How to Become a Social Media Pro
You may have heard about the power of social media at conferences or read about it in white papers. But your familiarity of it may be limited to what you see your kids doing on their cellphones. You may be aware of the literally hundreds of existing platforms and vigorously avoid learning more because you are overwhelmed by the options. You may be convinced that your industry – perhaps a conservative one – is one whose clients are not on social media, and so ignore new social media trends or developments.
No matter what industry your business is in, social media can enhance your sales, marketing and public relations efforts. Social media is an umbrella term for a variety of virtual platforms that allow users to interact, create content, and share ideas and information. There are a number of social networks that readily lend themselves to your marketing efforts. After all, marketing can loosely be defined as communicating the value of your products or services to consumers in order to sell them. Social media merely provides you with the online tools to do so.
Social media has been growing in importance for years. In fact, social advertising alone is projected to increase to $11 billion in the U.S. by 2017, according to marketing research firm BIA/Kelsey. Marketing professionals realize its value, and as an entrepreneur, you should utilize it to help grow your business, no matter what stage of development it is in.
In this article, we examine the 1) types of social media tools, 2) advantages of using social media, 3) how to harness the power of social media, 4) general tips for social media engagement, 5) cost benefit analysis of social media platforms, and 6) the most commonly used social media platforms.
1. TYPES OF SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS
There are hundreds of different social media sites. To sort through the most effective tools your firm can use to achieve your marketing goals, it is important to understand that while there are many different social media sites, fundamentally, there are only a few different types of social media. What differentiates one site from another is reach, user demographics, type of engagement, features, and brand.
To simplify things a bit, the social media tools you should consider incorporating in your marketing strategy belong to one of the following categories:
Social Networks, the universe of websites that allow users to share personal and/or professional information with each other, publicly, semi-publicly, or privately. Well-known examples include Facebook and LinkedIn.
Blogs, short for “web log,” are a popular form of social media tool that provide a platform for users to create and display content they create and/or curate. Popular platforms for blogs include WordPress, Google Blogger, and Tumblr. Related to this are microblogging sites, such as Twitter and Plurk, which allow users to share information with each other in short bursts.
Collaborative Project Sites, wherein users work together towards a common purpose. Perhaps the most well-known and used example of this is Wikipedia, the encyclopedia whose content is written and edited by the public. Another prominent example is social bookmarking sites (such as Delicious), which allow users to rank to websites of interest to them with others.
Last, but not least, is the universe of online social communities, such as Second Life, and online gaming. Both are marked by heavy user engagement, not to mention marketing opportunities.
It is worth noting that as social media evolves, increasingly, the lines between these categories blur. For example, a news site like Digg also has social bookmarking functionality, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are, essentially, collaborative projects.
2. ADVANTAGES OF LEVERAGING SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
Social media has several advantages over many other marketing channels:
- It provides a low-cost opportunity to enhance your marketing efforts;
- It allows you to interact in real-time with your consumers, and allows them to establish a connection with your brand;
- It provides real-time data on consumer behavior;
- It can enhance one’s brand without the use of a formal advertising campaign; and
- It can widen one’s base of potential partners, consumers, media contacts, and other key publics.
How We Use Social Media – via Mashable
3. HOW TO HARNESS THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
To harness the full power of social media, you should develop a formal social media strategic and tactical plan. This plan should be an outgrowth of your existing marketing, public relations, and sales plan, which themselves should strategically advance your core business objectives. In other words, you should not be using social media just because others are doing it, and you definitely should not be doing it without a plan closely aligned with your business plan.
There are hundreds of social media platforms. The first thing is not to get overwhelmed. While social media may not be a strictly business tool, it should only be used to further business strategic objectives. So when reviewing which ones you want to employ, consider the following:
- What are your strategic business objectives? What are your strategic marketing objectives?
- Which social media platforms does your target market use?
- Which social media platforms will help you achieve your stated business objectives? How can social media enhance your existing marketing mix?
- What kind of image does your firm want to project? What kind of image does your executive leadership wish to project?
- What resources can you devote to social media (think in terms of financial resources and human capital)?
Beyond careful planning, when incorporating social media into your marketing, PR and sales efforts, you should:
Assess your efforts
Social media, like all digital marketing, proffers considerable data. Determine, in advance, what you consider the metrics for success for each campaign, and watch them closely. Don’t be afraid to revise a plan midstream. That is one of the beauties of social media. If something is not working, often, you can quickly change course.
Monitor social media closely
While social media platforms are a good tool to push your message, others can use it to comment about you. It can be a good sense of information about how your brand is perceived. Often, it can be a good early warning system in case there is a consumer concern with your product, a burgeoning reputational issue, or other cause for concern. It can also be a good way to monitor the competition.
Create a social media policy for your employees
Employees who publicly identify themselves as working for your firm can affect your reputation, positively or negatively, by what they post on social networks. If their updates are controversial, even if they have nothing to do with your firm, that can be seen as a reflection on your firm. And if they do post negative comments or confidential information about your firm, you can be facing serious liability issues. Have a written plan in place that is clearly communicated to employees after it is vetted by your legal counsel.
