”

I was reluctant to spend valuable time on this project without a paycheck at the other end – heck, I’m even doing a webinar about avoiding “brain-picking” as a freelancer/entrepreneur – but was intrigued by the deceptively simple premise and the opportunity to have my conference expenses covered. SOBCon is an amazing value, but it’s not cheap.

The Strategic Approach & Framework

Since I normally don’t work in the executive recruiting industry, the contest offered an opportunity to do some higher level thinking; to see if I could take a simple framework that I use with Tourism Currents, and apply it outside of our normal focus on tourism, hospitality and economic development.

The strategy?

It all boils down to four very basic questions:

1) Who is the market for Carlsen?

2) What sort of people are their customers?

3) Where are they right now on the social Web (and where might they go in the near future?)

4)  How can Carlsen best engage with them there?

That’s it. Anyone can ask these questions of any person or organization that wants to establish a presence using social media.

The value I brought was in knowing the organization (I did my homework to learn as much as I could about Carlsen and about their market) AND knowing the cultures of the different social media spaces to determine the best fit, which comes from spending one hell of a lot of time online since I started a family travel blog in early 2006.

The Recommendation

So, what did I recommend?  Drumroll….

A much more wide-ranging and effective company presence on LinkedIn, and that they start a high-level blog about C-suite issues in their market and industries of interest.

Yep, that’s it. That’s what makes sense for their market, and would make the best use of their time and brainpower.

To some people, these may seem to be absurdly simple ideas, but anyone who knows what they’re doing knows that a lot goes into creating an “effective presence” on LinkedIn, and a TON of effort goes into a really solid blog that hits C-suite issues.

At some point, a Facebook Page for the business would be good (I did point out that one of their competitors has a lively Page) and then a Twitter account plus participation in industry-related chats like #TNL, #CareerChat and #LeadershipChat.

BUT….only when it makes sense for reaching their market and only if they have the time and commitment to making the content on all channels absolutely top-notch.

Thanks so much to Carlsen for sponsoring SOBCon and financially supporting my participation in one of my very favorite events.

(Update:  Wow, had to come back and add these Mack Collier thoughts on How to Fix a Broken Social Media Strategy – he reminds his readers that strategy comes first, then the tactics (social media channels) to implement that strategy. He also suggests ways to measure your impact and success/failure. Great post, Mack!)

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