By Jasmine Grillmeier

Image courtesy of KaboomPics.com

Mai Nguyen began her career as a Freelance Social Media Assistant at Ologie and spent a year there, managing Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center’s various interactive media applications and developed content for SJRMC’s social media accounts. After her time at Ologie, she joined Fahlgren Mortine’s team as a Search Marketing Associate, developing skills in search engine marketing and social media analytics. After three years in this position she was promoted to Social Analytics and Search Marketing Manager at Fahlgren Mortine, a role in which she has now been in for the past four months. I had a chance to work with Mai while interning at Fahlgren Mortine this past summer and saw her to be a very valuable mentor for anyone wanting to learn more about social media and be successful in this space. Based on the great impression I got over the summer and knowledge of her social media background, I was excited to get a chance to speak with her to get her insight on the industry and learn more about social media strategy and analytics in the professional world.

Jasmine: What type of consumer research do you conduct before planning a social media campaign?

Mai: It depends on where we are in our social media process with a client. If it’s a new relationship, then we’ll conduct a general social media audit that will give us an idea of the landscape in which the brand operates. This type of audit usually includes data on user engagement, post content performance, competitive data, and organic conversation about the brand. If it’s an existing relationship and the brand just wants to know where they are in relation to their competitors and the overall industry (a snapshot in time almost), we’ll look at performance data by brand, but we’ll also look at the way the industry uses social media to support their business objectives and reach their core audience. When it comes to an individual campaign, the type of research that we conduct depends on the objective of the campaign — is it strictly awareness based, is it focused on generating leads, etc? Who should we target with this specific campaign? Is it only meant for a subset of our target audience, or are looking to expand outside of our current audience makeup? Is paid social appropriate for this campaign?

Jasmine: Would you explain some tools that you use to plan, implement, or evaluate social media campaigns?

Mai: I’m not going to go into specific tools because we’re in the process of evaluating our current set while demoing new ones. Instead, I’ll talk about what we’re looking for when choosing tools. In terms of planning, I would choose a tool that provides data for competitive auditing and the ability to benchmark. For implementation, monitoring tools should allow for scheduling capabilities, content tagging, real time engagement with fans, social listening capabilities, and perhaps influencer outreach. For evaluation of progress, choose tools that are transparent in the way they present and report on data. And as a social marketer, it’s imperative to truly understand methods of derivation when a tool touts things like engagement rates, influencer scores, and “proprietary” metrics. Always ask these tools and their reps to explain their various processes.

Jasmine: If a student wanted to pursue a career containing social media strategy planning and analysis, what personal skills and/or experience should one have?

Mai: I think you have to have a solid understanding of how social operates from a professional standpoint, and the experience that gives credibility to your claim of knowledge. Citing “Facebook” as a skill in one’s personal resume is largely unnecessary. There are vast differences between using Facebook as a private person, and using it on behalf of a brand. This insight doesn’t just apply to Facebook, but across all social platforms.

When it comes to strategy and analytics of any kind, I think an appreciation for and a level of comfort for collecting, utilizing, and analyzing raw data are imperatives. Regurgitating data isn’t the same thing as understanding it. Citing a stat is not analysis. Always ask yourself “so what?” after you have presented a piece of information. Help people make connections between data and the next course of action. (I would also like to posit the notion of expanding beyond social analytics — it’s much more useful to become well versed in overall web analytics, and the way that social informs that space.)

From a practical standpoint, I would encourage you to become highly proficient at using Microsoft Excel because the software allows you to take raw data and give it form and structure. As marketing becomes increasingly data driven, those who have the ability to filter out the noise to find actionable insights will stand out.

Jasmine: Are there any trends in the social media strategy or analysis space that you think are worth exploring?

Mai: From a social analytics standpoint, I think social will continue to be asked to “prove its value,” so questions surrounding social ROI will not be going away any time soon. Broadly speaking, I’m interested in the way social networks are becoming more and more like search networks — Facebook continues to ramp up its search capabilities, and Pinterest sees itself as sort of a competitor to Google Images. As someone who also has a background in search, the intersection between search and social is becoming increasingly apparent. Finally, I think the “social” of the future will be even more dependent on paid efforts to reach target audiences, and there will be less emphasis on organic efforts. Organic social will still exist and real-time engagement efforts will continue to grab buzz from time to time, but I expect paid social to own a large portion of a brand’s social media budget.

Jasmine: What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social media professional?

Mai: Understand that social doesn’t exist on its own, and that it is merely another factor to account for when evaluating the way a customer experiences a brand overall. When we think of social, it’s important to see it beyond the social networks that make up the space. Social can support overall business and marketing objectives, but it has to be used in conjunction with other methods of outreach in order to be truly effective.

And for you, Jasmine, my last piece of advice is to show your thinking. It’s not about having the right answer all of the time — I’ve found that it’s far more useful to care enough to ask the right questions, the smart questions, the ones that allow for deeper exploration.

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My biggest takeaway is to plan social around a business strategy, not just a social strategy. It’s essential to be asking questions and developing objectives based around what the client wants out of a marketing campaign, not blindly implementing general social media tactics that might not be right to achieve the objectives. For example, instead of telling a client, “You need to be using Periscope because everyone is doing it” you should be discovering the exact reasoning behind your proposal and showing how it will achieve the business objective, such as “Based on the amount of community engagement Periscope fosters, I believe your company should look into implementing Periscope sessions into your social strategy in order to achieve the business objective of increasing engagement and building a stronger relationship with the customer.” In order to be a well-versed professional in the social media industry you must be looking at the big picture and providing value for your clients by backing up your suggestions with industry knowledge as well as well-developed research.