My simple definition is that social media is any tool that allows people to have a group conversation. This broad definition includes not just the popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but also email, video hangouts, texting and even blogs.
Social media is unique to marketing in that for the first time, it allows companies to create conversations with their customers, and encourages those customers to reach out to each other. Whereas email newsletters, trade shows and direct mail are a tried and true way to advertise, those don’t scale very well, don’t allow for ongoing feedback, and usually don’t offer a way for customers to share the content with friends and colleagues. Creating an email newsletter of course has a fixed cost, but email addresses are required to send emails. Most people will not forward them. Harvesting emails is time consuming and expensive at best, and spamming at worst. Trade shows have a finite audience – companies have to attend more to reach more people. The show might post a video feed, but even that’s a finite audience. With direct mail, the more pieces a company sends, the higher are the print charges and postage, although there are print volume discounts. Web sites can scale to handle traffic, but expensive search optimization and search engine marketing campaigns which drive this traffic don’t. So there’s a clear value to using social media for marketing if the goal is to raise a business’ visibility and get people talking about its products and services, with the business and with each other. Who wouldn’t want that?
When I meet with clients from professional service industries, one of my favorite things to ask them is how they generate leads. The number one answer I get is “word of mouth”. Word of mouth can be very powerful, but it requires active participation in networking, to be connected within the business community. It’s also a largely untapped commodity – the networked professional has to hope the people they’ve developed relationships with are in the right place and the right time to uncover opportunities for them. If the people that networkers meet with aren’t themselves networking AND actively promoting the each other, networkers aren’t going to reap the maximum benefit of their efforts. The nice thing about social media is it’s full of people that are networking, and customers know they can find good product and service recommendations from their contacts on social media.
OK – so now that it’s pretty clear that everyone should want to have a social media presence, how does one get started? Navigating the expanding social media landscape can get confusing. My simple answer is to look at what the competition is doing. Start with the major sites – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. See if the competition has an active presence, and if so, study it. See what kinds of content they are posting and what kinds of conversations are happening about their companies. Also look to see if they have a blog. Having a blog content marketing strategy is one of the best ways to get a business in front of the public, while establishing thought leadership and expertise.
It’s also important to establish goals. Decide ahead of time what a social marketing strategy should accomplish? Is the goal to convert social media members into paying customers? Or perhaps instead should it generate actionable leads for sales to follow up with? Or perhaps, the goal is to improve customer service in a cost effective way. Any of these are good goals to set before jumping in. And, make sure whatever goals are set that they are measurable.
My social media development strategy can be summarized in six simple points:
Perform Competitive Analysis
Set Up Profiles
Build the Community
Engage and Grow
I’ll wrap up by stressing that while many companies can make social media look easy, that hardest thing is to continue to generate the right kind of fresh content for a business, to establish its identity. Be social and good luck!