Thursday, November 18, 2010

Being Social In The Social Media World

There’s an amazing volume of conversation online on social media and how businesses can leverage these tools to increase their sales or attract customers. Yet, what’s also amazing is how much confusion still surrounds social media and how you can truly be social in the social media world.

Given the buzz and even noise surrounding social media, many companies, including small businesses, are jumping on to the bandwagon before even stopping to figure out why or where they want to go.

Without a doubt, if used correctly, social media tools can reap huge benefits. Social media creates opportunities for both big and small companies to build their brands virtually and interact directly with customers and other target audiences at little or no cost. Before social media, the only way most businesses could get their message across to customers and draw attention to their services was through expensive advertising or media coverage. But what many businesses do not realize is the considerable amount of time, effort, commitment and planning required to use these tools to achieve success.

What’s Your Objective?
Before creating a Facebook page, blog or Twitter profile, you need to stop and ask: What is my objective?

Possible objectives could include:
1.Finding and converting prospects into customers
2.Building a stronger reputation for your organization
3.Demonstrating your expertise
4.Building a stronger relationship with existing customers and obtaining their feedback
5.Building greater awareness about your organization and improving your visibility

Who Is Your Target Audience?
Once you determine your objectives, ask yourself who your target audience is and if you can reach them through social media? What is their age demographic? Do they engage in social media? Are most of your customers on Facebook or Twitter? Do they actively look for information online? The answers to these questions will help determine whether social media is right for your organization and help you choose the right tool to start your social media efforts.

How Are You Going To Engage Fans/Followers/Readers?
Before you set up a Twitter profile, Facebook page or your blog, plan out your strategy for:
1. Attracting targeted fans/ followers/readers: Think of how you will promote your blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile. One way to do this is to integrate your social media profiles with your website and into offline marketing efforts.
2. Keeping fans/ followers/readers engaged:To keep your fans engaged, you need to give them something useful, interesting, interactive and a reason to keep coming back. Your content should be relevant and aimed at solving your target audience’s needs or problems. You can also offer incentives such as exclusive discounts and offers to your Facebook or Twitter followers. Hold contests in which they can participate and share their own content, generating some buzz and interaction.

What Are You Going To Post?
1. Prepare a rough schedule for posting content: Think of who will be responsible for posting, managing and updating content for your social media initiatives? How often will you be posting? How will you respond to negative comments? How much time/money can you allocate for managing social media? Do you have the resources in-house or do you need to hire a freelancer or consultant?
2. Plan for type of content to be posted: Prepare a strategy for how you will use social media to drive people back to your website or blog? What topics will you blog about? Are you creating enough content to share with your followers and fans? In general, you should use social media to share insights, offer advice, ask questions, obtain feedback, share pictures and latest news about your company or industry and invite discussions on relevant topics.

How Are You Going To Monitor Social Media and Measure Success?
1. Monitoring what is being said about you can help you generate useful insights and improve your product or service. Proactive monitoring can also help you deal with negative comments early on and solve potential issues before they snowball into bigger problems. Use tools such as Social Mention, Google Alerts and Monitter to keep track your online mentions.
2. Lay down some basic criteria for measuring success. These can include increased website traffic, comments and online mentions, increase in sales and number of followers/readers/fans.

What You Should Focus On:
1. Being personal, authentic and transparent in your interactions
2. Building relationships. In the end, social media is just about the tools. The basics remain the same – you have to engage and build relationships with your network to convert prospects into customers.

What You Shouldn’t Focus On:
1. Just Yourself. You can’t call it a conversation if you’re the only one talking in a room full of 500 people. Don’t make your blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile only about YOU. Social media is all about conversations so use it to also post and share other people’s content, offer useful news about your industry, comment on other people’s blogs or Twitter updates and to get the conversation going.
2. The numbers. We all love numbers; they validate our popularity and offer some measure of the success of our social media efforts. But then again, do they really? Instead of focusing on increasing your follower/fan count, focus on improving engagement with your existing network.

This post was first published on Social Media Today

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