Like the author of this article, we're often asked how companies should start . When a link to this piece popped up on Twitter, we thought it was good enough to share with you.

VIA MarketPlane:

As B2B tech , we spend a good deal of our time talking to companies about their strategies. Many companies we talk to are already engaged in , however, a fair number are not. In most cases, these companies “plan to do ”, but haven't had the time or resources to get a program off the ground. At this point in the conversation, we explain the value of doing a thorough review of their marketing audience, objectives and metrics, in order to develop a social media analysis. Essentially, the ROI analysis is a forecast of what a social media campaign would return, based on their marketing objectives.Without this stepping stone it would be hard to know where to go next.

Yet, as we allude to in our blog topic, typically the response from many a company is “OK. We hear you, but we're still not ready to launch a program. Is there something we can do now without committing lots of time and resources? At a minimum, what social media marketing should we do?” Well, we've heard this question so many times it seemed worthwhile to share our thoughts in a blog post.

Social Media Monitoring: First Steps

At a minimum, start with the basics: social media and competition monitoring. We've found that with a relatively small investment of time, you can see some positive results, including: learning from what your customers and prospects are saying about you, minimizing negative discussions about your product, keeping on top of your competitor's message, and tracking problems real users are experiencing.

Step 1: Brand Monitoring

The goal is to track how people talk about and products in social media, including news, blogs, social discussion groups, file sharing and video content sites, and Twitter. If you have a budget, there are SAAS toolsets which you can use to help you track key social media metrics, including tns cymfony, Radian6, and a few Twitter specific tools such as Chatterbox and Publicitweet. If you don't have a budget for new tools, you can do this by tracking your company and product name(s) as keywords using tools like Google Reader for news, Google Blog Search or for Blogs, and a tool like TweetDeck for Twitter. All of these tools are easily configured and some can even send you an email if there is any keyword activity. You may want to capture your weekly the results in a word doc, which you can share with other members of your team.

What you should watch for besides the obvious?

1. People routinely blogging or tweeting about you. If they like you – build a relationship with them. They can become an evangelist or reference for you. If they don't like you – try and find out why, and if there's any easy way to change their opinion.

2. What is being said? Is it a topic you can address with a blog post of your own, a position paper, or a white paper? Look for opportunities to expand on your message.

3. Analyst/industry bloggers writing or tweeting about you. Your goal should be to build relationships with all of these folks. We've seen companies quickly build relationships with industry bloggers, which led to multiple opportunities. Industry bloggers are well respected, have a strong readership base, and they are active at industry events in their region.

4. How influential are they? Tools like URLFan tell you how influential a particular blog site is based on the number of feeds, posts, and mentions. Use them to track and evaluate the influence of a particular blogger.

Step 2: Competition Monitoring

The goal is to track how people talk about your competition in the various social media channels. Again, a similar approach – you will need to track your competitor(s) and their product name(s) as keywords just as you do for your own.

What you should watch for besides the obvious?

People routinely blogging or tweeting about the competition. Find out who they are and what they do. If they like the competition better than you, they can negatively influence your prospects. Make sure your marketing and sales teams have counterpoints to their messages.

What your competition says about themselves. If they write blogs, keep track of the blog topics and keyword tags. Look for opportunities. What they don't talk about may be even more important. Companies usually avoid talking about their product weaknesses.

How your competition interacts with their customers and prospects. If they use Twitter, what do they talk about? Track their follower rates. Are they just sending out tweets or are they actually engaged?

Analyst/industry bloggers writing or tweeting about the competition. Make sure these folks understand the features and benefits of your products too. Again, look for opportunities.

On average, it takes 4-5 days to get a monitoring system in place and fine tune it, and requires 30-60 minutes a day to review the results. What you learn from these efforts will set the stage for the next step in a social media marketing program – interaction.

Social Media Corporate Policy

Lastly, we strongly recommend companies put a corporate social media policy in place. A social media policy outlines for employees the corporate guidelines/principles of communicating in the online world, as representatives of their company. Most companies have a policy in place for working with media and a social media policy is just an extension of what you currently have in place.

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