5 Tips for Managing Changing Social Media Trends

The internet is a constantly changing landscape, as fluid and changeable as the ocean. That's not news to anyone, yet we're still always surprised to see signs of major changes. Early adopters are already predicting the death of RSS, location-services are seeing check-in burnout even as they start reaching the mainstream, and even techies seem to be fleeing Twitter! This year has also seen serious shots taken at Apple, Facebook, Google, and MySpace, all once or former stalwart, seemingly permanent, fixtures of the internet.

All of them will eventually fade, either to disappear, resurrect with a new focus, or hold a small corner of their once-great empire. Remember when AOL was the biggest thing on the web? Remember who Jeeves was, or why you would ask him anything?

As we wrap up 2010 and finalize our plans for 2011, the best bet is to plan for flexibility. Here are five ways to keep your online marketing limber:

0. Goals and Strategy: Before we even begin looking at updating your marketing plan, take the time to review your goals for online marketing. Who is your audience? What are you trying to achieve? What is your brand affinity? How does this fit into your overall marketing plan? Encouraging people to subscribe to your newsletter requires a very different approach than convincing customers to do their purchasing online.

1. Measure Everything: Many social media tools are struggling to create useful, reliable metrics. We've pretty much accepted that page views are not the panacea we once thought, and "engagement" is powerful and useful, but essentially unmeasurable. That means you will frequently have to create your own measures, and those need to be based on your goals.  No one can cover every social media outlet, so don't waste resources chasing ones that don't work for you.

2. Designate a Marketing R&D Budget: There will always be a new thing to try, or a new tactic for an existing tool. Set aside a portion of your marketing budget to take advantage of those opportunities as they arise. Think of it as the experimental part of R&D; most of it probably won't pay off, but there's still value in that because it saves you from wasting more resources later.

3. Centralize: Ideally, each social network would have a customized message and method, but realistically for most small businesses that's impossible. Designate one part of your online presence as the centerpiece, and let the others point back to it. For Chusid Associates, it's our blog. All our social network profiles, e-newsletters, and websites point back to it, and we run most of our campaigns through here. There will still be Facebook-specific campaigns, or email-only offers, but using the blog as our centerpiece makes it easier to start using new social tools.

4. Follow Your Clients: If none of your clients - or prospects - are using Facebook, there's not much reason for you to be there. If all of them are on LinkedIn, you absolutely need a strong presence there! If next year they switch, so should you. Trying to be the trend leader takes more resources than most building product manufacturers can, or should, devote to the attempt.

5. Accept Change: Most important to maintaining flexibility is acknowledging that you will need flexibility. I stopped listening to one marketing podcast after listening to the host talk about TV ads because it became clear he wanted them to be as powerful as they used to be, and was twisting the facts to prove they were. It is crucial to base your decisions on analysis of the facts, rather than the other way around. The sooner you can accept a campaign is not working, for whatever reason, the sooner you can move to one that does.

A lot of the news is just hype; these technologies aren't going anywhere, at least not yet, and there is a big difference between "diminished" and "dead". Many commentators also see a change in the medium when really there's just a change in the packaging. TV's not dying; we still watch TV shows, we just watch them online. Chat's not dying, it just morphed into texting.

Regardless, change will happen. When it does, will you spend your energy fighting it or taking advantage of it?