Social media is no longer optional for business. It’s true that there are still a lot of successful companies that aren’t yet leveraging social media, but the figures show that they’re making a mistake:
- Percentage of Fortune 500 companies with a blog accessible to the public: 23%
- Percentage of Fortune 100 companies with such a blog: 38%
- Percentage of Inc. Fastest Growing Companies: 50%
These numbers show a trend we can see wherever we look at social media data. 73% of the Fortune 500 companies have an active Twitter account. If we segment that out by the level of success companies have achieved, though, we see fewer Twitter accounts in the bottom tier and more in the top tier. The same is true for Facebook and LinkedIn.
The most successful companies are embracing social media. It’s that simple.
Implementing social media for your company isn’t as simple as seeing the need for it. It can, however, be done successfully with a systematic approach.
Before you begin, your company must have a clear idea of who your customers are, where they hang out, and what you want to tell them.
Moms in their twenties and early thirties who enjoy cooking for their families are using one set of social media tools, and men in their fifties who like to get a bargain on sporting gear are using a different set. A playful Pinterest board can engage the first group, but the second group may be more impressed by knowledgeable answers at sports forums. Facebook, with 800 million users, is likely to reach both.
You probably can’t maintain an effective presence on every social media platform, so you should choose the ones that will produce the best ROI for your particular company. For most businesses, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are the highest priority; for the consumer goods space, Pinterest may be more valuable than other platforms. Google +, while it’s a smaller community, may produce SEO benefits for a company website. Smaller, more specialized communities can convert extremely well for specialized products that appeal to enthusiasts.
Once you’ve determined the message you want to convey and the best platforms for getting it across to the right people, you need to produce enough good content to make your company look good. If you don’t currently have a Twitter account, or if you tweet only occasionally or only promotional stuff, then people who come to look at your profile won’t be drawn to follow you.
Settle in and tweet, pin, or post useful and entertaining information for a while. At Pinterest, you can jump in and create half a dozen great boards with half a dozen great pins on each and look appealing enough to gain followers. At Facebook and Twitter, you have to post steadily for a few weeks before you’ll look “real.” In forums, conversing with people for a while and then producing some useful content of your own is essential, and may take a month. Engage
Once you’ve laid down a base coat of great content, it’s time to win friends and influence people. At this point, you can begin following the famous 80/20 rule: let 80% of your posts provide useful or entertaining information, and 20% can be promotions.
This doesn’t mean that you have to post four bits of breaking world news before you can mention your company. If you make BBQ sauce, information can include recipes, tips on grilling, and stain prevention. Just remember who your customer is and what he or she will find interesting. It’s 80% things they’ll want to know and 20% things you want them to know. If you treat your social media as an advertising outlet, it won’t be effective.
You should also talk to people. Watch for and answer questions that let you share your expertise. Make comments when you find something interesting. Thank people who make positive comments about your brand and offer support to those who complain. Ask your readers open ended questions.
This is where a style manual or social media policy manual can really come in handy. Do you want the same people who tweet for you to respond to complaints? Are there limits to the kinds of topics you want to discuss on your company page? Who should have access to your company social media?
Making these decisions up front allows you to be proactive rather than reactive, but you should also measure and make decisions based on the data you collect.
When you’re well established in your chosen social media platforms, you can make use of more creative social media opportunities. Contests and special offers are very popular on most social media platforms. Ask people to Like you or follow you, offer special content in exchange for contact information, use QR codes in your print promotions to bring more people to your social media platforms.
This is the point – now that you’ve gained trust and rapport – where you can do some serious promotion. People who already know and like you in social media will be receptive to a coupon from you, even if they don’t yet know and love your brand. They’ll be willing to share their photos of your products or to suggest you to their friends.
These things won’t take off if you haven’t laid the foundation for successful social media promotion, so don’t jump right in with a campaign of this kind without working through the first three steps. This is where that work pays off.
Bear in mind that the #1 goal for social media is to bring people back to your company’s website, where you have maximum control over your message, or to connect with people so that you can communicate with them (and market to them) later.
Make sure your website is ready for visitors, with enough dynamic content to keep people engaged and to keep them coming back. A blog, a game, an offer, something to entice visitors into sharing their contact information with you – these elements combine with your social media efforts to create solid online marketing.