Plan your strategy to make social media marketing your interactive advantage.
By Linda Kaun
You might be tempted to jump right into social media marketing, sign up for Facebook and Twitter, start a blog, and add a few videos to your website. However, you’ll quickly realize it’s not the shiny new tools that lead to success—it’s how you use those tools.
A strategy and plan of action provide a strong foundation for reaping long-term benefits from social media. A “look and listen before you leap” policy will help inform your strategy and goals and make your online efforts much more effective.
What is social media?
Understanding social media is to understand the profound shift in thinking that is revolutionizing the way we conduct business, both as consumers and as business owners. The old one-way interruption marketing mindset—think television, radio and print ads—has given way to an interactive, collaborative peer-to-peer model through online tools like blogs, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube. Your customers are online talking about you, your products, and your industry.
Marketers simply do not control their one-way message anymore. Social media pulls your audience to you with informative content that you publish and share online, while networking and building an interactive community around your brand. The key words are ‘interactive’ and ‘community.’ It’s about building relationships with people.
Social media marketing strategically uses specific tools to reach your targeted audience.
Increasing marketing effectiveness
In terms of customer-related benefits, McKinsey Quarterly’s 2009 “Global Survey”1 found blogs were the most useful tool for 51 percent of responding companies. Video sharing and social networking rated 48 percent each. In addition, 52 percent said that the tools increased marketing effectiveness, 43 percent found higher customer satisfaction, and 38 percent reduced their marketing costs.
Jason and Rodney Carr, co-founders and CEOs of Softline Home Fashions Inc., Gardena, Calif., leading distributors of drapery and decorative fabrics, actively started using social media tools in 2009. They find that “Facebook and Twitter have a different audience than our already existing customer base, which served as an opportunity to grow our brand. The feedback we’ve received reveal that customers feel like they are more informed about what we have to offer and are more knowledgeable about our products. This is encouraging for us because we have many repeat customers.”
Besides identifying new markets, new products and garnering free market research through customer feedback, social media can increase your website traffic, generate qualified leads, build brand authority and promote your products and services.
While these online tools are often free, updating the various accounts, writing blog posts and other content does take time—and talent. Be sure to factor that into your plans. According to the Carrs, another potential downside is that “not only are your customers following you, but your competitors as well. They can easily see what your next move in business will be, so it’s essential to be strategic in your approach.”
In the beginning
Listening and observing first help you develop the strategy best suited to your company, team and resources. Social media can easily eat up time, leaving little to show for your efforts, unless a process for engagement is in place from the beginning.
There is no one-size-fits-all social media kit to buy and plug in. There’s no right answer. It’s also not about the tools. The point is to decide how you can best give value to your audience using your unique capabilities, and then choose which tools will serve that purpose.
To get started:
Research your target community. Who are they, and where do they congregate online? Do they read blogs, share videos, join networks, or discuss issues on forums?
Select ten blogs to follow. Check out your competitors, your broader industry and related sources such as social media blogs. If you plan to use videos, choose several key video sites to observe.
Your purpose is to get a feeling for the world of social media. Take your time. Start to comment when you’re ready. Share your knowledge and expertise, ask questions, and get involved. Don’t immediately launch into a sales pitch—this is the biggest mistake businesses make. Notice how successful companies find a balance between sharing information and talking about their own products. Think of it as a business networking event, without the boundaries of time or space.
Establishing a strong foundation
As you begin to see how you’ll fit into this online marketplace, use the answers to these questions to guide your social media strategy development.
Tools. Which of the many tools available will best serve your particular goals? Think about what you hope to accomplish, then select the tool(s) to support that goal. Blogs, videos, social networks, articles, wikis and podcasts all have a purpose, depending on your audience.
Branding. How do you define your brand? What style, tone and personality will you present? What point of view? Who will be your spokesperson?
Value. Your value proposition keeps the focus on the needs and concerns of your customers and buyers. You might highlight your expertise through thoughtful and informative content, educate them on industry issues, solve their problems, or create your own niche networking community.
Differentiation. As you look at what others are doing, think about what makes your company stand out. Gather ideas from a variety of sources across different industries, not just from your competitors.
Content. What will you talk about that can sustain a long-term program? Select a theme and produce it in a variety of formats: videos, articles, blog posts. Use your existing information like white papers, speeches, presentations or product demonstrations and repurpose them into fresh articles, e-books, videos, or podcasts. Think like a publisher. Set out a schedule to plan and execute your content strategy. Who will plan, write, design, produce and submit this content?
Promotion. Decide how to promote your social media program on and offline. Some aspects, like networking, become the promotion and the process at the same time. Tell your e-mail list, use online press releases, register your blog in online directories.
Monitoring. It’s vital to be aware of what’s being said about your company, products, and personnel online. Someone needs to respond to any negative remarks and also acknowledge the positive ones. Remember: Social media marketing is all about building relationships between your company and real people, one by one.
Making it work
Early enthusiasm can easily give way to lost interest as you try and fit this system into your already hectic schedule. Set up systems and processes to streamline the time and effort needed to grow and maintain your programs. This is another good reason to proceed cautiously in the early phases.
When you measure your success, what metrics define success in terms of your business objectives? What do you really want your customers to do? If your goal is to increase brand awareness, you might measure your website traffic, media coverage, unique visitors or participants. Decide what to measure from the very beginning. Take baseline measurements so you can track your progress, and change course as needed; with social media techniques, you won’t have lots of money invested in printed products.
Companies of all shapes and sizes are benefiting from meeting their customers online through social media. It’s not only retail chains and music companies that are building their businesses online.