This article was excerpted from OPEN Book: Social Media. Find more resources and information from OPEN at openforum.com/socialmedia.
Businesses OWNERS ARE TURNING TO SOCIAL MEDIA TO MARKET THEIR BUSINESSES AND REACH NEW CUSTOMERS. ANITA CAMPBELL DISCUSSES SOME OF THE BEST OPTIONS (DOWNLOAD THE FULL PDF)
If you’ve ever visited a blog, set up a LinkedIn profile, watched a YouTube video, left a consumer review on a site like Yelp or surfed through Facebook to reconnect with old college friends – then you’ve participated in social media. “Social media” refers to a type of website, application or communications vehicle where people connect with one another; discuss and interact; share content and ideas; and build relationships. The most important word in the phrase “social media” is “social.”
Being more social online is a growing trend in our society. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project tracking survey in December 2008, over one-third (35 percent) of adults now have a profile on a social networking website. That number has quadrupled since 2005 (it was 8 percent then). You can see how quickly this trend is growing. And although social media started out as personal activity, businesses have caught on and are getting in on the act.
Marketing maestro Seth Godin has written about today’s “attention economy”: “In an attention economy, marketers struggle for attention, and if you don’t have it, you lose.” Let’s carry Seth’s idea one step further. One way that a small business can get attention is by becoming more “social” and engaging prospects and the public in more active ways in multiple places online – and also by sharing expertise and content freely at these sites.
This may require a change in your approach. Instead of thinking of your Web presence as consisting solely of your website, think in terms of creating satellite outposts on the Web at social media sites where your business interacts with others. In other words, you go to where your customers and prospects are. You join in communities where they are participating, or you start your own micro-communities inside larger social media sites around the Web.
Major Time Sink – or Essential 21st-Century Marketing Tool?
Whoever coined the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” could have been talking about social media marketing. All marketing costs you something, in either time or money. Social media marketing is no exception. In fact, social media marketing often costs more in time than in money. This reality has been a rude awakening for many a small business owner who was initially delighted with all the “free” marketing and PR possibilities afforded by social media.
Take the example of a blog. Setting up a blog is now considered a well-established technique to connect more closely with customers and the public, learn what your customers are thinking and share your messages in a conversational voice. A blog can be free and involve literally no out-of-pocket expense. But for your blog to be effective, you must “feed” it by adding content. Blogging takes time. It’s nearly impossible to write a substantive blog entry in under a half hour – chances are it will take you an hour or longer. Like any business activity, it’s not without its cost – in this case, time – but that time can be well spent in terms of customer engagement for your brand.
When it comes to large social venues like Twitter and Facebook, it’s frighteningly easy for you and your staff to fritter away huge amounts of time. It may be fun, even addictive. But from a business perspective, if this is done aimlessly it can be more noise than signal. At the end of the day, you may have no business results to show for it – no better brand recognition, no additional sales, no happier customers. Often this disappointment results from approaching social media without a clear strategy and plan. Social media is not a one-size-fits-all activity; it’s a rich landscape of websites, tools, applications and techniques.
You Need a Plan
Successful social media marketing for any business starts with a plan. It should be a subset of your overall marketing strategy, with very clear goals and a tactical course of action. To properly take advantage of social media, first step back and ask yourself some questions:
What are you trying to achieve?
Refer back to the overall marketing objectives you created for your business.
Are you trying to drive new customer acquisition? Brand recognition? Deepen relationships with existing customers to retain them? Cross-sell your products and services to existing customers? Just as clear goals and objectives are the foundation of your overall marketing plan, they should also drive your social media plan.
Who exactly is your target market?
Be specific. Ideally you already have a clear picture of your target market in terms of demographic requirements and other characteristics. If so, this step should be straightforward. If you aren’t sure, you’ll need to do some research to identify which social media sites and tools to focus on (start with my list on the opposite page). But think broadly, as social media can have a viral effect. People pass along links to content. This means that your message or content may be shared in one venue, yet often reach people through indirect means.
Which social media activities can help you achieve your marketing objective?
Now tie your social media tactics and activities to your marketing objectives. Do you need to find platforms to display your expertise and thought leadership? Amplify your brand by sharing your messages and content? Drive traffic to your website? Spread the word about discounts or special offers? Publicize events? Establish a dialogue with customers and the public, and create a two-way conversation? Monitor your brand at social sites? Once you identify clear goals and objectives, it becomes much easier to figure out what you need to do each day, week or month with social media. A concrete plan helps you separate the activities that are enjoyable personal diversions (or downright time wasters) from those that drive real value to your business.
Monitoring Your Social Impact
Sound overwhelming? It’s not, really. Some tools and utilities can make it much easier to manage. There are tools just to help monitor mentions of you, your products or your brand on the Web. Set up Google Alerts and Google Blog Alerts to be notified via email whenever you or your brand are discussed online. TweetBeep.com is a similar monitoring service that will send you alerts whenever you’re mentioned on Twitter.
A variety of toolbars and applications exist that make it easy to update your social presence too. For instance, Ping.fm allows you to update numerous social media sites simply by posting a message in a single place. There are even applications such as TweetLater and Adjix that allow you to schedule Twitter updates in advance. TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop allow you to better monitor and update your Twitter account from your computer or mobile device.
New tools are being developed all the time. Try some of them out. They can make your social media activities considerably more efficient and effective.
Social media is a learning experience. It presents a dynamic, constantly evolving landscape. You’ll want to refine your social media approach as you get your feet wet. You and your colleagues should spend more time on the activities that bring results, and eliminate activities that haven’t panned out. Make sure that you adjust your approach as your business grows and changes, too. What may serve you well today may not be what you require next year or the year after that in your business. Whatever you do, don’t remain static. Open yourself to the possibilities of this new “social world” on the Web.