Now, you may not believe that you have the time to keep social networks constantly updated. Most marketing generalists do not, and unless you have a full-time social media specialist, this task may seem overwhelming. There are a number of free tools that allow you to manage all your social media posts from one central application. You can also schedule updates in the future, meaning that you can spend a few hours at the beginning of the week and be assured that you will have content on those networks each day. Such tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck can be used to aggregate your networks and schedule updates in advance. You can even run these applications from your cellphone.
But be cautious. Social media is about engagement. You will still need to monitor these social networks. Some of the best content solicits feedback, so you have to be prepared to respond if a post you scheduled during the week, if consumers respond to your content. You also need to be prepared to change content midstream if current events dictate. For example, a prescheduled post about your firm’s use of fossil fuels may be poorly received if that day, a major oil spill occurs.
4. GENERAL TIPS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT
Of course, each social media platform has its own content strategy, but there are some general conventions that are shared by all that can help you increase engagement with your consumers and other target publics:
- Use engaging images and videos. Keep it short. Avoid inside or technical jargon and write in layman’s language. People are twice as likely to “Like” content with photos and twelve times as likely to share video content, according to marketing firms M Booth and SimplyMeasured.
- Create a two-way conversation – a call to action, a question, etc. Do not just push information at people. Asking a question allows you to solicit input, but more importantly it shows your consumers that you care about their opinion. This can strengthen your brand.
- Interact with your followers. Start or continue a conversation with a follower on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Viewers who watch this can see that your firm is engaged.
- Personalize content, and post material with a variety of tones – light and heavy. Content should vary so as not to bore your followers.
There is no one size fits all approach – look at the data and refine your strategy consistently. Your consumer base is unique and so what works for a competitor may not work for you. Look at what they are actually doing online, rather than industry reports.
5. COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
In the planning stages, one key determination that must be made is which social media platforms the firm will use. Beyond the perceived marketing value of each platform, you may consider doing a cost benefit analysis of each platform. This requires you to subtract the costs from an estimate of benefits each platform provides. Depending on the platform and the usage of the platform, the benefits might be measured in impressions, conversions, brand mentions, or other metrics. An example of a typical analysis might look something like this.
Marketing objective: Grow brand awareness
Vehicle: Facebook – paid advertising and posts created by the firm
Metrics: Total impressions, brand mentions
Estimated total impressions x cost per million
+ Projected resulting brand mentions x cost per million
= Net ad value benefits (in dollars)
You would perform this kind of analysis for each platform you wished to use. These figures could be compared against each other to determine the optimum platform or platforms. You can also compare these figures to cost benefit analyses of your traditional media mix to determine whether any traditional media efforts might better be reduced or eliminated in favor of social media efforts.
Analyzing social media in this way will hopefully give you a strong sense that social media is not merely a pie-in-the-sky marketing tactic, but a vehicle through which strategic marketing objectives can be achieved and analyzed.
6. MOST COMMONLY USED SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
As previously mentioned, there are literally hundreds of different social media platforms, each with its own unique capabilities and user base. In reality though, you likely will only be using a few. In fact, you should only use a few. Overextending yourself by trying to establish a presence on every single social media platform, or every one that becomes popular is a mistake that will cost you in real time and dollars. For one, your target market likely engages to a greater extend on a few social networks. Wasting time where your consumers are not online is akin to placing ads in a newspaper in a city where you do not sell product. The second reason why this is a mistake is that, unless you have a social media department with multiple employees, you likely do not have the time and manpower to ensure quality content is on more than a few platforms. And quality content is key. The ability to compel people to read and view your content, as well as to interact with them when they reach out to you may engender loyalty in a consumer who previously was brand-neutral with regards to your product. The third is cost. While it may be free to post content, social ads cost money. Further, the dollars associated with the manpower needed to ensure that copy is and fact-checked, that photos are color-corrected and that video is edited, can add up very quickly. Bottom line: figure out what helps you achieve what works most effectively within budget, without spreading your resources too thin.
Rather than list all of the platforms of which you might take advantage, here are a few of the most commonly known and most often used platforms:
Perhaps the most well-known social network, Facebook, through its usage has evolved into a combination of personal social network and branding platform. You can advertise on Facebook and develop a less formal, more intimate presence for your firm. It is often used for rapid response to consumers, solicitation of feedback, brand engagement, and more.
A social network more directly designed for business endeavors than the others mentioned here, LinkedIn can be used to prospect for new business, strategic partners, and new hires, as well as burnish your industry reputation. It really is a professional network, and less of a place to make connections with consumers, but more to build relationships with business partners, identify decision-makers when engaged in B2b sales, and recruit. It is also a good source of industry news and trends.
This platform (Twitter) can best be used for rapid, short updates in real-time. It can amplify your efforts, or be used to monitor the efforts of your competitors or the industry in general.
A very visual blogging platform, Tumblr is also known for its ease of updating. It is most often used for photo and video content and, often, to establish an informal brand impression.
Perhaps the most well-known and often used blogging platform, WordPress can be used to create a formal blog, promote products, announce company news, such as new product launches, headquarters or staff, and to disseminate press releases. A very robust tool, WordPress is also often used as the content management system for small business websites.