Social networks and blogs are changing how consumers find places and services, how and where they share their experiences, and eventually, where they will spend their time and money. Without an understanding of, and participation in, social networks, you can miss shaping and contributing to the decision-making process of those who define the success of your business.
While social media cheat-sheets and short cuts are available almost everywhere you look, the truth is that we have some work ahead of us. To help, I’ve assembled a list of five best practices to help you build, cultivate, and measure success in the new web right now.
- Dedicate the time: We’re all very busy and our to-do list is never ending. Because time is a big concern, think about social media as an opportunity cost. Will your investment in identifying and connecting with prospects, customers, and influencers out perform your other activities? The answer is yes for most businesses, so carve out time for strategic experimentation. In short, you get out of it, what you invest.
- Conquer your fears: Many business owners believe that social media gives people a chance to criticize their business. That’s true, but avoiding social media doesn’t mean that their opinions will never see the light of day. Your brand is at the mercy of those who take to social media to share their experiences, so you might as well take an active role to contributes to the stature and perception of your brand. You might even learn how to improve your product and service in the process.
- Listen and research to learn and contribute: Social networking is far more effective when you realize that creating profiles and updating social networks aren’t arbitrary. There’s an art and science to all of this, and the process begins with listening and research. Step one: create a list of keywords that represent your market and then use the search box in each social network to see what people are saying about you. As you examine the results, you’ll identify the people who are leading conversations and the dialogue that invites and inspires participation. If local business is paramount to success, use services such as Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn. Also monitor location-based networks such as FourSquare, Gowalla, and Loopt.
- Establish an attractive and expansive presence: Your presence online is far more valuable than you may realize. While you may think that you should focus on your website, your social-media presence also represents you and what you offer. The ability to showcase your products and services to attract customers and spark conversation is arguably greater on social networking sites than your own website. In any case, connecting the dots between social networks, websites, and the real world is now as important as the service and products that you offer.
- Use engagement as the new customer service and marketing: It’s not what you say about you, it’s about what they say about you that counts. Customer service and engagement overall is a new and genuine form of unmarketing. Customers, prospects, and influencers are already engaging with others to contribute, learn, and discover. They are forming and sharing opinions and making decisions based on the information they find online—with or without you. You should use engagement as a fast, free, and powerful way to reach and serve customers.
This is your time to engage! Doing so will earn you permanent residence in the hearts and minds of the people who make up your markets. This will expand market opportunities, build brand awareness, stimulate demand, and engender loyalty and advocacy.
Brian Solis is the author of Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web. In addition to reading his book, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or read his blog.