At this point, you've most likely set up shop across the social media sphere: a branded Facebook page with multiple tabs, at least one Twitter account, a YouTube channel, a LinkedIn page and a few groups, possibly a community you host on your site, and maybe you've even tested other things like Foursquare, Tumblr, and Groupon. You're waiting to find out just what you can do with Google+. You've probably spent the last few months in what we call the "collecting" stage — using a wide variety of tactics building up your fans, followers, likers, etc. And now that you've built up your communities, you've run into one big question: Now what? If you've done things right, you essentially have an interconnected solar system of owned media in which you can engage your customers and audience over a long period of time — not just during one campaign. The value of this is similar to your email database — but much more dynamic. Because now you can use this community for market research, product development, product launches, brand awareness & support, direct marketing, and loyalty. And this community will act as your advocates, sharing relevant content and experiences with their friends. But people are fickle and unless you continue to be relevant, you won't get much of their attention.

Let's take Facebook as a prime example. Nearly one in five US online adults has liked a brand, but as Mark Scissons, CEO of the social platform Syncapse recently pointed out with some great data, marketers are not keeping those fans engaged. Why? Because it takes commitment to constantly feed this ecosystem in a relevant manner — as C.C. Chapman, Ann Handley, and others have pointed out — once you set up shop in social media, your brand is essentially became a publisher. And it's not as simple as just pumping out random stuff — it needs to be relevant and tethered back to your business objectives. This can be hard and you have to add on the nuances of social networks such as understanding Facebook's Edgeranking system in the newsfeed, where the great majority of people interact with the brands they like and where it is widely believed that pictures and video take higher precedence in "edge weighting." But this is a huge challenge for marketers, who are struggling with resources as it is. So what should you do? There are two steps that balance the proactive/reactive needs of social content that we point out in our new report "How To Develop An Interactive Marketing Content Plan":

  • Start by planning out your proactive content needs. Content comes in all shapes and sizes and can come from almost anywhere within the organization. Interactive marketers, often playing the lead role with social media marketing, should work with other teams like PR and eBusiness to build out an editorial calendar to determine what content will be published across earned, owned, and paid media — and a strategy for the most optimal way to use them together. Then work with your agencies to curate the best experience for your audience across social platforms.
  • Then build a process for reacting to the community. This isn't publishing from the 20th century. The community will react — that's the point. But you need rules of engagement for how to respond and react. Because the goal in the long run is an "empowered" organization in which all relevant employees will help provide solutions to your customers. So building a process and best practices for responding to the community will be a key step.