Tweet – once such an innocent little word – is seeding anxiety among even the most buttoned-up business women. As a professional, you may be wondering if you should be Twittering, tweeting, following, friend-ing, You-Tubing, Facebook-ing or just lying low and hoping the new media frenzy dies down. That’s not likely to happen.
While the avalanche of news about social media can be overwhelming, there is no mistaking its power to potentially reinvigorate a company and its brand. Professional and personal service firms, consumer products companies, entrepreneurs and non-profits have experienced its unmatched ability to build loyal customer relationships, generate brand buzz, mobilize constituencies, expand prospects and generate leads.
Admittedly, social media is also time-consuming, distracting and, when done haphazardly, potentially damaging. Entering the social media environment requires careful planning and monitoring to make the most of its business-building power.
At our software development company, we work with mid-sized and larger corporations to create, implement, and monitor the effectiveness of social media strategies. This enhances word-of-mouth marketing capability, and the ability to identify, interact, and engage key brand and company influencers. But the same basic ground rules apply for small businesses and start-ups:
Smart Social Media Tactics
1) Increase your social media IQ: Even if you can barely stifle a yawn, you need to put aside your opinions about social media and get educated. Social media is no longer just for teens and college students. In fact, statistics show the sharpest increases in older adults, with social networking growing 60 percent last year in people between the ages of 35 and 64, who are using it primarily to connect with business and personal contacts. Only 11 percent of Twitter users and nine percent of Facebook users are between the ages of 12 and 17.
2) Take care of the basics: Devote about five to 10 hours in the next couple of weeks spending time on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and LinkedIn if you’re not there already, and set up accounts. Search your competition and find out what they are up to, digitally-speaking. Search Twitter for relevant groups, companies and individuals, request to follow them and encourage your website, Facebook and LinkedIn contacts to follow you on Twitter.
3) Create your brand: Who do you want to be on line? The social media world is one of authenticity and personal connection. In this world where ‘relationships rule’ who are you and what value-added service or insight do you offer? Think beyond ‘selling’, and focus more on how you help people solve problems or seek solutions. For example, if you are a financial advisor, consider uploading relevant news articles to your Twitter page or post reminders and updates on financial news and issues that would be of concern to your market. A home health agency owner uses Twitter and Facebook to alert her friends and followers to news and issues impacting long-term care that could make a difference in their lives and the lives of their parents. Her posts are designed to ultimately drive traffic to her website, where, as potential customers, her followers and Facebook friends can learn more about her company and its services.
4) Give your brand personality: Get specific about your digital persona – are you the straight-talking financial advisor with a focus on helping people recalibrate during a recession? The nutraceutical brand with down-to-earth insights on how to manage insomnia during stressful times? An empathetic, realistic business consultant with thoughts on staying sane during a down economy? Create a following and refrain from “selling”. Social media demands that you offer value-added insight or content. One small healthcare technology company which targets large physician practices created a blog that features comment on current legislative issues affecting healthcare IT that have a direct impact on how physicians use the technology in practice. A web-based company that offers users tools to better manage their careers combines Twitter updates on new product features, with news on current job and career trends on its blog.
5) Know your customer…digitally: Use your existing networks to find out which social media platforms make sense for your business. Currently, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube (useful if your product requires a demonstration or for promoting live presentations) are the most popular, but they claim different segments of the market. For example, professional services, corporations and B to Bs populate business-focused LinkedIn, while Twitter is – at this point – used primarily by journalists, artists, politicians and the marketers of consumer brands.
6) Develop a social media strategy: Social media should complement your promotional efforts – not replace them. Focus on your marketing objectives and target audiences, and then incorporate the social media tactics that will reach those targets and begin building connections. One company that develops and markets self-improvement programs focuses most of its efforts on Facebook – a ‘chatty’ platform that lends itself to self-help discussion. The company has grown an enthusiastic Facebook fan base by posting the latest social science news on creativity, inspiration, and achieving personal happiness – all information that is relevant to its core business, and compelling to its target market.
"Entering the social media
universe can be daunting..."
7) Track your impact. It’s extremely important to monitor and track what is being said and shared – positive and negative -- about your brand. Investing in a brand reputation monitoring program may make the best financial sense, as social media monitoring is a time and labor intensive activity, requiring significant digital skill. Using key words our clients provide, our monitoring software tracks what is being said, where it’s being said, positive or negative about our clients brands or services. We report back to clients in real time if social marketing efforts have found their way to other industry blogs, online yellow pages or review sites or other social marketing sites.
Entering the social media universe can be daunting, but using it effectively can breathe life into lackluster brands, gain attention for your company or service, and proactively deal with problems and issues before they can do major damage.
Importantly, brand reputation monitoring and tracking can give you the ability to quickly make changes to your campaign, measure how your brand's online buzz stacks up to competitors, and help you find key influencers and entities with high social networking potential. Armed with these insights, you can continue to move forward with confidence into new social media terrain.