The importance of social

Social media is bigger than ever. With some predictions suggesting a nearly 20% growth in usage through 2012 (taking us to a staggering 1.43 billion social network users globally) it’s clear businesses can’t afford to ignore social channels. But while most companies are aware of the need to be active on these networks, many are still struggling to implement a comprehensive strategy. What is immediately apparent though is that conversation – rather than broadcasting – is the future; a point made very well by my colleague Sian Prescott in a previous blog post.

Q&A sessions

Communicating with your audience enables you to see how they actually think and behave, and can generate the kind of insights you just can’t get from statistics. Question and Answer sessions (or Q&As) – short discussions structured around a series of questions and guided by expert contributions – are a great way to foster and facilitate these kinds of productive conversations. In this blog post I explore what I feel are the most important ingredients for a successful Q&A event; not the mechanics (there’s plenty of information on those available elsewhere), but focusing on the approach and attitude you need to attract interest and input.

Six golden rules

1 – Identify your goals 

Before you decide on the details it’s vital to define what you want to achieve. Are you trying to drive people toward a particular product or service? Publicising your latest piece of premium content? Or just raising awareness of your brand?

With this knowledge you should find it much easier to answer another key question: Who is your audience? It’s particularly important to know this as it will guide your decisions on which network to use for your Q&A. Twitter is obviously particularly well suited for these activities, but if you’re B2C what about Facebook, or Linkedin for B2B organisations? Would a niche site help filter the noise and increase the chance of engagement? Taking the time to answer these questions now could save you a lot of effort in the long run.

2 – Pick your topic

Now you know the why, who and where, you’re ready to think about the what. Having an appropriate topic really can make or break a Q&A, but what’s ‘appropriate’ depends on many factors. Do you have the expertise available to provide genuine insight on the subject? Will your target audience understand the debate? Crucially, do they even care about the answers?

It’s important to find out what people are interested in when putting together your questions; thankfully, there are numerous ways to get this information:

  • Ask your audience: It might sound obvious, but why not ask your existing followers what questions they’d most like answered?
  • Speak to your client-facing colleagues: Support teams, Account Managers… people that speak to your clients on a daily basis know their most pressing issues.
  • Check out the social networks: Researching through an industry or audience-specific network or a dedicated question site such as Quora will not only expose popular topics but will also let you know what’s already been covered

3 – Organise your marketing

You’ve got all the information, now it’s time to spread the word! Every good Q&A needs a title or tag so that people can search for all posts related to the topic. Keep this clear, short and simple, and remember to make it fairly generic if you want to run a series of events (at Box UK we use #boxchat). Then you can use all the channels available to you to publicise your event:

  • Social profiles
  • Blog
  • Website
  • Friends and colleagues

You might also want to consider sending personalised communications to your target audience, through an email campaign or bespoke landing page. However you communicate the news though, be sure to mention your tag, when the event is taking place (remember that since this is online the time zone will need to be made clear), and where people will need to go to take part.

4 – Get people onside

If done well, your communications in the lead-up to the event should attract plenty of attention and interest, but knowing that’s there’s people you trust who are willing to contribute can provide a valuable extra level of confidence. Speak to colleagues who specialise in your chosen topic; you’ve probably already convinced (ordered / bribed / blackmailed) them to get involved, but what about their contacts in the industry?

It might be daunting, but you can often secure the contributions of experts if you explain that in exchange for a just a few posts they’ll have a platform to demonstrate their knowledge and skills; a win-win situation surely! Also consider approaching selected clients; not only will they lend authority to your claims but they’ll be able to get first-hand insight and advice into areas they might not have thought about deeply before.

5 – Make sure you have the right tools

Ok, so this one is a bit of the practical mechanics, but it is important. A common problem for first-time Q&A organisers is to focus on perfecting the questions and making sure everybody knows about the event, at the expense of thinking about how they’re actually going to manage the (hopefully) multiple conversations on the day (I’ll admit, I have a touch of first-hand experience here!)

One of the best things about a social media Q&A is its simplicity so you definitely don’t want to overcomplicate things with loads of different tools, but there are two pieces of kit you should investigate:

  • Social Media clients: For practically every social network you’ll be able to find a whole host of ‘clients’ – tools that make it easy to post updates from a variety of accounts, manage questions and messages from your followers, monitor mentions of your brand and more. Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Seesmic are some of the most famous clients for managing multiple networks (although the best tool for you will depend on your individual requirements), and there are many more suggestions on Quora.
  • Transcript tools: If you want to share your Q&A discussion after the event, turn your debate into a blog post or just analyse what was said, then there’s a growing number of transcript tools such as Storify and Hashtracking that can help pull out relevant posts and display them in an easily digestible format.

6 – Follow up

From the work you did at the beginning of this process you should have a clear idea of the next steps you want your Q&A attendees to take (such as downloading a report, contacting you directly, or reading your blog posts and articles). However, you still have some work to do to enable them to complete these tasks.

Be sure to signpost the way to relevant materials and pages through the channels you used to advertise the event (so that even people who didn’t attend still get a chance to find out more), perhaps even creating bespoke bundles or pages targeted specifically at Q&A attendees. Of course, all these calls to action need to be backed up with relevant, engaging and useful content – but that’s another blog post entirely!

About the Author

Emma Willis

During her time at Box UK, Senior Marketing Executive Emma Willis has supported the planning and execution of a diverse range of cross-channel campaigns. Writing compelling, informative copy designed to maximise engagement, Emma has developed an impressive portfolio of content covering a wide variety of digital marketing and technology-focused topics.