I know what you're thinking: This social media thing might not be a fad ...
Even though social media may be with us for good, it's also evolving, and each social network is a pretty different place than it was even a year ago. So if you've been thinking you need to update your habits, or if for some reason you haven't yet gotten engaged with social media at all, it's definitely time to start.
The good news is that there are a lot of different ways you can use social media to develop a closer relationship with your customers and find new ones. Bear in mind, however, that you don't have to do it all. It's much better, in fact, to play to your strengths and focus on the channels and ways to engage that make the most sense for your business.
And at the end of the day, you just need to have some fun. Your customers are engaging with social media to enjoy themselves. If you're not enjoying whatever you're doing online, you can't expect them to enjoy it either!
Here's everything you need to know to master social media.
We start with the microblogging service because it's arguably the most essential and really the easiest place to get started. You can sign up for Twitter and just start tweeting.
The strength of Twitter is that you're limited to just a few words (140 characters worth), so it fits into a busy schedule: You can tweet while waiting for your coffee (and really, if you're taking longer than that on your tweets, you're doing it wrong).
When you think through what kinds of things you want to tweet, you might want to let people know about sales, special offers or new products—that's the obvious stuff and it should certainly be part of your feed. But you should also think about how you can add value to your customers' experience of Twitter. If you run a clothing boutique, for example, assume that fashion and style are a common interest you and your customers have. Presumably, you're already following some fashion blogs, looking at red carpet photos and reading articles about clothing trends; add your own commentary and link out to those sources. Share photos of your inventory, people you see on the street who look great, or even your own customers looking fabulous in your clothes.
Twitter's other strength is that you can just talk to anyone. If you follow people you find interesting and you have something to say about what they've tweeted, you can just say it—you don't have to be their "friend" or anything else. Use the Twitter search engine at Topsy.com to find other Twitter users in your community, or who are interested in things related to your business and start following them. When they say something interesting, retweet it—everyone appreciates a retweet.
Between sharing news about your business, treating your business as a common interest and adding value, and engaging with the people who could be your customers, you want to find easy ways you can tweet 10 to 15 times a day. And get in the habit of checking your feed while you're waiting for that coffee.
In many ways, Facebook can really be the most rewarding of all social networks, but it takes the most work. First, you want to create a Facebook Page for your business if you haven't already. Once you've created it, it will appear in the left column of your news feed. When you go to it, you'll see the admin options at the top.
You can take the same approach to creating content for your Facebook Page as you do with other networks, but you'll do best if you put a little extra effort into what you post, because you really want people to interact with your posts. So if you're handy with a simple photo editing tool, you might take that cool picture of a stylish person on the street and add a funny caption. If you're sharing a link about hiring practices, add a pithy statement about what kind of philosophy underlies the best hiring practices.
When it comes to finding people, that's also a little tougher. The best option on Facebook is really the ads, which you can find in the admin section of your page. You can target friends of people who've liked your page or people with similar interests. Plus, whenever people share your posts, they're sharing them with your friends.
The professional's social network, LinkedIn is a great choice if your customers are businesspeople of some kind. You probably already have a LinkedIn profile instead of a resume (and if not, get rid of your resume and get a LinkedIn profile). But LinkedIn is more now than just a resume replacement. It has many Twitter- and Facebook-like features to allow you to share information with the people who are connected to you, and the groups are a great way to find and engage with new customers.
LinkedIn doesn't need as many posts per day to be effective because it's not as busy as Twitter, but you can still think about the same sources for posts—information about your business, interesting items related to your business, and interactions with potential customers. For example, if you run a staffing firm, LinkedIn is the perfect social network for you. You might share tips and tricks for hiring great people, for example. While there are tools to make this easier, which I'll get to later, you can start by posting right from LinkedIn's homepage—you can see the latest from your own connections and the people you follow there as well.
Second are the groups. LinkedIn has a lot of professional groups that are great ways to find new people in your business or related fields. It's especially strong for sales groups. Find groups by searching for relevant keywords in the search bar. Results will come up for all of LinkedIn, but you can filter them for just groups at the top left side of the page. You can jump right into open groups, but some groups will require an approval from an existing member. Either way, just hit the large blue button next to the results that either says "View" or "Join" and go from there.
There are other social networks, of course, that may be of interest. Pinterest could be a great fit for you if your business has a strong visual element (like a clothing shop or a restaurant), but it doesn't have the universality of the top three networks. Tumblr's similar in that it's still fairly niche-y, but if you can be funny, or if your business is related to entertainment in any way, it might also be the best place for you.
Instagram and Vine are great ways to create content for Twitter and Facebook. YouTube is its own thing, and is fantastic, but has a huge barrier to entry (you have to make videos) as a social network.
Make It Easy On Yourself
As a business leader, I assume you're pretty busy and you just don't have time to hang out on social media all the time. So let me introduce you to three tools, without which all of the above is completely untenable.
Your phone. Social media is something you do when you're doing something else. If you're going to be good at it, give up on only doing it from the desktop.
TweetDeck. But while you are at your desktop, TweetDeck will let you keep up with your Twitter and Facebook—both personal and business accounts—in one place. I keep a tab open for TweetDeck, and I take a look at it for a couple minutes when I'm switching tasks.
Buffer. Buffer is a service that allows you to set up posts and then mete them out at prearranged times. I read a lot first thing in the morning and I share a lot of links. But a barrage of 10 links first thing in the morning and then six hours of silence does not a good Twitter feed make. So I post those 10 links, but Buffer then deals them out for the rest of the day. Even better, it allows me to post to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all from the same place—and better still, I can post to my personal and business feeds in each of those places through the same service. Buffer has a browser extension and a mobile app, and integrates with many other services.
Social media can seem like a job in itself—and sometimes it is. It can be a huge time suck. But when you get used to adding value in your dead time, finding your best customers and getting hip to a few of the right tools, it can actually be a huge time saver that can supercharge your business.
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