While traditional media is controlled by professional editors who determined what will be published and when, social media offers means to communicate directly with customers, partners, investors – in short with the world. By the term ‘social media’ I am referring to a whole range of tools such as blogs, social networks and messaging tools.Social-media

So what are some of the social media tools out there?

  • Company Blog: if your company doesn’t have one, it’s time to create it… A company blog is a straight forward way to update its followers: customers, analysts, partners…and competitors. The blog enables you to deliver your messages in your own words, without depending on external editors. Blogs should be updated with new posts on a regular basis, since if you let your blog go stale, you may lose your audience.
  • Social networks: powerful platforms for spreading your word. Ideal for posting short updates/messages which may refer readers to your website or blog for more information. Some social networks also allow you to build your own “pages” and acquire “followers”. The main social network that comes to mind is of course Facebook, yet there are many others that you should consider for your purposes. Check out the list of social networks websites. For example, if China is one of your target markets, then you should consider RenRen, or other leading Chinese sites.
  • Virtual communities: these are online communities that share common interests. By joining these communities, you can share ideas with people from your field. You should of course join special interest groups within your favorite professional social network (e.g. LinkedIn), but you should also make an effort to find the leading communities in your area of interest. Check out this virtual communities list.
  • Video sites: where you can host self-made, or professionally-made videos for a general audience. Video hosting sites can be used for example for delivering recorded presentations, or product demonstrations. One of the most popular ones is YouTube, but there are many other video hosting sites.
  • Messaging tools: offer the ability to send short messages, with optional links to extended content. One platform that comes to mind is Twitter, whose messages (aka “tweets”) are referred to as “micro blogging”. But there are other messaging platforms, such as the Chinese popular WeChat
  • Electronic Newsletter: regular updates by email to people who subscribe to a news letter issued by your company.

The variety of social media tools illustrate the power of this media, and the fact it is still evolving rapidly. Social media can be very powerful, yet it is not without challenges and pitfalls. As the term implies, social media is driven by a society of individuals. Anyone can post and share information, or publically comment on it. And yes, that includes disgruntled customers and competitors. The old adage “bad news travel fast” gets new meaning when it comes to social media.

I am not suggesting that one should avoid social media, but rather suggest you become aware of both its strength and weaknesses. Social media is here to stay, and it is a force to reckon with. As a product manager, you should definitely adopt a social media strategy for both your inbound and outbound activities.

Let’s start with the inbound activities. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that just about anyone whose opinion you care about has some level of social media activity. Industry analysts publish blog posts, issue tweets and publish newsletters. Companies within your target market author blogs, issue newsletters and maintain Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And once you identify key people within your existing and potential customer base, you can follow their activities within social networks and virtual communities and learn about their opinions and activities. Naturally, social media is also an effective way to gather information about your competitors.

As a product manager you are responsible for gathering information about your target market and customer needs. This type of information builds your ‘knowledge base’ and is very handy when negotiating features and roadmap with your development team. Social media is definitely an important source for gathering market information, yet it should augment rather than replace direct customer engagements and personal conversations with industry analysts.

The outbound activities are a bit more challenging. As a product manager, you possess a great deal of knowledge about your company’s products/services, and the industry you operate in. You are therefore an excellent resource for disseminating such information through social media. Your knowledge and experience can be used for authoring the company blog, contributing to its Twitter feed, and generating posts on other social media pages. You can also voice opinions and share knowledge about your company offerings within virtual communities. Your path to becoming a “social media maven” is wide open. But not so fast…

Outbound social media activities require time, effort and skills. Starting a company blog and then neglecting to update it regularly may do more harm than good. Failing to quickly respond to comments made on posts you issued, especially negative comments, can be quite harmful. And if you lack the skills required to communicate a message eloquently, succinctly, and with some pizzazz, your social media activities may be ignored at best, or worse – generate negative sentiment.

People tend to underestimate the time and effort required to create a blog entry or a social media post. Creating succinct, engaging and informative content can be very time consuming. Before embarking on a social media writing adventure, it is recommended to seek guidance on how to create effective social media content. You can always start with a Google search on the subject (e.g. “how to write effective social media content”) and read some of the articles that come up. Plan to spend a few hours on creating each social media post, and make sure you get some feedback from peers before posting it live.

Usually you want the content posted in social media to reach a broad audience. This requires that the assets you use (i.e. company blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page, etc.) have a large number of followers. Expanding the social media community requires both efforts and budgets. The company social media assets should be promoted in all its outbound communications, including: website, press releases, marketing collateral, presentations, and more. The amount and quality of social media activity obviously helps; the more interesting and engaging your posts are, the more followers you gain. And you should also make an investment in promoting your social media assets through paid campaigns on your social platforms of choice.

So before diving head first into your company outbound social media activities, make sure you assess the time, efforts and skills required. If you realize you may fall short on any of these three, then you should either team up with, or hire someone who would compliment your product knowledge with social media knowhow and resources. Small firms may expect a product manager to be also responsible for social media marketing. However, when possible the company should allocate separate marketing resources to manage its social media activity and utilize the product manager as a content contributor.

Last but not least: your outbound social media strategy and activities should be aligned with other traditional outbound marketing activities. To that end, it is critical that the messaging and positioning of the company and its product/services are clear and agreed upon. With the rapidly growing number of channels used to communicate your company messages, it is highly advisable that the messaging be put in writing and circulated among all those who spread the word – through traditional and social media.