A business at its best is an integrated set of systems that come together to create value for an owner, employees, suppliers and customers of that business.
Taking that view then, marketing is a system, in my book the most important system, and social media is, for the most part, a new component of that system. There is no question that the emergence of social media practices, platforms and tools have changed much of how we understand and participate in marketing, but let’s keep it in perspective – it’s a new and very important practice and set of tools that you must learn to integrate fully into the overall picture of marketing.
I find that when I break social media adoption and participation into these five pillars it helps businesses focus on the why and what instead of simply grabbing at the how.
1) Listen before you speak
Before you attempt to determine how to use Twitter, you should stop and ask why a tool such as this would fit into the realization of your marketing objectives. I’m quite sure you’ve heard this before, but you must develop a strategy before you think in terms of tactics. However, tackling strategy in practical terms can be a bit hard to do.
One of the best ways to understand how to use social media in a strategic way is to listen first. You don’t have to know what you might say on a blog or Facebook status update to participate fully in social media.
Subscribing to blogs, creating advanced Twitter searches, and establishing alerts any time an important journalist in your industry writes a story is using social media in a very strategic way. Do that for a period of time and you’ll not only get tremendous ROI for time spent, you’ll come to understand how some of these new tools operate in ways that might benefit your business.
See, you don’t have to use social media tools that way other people do or the hyped up way they are often characterized in the media. You only have to figure out a way or two that can benefit your business and adopt them.
2) Optimize your brand assets
Social media sites afford a great opportunity to create outposts for business in every corner of the web.
A key tactic for taking full advantage of this idea is to make certain that you are occupying outposts such as Flickr and YouTube with content that is fully optimized to pay dividends for your brand. People and search engines looking for interesting answers stumble across content in social media sites at a growing rate. Even if you have not determined that a social media site deserves your full attention, it’s important to adopt a strategy of claiming this real estate with content that can serve your brand.
This tactic includes working your way through the creation of completely developed social media profiles on sights such as Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter, and Google Profile. (Heck, if you’re reading this on OpenForum why not add your profile here!)
3) Use content to create engagement
Lead generation has evolved from a game of hunting into one of being found. When it comes to being found online, search is king.
Search engines are constantly seeking the best ways to index and serve up the most relevant content they can in answer to someone’s query. Currently, much of the content that is showing up in the top result is content found on social media sites, including, and perhaps primarily, content drawn from blogs.
Participation in social media and ultimately utilizing it to convert contacts to clients should rest heavily on a foundation of educational content. This foundation supports both search results and engagement once you are found.
The process of marketing is leading a prospect to know, like and trust you with the end game being converting that to try, buy, repeat and refer. Social media participation can stimulate awareness, but the deeper engagement needed to build trust comes from a body of knowledge and expertise in the form of content.
Content is blog posts, on your site and others, free reports, videos, audios, interviews, transcripts, articles, and online newsletters, but mainly it’s frequently updated, consistently produced, and of high value in the eyes of a prospect.
4) Network to create awareness
Once you’ve listened long enough to learn, optimized your brand assets throughout the social networks and built a strong base of content to help educate prospects, it’s time to dive in and participate in the primary social networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
You might be wondering how I made it all the way to step four of five in an article about social media before telling you to participate in social networking, but I’ve found that for most businesses failure to complete steps one through three leads to a pretty frustrating experience.
So while many people want to look at social media as some sort of magic business building pill it is, in fact, mostly just a great way to open up new lines of awareness about you and your goods and services. With a strong base of content to point to you can realize immediate benefits from social networking by pointing people you engage on the surface of a site such as twitter to the places they can find the answers to their most persistent questions. Those answers can reside on your hub or on the sites of those your discovered in step one - either way, you build trust and trust returns the greatest ROI.
5) Manage the beast
The largest fear I encounter around social media is the fear that it will somehow take over a businesses owner’s life. And, it can. But, so can television, shopping and drugs, and yet you find a way to manage these.
The key to any new endeavor is to have a plan of attack. If you have a great deal to do in order to create the first four pillars, then so be it, make a plan and start working through it.
If you’ve already discovered a way to integrate social media into your current marketing thinking and plans, then it’s equally important that you create inter-daily, daily, weekly and monthly processes that allow you to participate at the planned level systematically, while still juggling the many other systems and routine you operate through the course of running your business.
While these pillars are presented in a nice and tidy order there’s rarely this much order to reality, so blend and adjust as you build and manage the beast.
Image credit: Geoff Livingston