As the year winds down, many of us review where we have been and where we are going. It is no different for social media professionals who need to understand what was successful in 2012 and what they will continue doing in 2013.

The key to understanding your social media success is based on how your achieved your goals. These should be more than vanity goals of followers and likes, but engagement and activity that drive leads and sales, or connect to other high level business objectives. The reason to review success is so you can do more of what worked, change what didn’t and stop doing what has no impact. With the overwhelming amounts of data available to us it can sometimes be hard to sift through the relevant numbers, but that’s why it is critical to focus on business goals. These are set by senior leadership and there is no question what success means. The job of the social media team is to understand how social media contributes to those goals.

While reviewing and planning, it is helpful to see what others have done. Don’t just pay attention to the best social media campaigns, but be aware of what didn’t work in 2012.

We spend so much time in our own world of customers, prospects, products and industry that we all need to break out and see what is going on beyond our own borders. Social media marketers still read all the same blogs, take advice from the same thought leaders and go to the same events.

Earlier this month I attended LeWeb, the leading internet conference in Europe and in two hours I saw presentations about adding emotional context to emails with brain waves, landing and controlling a vehicle on another planet and an open source system for remotely turning on lights in your home.

Make 2013 the year that you break out from your insular world because you never know where and how inspiration will strike you. Here are 5 suggestions of things you can do in the coming year to inspire your creativity and inform your social media strategy:

1. Attend a free local networking meeting unrelated to your field

Go to Meetup.com and find a meeting in your area about something you know nothing about. It should be a presentation or networking event where you can hear other people’s point of view. Make sure there are at least 15-20 people attending the meeting.

2. Talk to a local shopkeeper

I travel a fair amount which necessitates that I go to the dry cleaners weekly. I have gotten to know the owner and we have been talking more and more when I drop off or pick up. I was confused about what I was picking up recently, so he pulled up his video surveillance system to check what I dropped off. Every ticket is timestamped, so it is easy to find the right bit of video. Rather than attach every video clip to the ticket, he just keeps 2 months of video and for the rare times he needs to check in, he just goes to the relevant clip. This is a simple solution to his business problem of customers’ forgetfulness.

3. Shop at a different online site

If you frequent Amazon.com, go to Barnes and Noble to buy a book. If you normally buy music from iTunes, buy from a site that sells independent music. What is the buying experience like? How about the shipping and customer service experience? We get so used to our normal ways of doing things that it is hard to break out and do things differently. Seeing how the number two player or how the independents do it can be inspiring.

4. Discover other online voices

Instead of going to the same blogs and social media sites, find ones outside of your industry and see what they are saying. If you are in the CPG or retail industries, learn how manufacturers are dealing with social media. If you are a B2B company, read up on how B2C companies are using social media. Look for keynote speakers at industry events as one way to discover social media thought leaders in other spaces. Look for emerging thinkers as well. With such a nascent industry, new voices bring new perspectives.

5. Travel

Not everyone can travel to another planet, or even another country, but even short vacations get us out of offices, out of our routines and get us seeing new things. A historical site, a boat ride or even a conversation with a new person poolside adds to how we think about marketing our companies using social media.

Our customers and prospects experience the world differently from us, so anything we can do to expand our experiences can help us connect with them. What are you planning for 2013 that can help inform your social media strategy?

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Photo credit: NASA