If there was ever any speculation or doubt, 2012 was the year that social media officially arrived for businesses. With a constant stream of updates – over 175,000 per second on twitter alone, businesses have a better opportunity to reach customers that they would’ve never otherwise found. To be perfectly clear, this is the most interactive time in all of human history. Never before have businesses been able to connect with customers as quickly, easily, and freely as they are today. If a business is not capitalizing on free and abundant traffic, they’re selling themselves short on profits and feedback.
Over the last decade, social media has evolved from the past time of angst ridden teenagers just looking for some free music – into a fully vetted marketing channel businesses use for lead generation / sales, marketing and customer service / support. Social media allows businesses to receive valuable real-time feedback, insight and suggestions from their most valued customers in a way that is more like a conversation at the bar than a formal business meeting. Improving on new products or services becomes childishly easy: the customers explain what they already want to buy or would like to see in a future product or service, and the business can adjust accordingly.
With tools like Survey Monkey and Google Consumer Surveys, current and potential customers can even answer survey questions without the need for a hefty bill from some shady market research company. What’s more is that social media marketing strategies have their own easy-to-follow blueprint. Any business should, within reason, be able to learn a few simple concepts and quickly get the hang of profiting with social media.
Outline Goals and Create a Road Map
Every business needs to understand three simple things before they get started: where they want to take their business, where they are now and some of the various ways to bridge the gap between the two. All social media marketing strategies need to be based on a specific company’s unique goal. Some companies are going to have high costs, ambitious campaigns and lots more customers, while a small business operating in a small town is likely to be a low-budget operation.
- Establish Where You Are
Every business needs to be completely honest with what they know and don’t know about social media. If they fully understand how to communicate with online customers in a way that promotes feedback, loyalty and profits, then developing their social media presence should be very simple. If they know nothing about the process, treading lightly until you find your bearings is a good place to start. They may also choose to outsource most of their social media work to professional companies for a premium fee.
- Plot Where Are You Going
How far can any business go in six months? The answer to that question changes from business to business. Some might want $6 million in profit from their social media efforts while others might be happy breaking five figures or getting decent exposure. Once a clear goal is set, the steps that need to be taken can begin to fall into place naturally.
- Follow The Road
Think about the type of strategy that would produce consistent results towards a desired goal. If 10,000 subscribers, followers or regular viewers are desired in six months, there’s more than one way to reach that goal. Maybe two important advertisements will generate 5000 views each, but then again, the site can also take it slowly and build 40-60 per day from simple traffic sources. The key takeaway from this is that once you have established your path to execute your social media marketing strategy, follow it.
Pick Your Poison
The biggest mistake that most new businesses make is that they waste too much time with obscure or otherwise low-traffic networks. The best social media marketing strategies must always tap into the easiest and most lucrative networks first. Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are typically the most likely to generate profit, and the logic behind this is simple: they have more users, more tools for businesses and more trustworthiness in the eyes of customers.
It seems like just yesterday, it was common for many businesses to shy away from using Facebook. They found that their demographic was not being represented strongly enough in the network. Much of that notion has now dissipated in businesses of all sizes. With over a billion users, there’s no longer a severe lack of users over the age of 30, and there certainly plenty of people in the 13-18 and 18-23 age group. In the past, it was much more common to mostly see the 23-28 age group represented on Facebook, as these were college-aged, internet-savvy people with the right circumstances to have heard of the site. Facebook now, more than ever, has enough users for virtually any business to tap into for profit.
Social media marketing strategies that use Facebook need to understand that the process is extremely simple: build a page around products or services, promote the page and generate as many “likes” as possible. A “like” acts as a fractal, viral marketing tool. When a person clicks “like,” their friends have the opportunity to see the page. This makes them more likely to trust the page, as the opinion is coming from a friend. If their friends like the page as well, the process will continue to repeat from friend to friend until the momentum dies down. Getting the right people to like a page is instrumental in achieving success with Facebook.
Twitter is a little more difficult to use than Facebook initially, but it’s still very much worth the effort. The end goal of Twitter is to build a healthy way of communicating with customers. Encouraging users to retweet messages will have the same effect that Facebook likes have, but this is not the most profitable way of using Twitter. Think of Twitter like an e-mail list: there are lots of people that have the potential to read messages on a daily basis, and this can be used as a form of free advertising. What’s more is that if a person is following a business’s Twitter, they are already a strong lead.
Twitter also opens the door for free communication with customers. This means that feedback is essentially free, which alone is worth the basic effort required to develop a presence on Twitter. Social media marketing strategies that involve Twitter should focus on developing a following, actively engaging customers and promoting new and existing products or services regularly.
Google+ is not as popular (yet) as the other major social networks, but that doesn’t mean that it should be neglected. While it’s okay to put it on the back burner for a while, Google+ is a valuable tool for search engine optimization, improved credibility and expanding to people that are not avid Facebook users. Google’s “+1” system and authorship profiling both provide healthy boosts to websites in Google’s SERP index ranking, and having a great reputation on Google+ adds another layer of legitimacy to a business. There are some people that prefer Google+ over Facebook, and though there are less people unique to Google+ than to Facebook, there is still potential gains from using Google+ in your social media marketing strategies that cannot and should not be overlooked. The idea is the same as before: get customers to click the +1, communicate through Google+ regularly and let the message spread itself. In addition, content posted to Google+ with Google Authorship helps to establish credibility while also giving the content a boost in Google’s SERPs.
Whether you are promoting your blog content in discussions in professional groups, creating job listings for targeted candidates in your city, monitoring who visiting your profile or just posting an update to your business page, LinkedIn is without a doubt THE social network for people doing business. Making use of LinkedIn as one of the channels you utilize within your social media marketing campaigns, especially if you are in professional services is a good idea.
Incorporating Smaller Networks into Social Media Marketing Strategies
Once you have decided which or all of the “big four” are right for your business, you may also consider other social networks depending on your type of business. This includes image sharing sites such as Pinterest or Instagram, video sites like Youtube, Vimeo and Vine or social geo-location apps like Foursquare and Yelp. There are dozens of small, “satellite” social media networks that range from hyper-local and regional sites to international start-ups.
Social media marketing can be a lot harder when you don’t have the right data as well. For tips on which tools you can use to monitor and quantify the impact of your social media efforts, make sure you check out my post from earlier this year on enterprise social media management tools.
Diversify Your Digital Marketing Mix
There is no one size fits all when it comes to developing a social media engagement strategy for your business. Generally speaking, a diverse digital strategy that utilizes social media, content marketing, pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization as well as e-mail marketing will fruit better results than just using social media as your primary marketing channel. Having a presence on all the touch points your target audience will increase your chances of being seen by the people who keep you in business.
Social media is a unique opportunity for brands to have an open dialogue with their customers at a level never before seen in history. I urge all brands, regardless of the size of your business or position in the marketplace to beware, it can be both a gift and a curse. It is highly recommended you research best practices, take seminars and training, attend conferences and / or read books on social media marketing before you rush out to share your message with the world. If you don’t have time to research the best ways to go about what you are trying to do, hire someone who does, it will only benefit you in the long run.