How to use social media for business.
Businesses are constantly being told that they should be active in social media marketing.
The problem is, one of the most crucial parts of this message is somehow getting lost: the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of using social media for the benefit of your business.
Social media is a huge opportunity for businesses, but if you’re going to spend hours creating social networking profiles, blogging, tweeting, and pinning pictures, it’s important to know exactly why you’re doing it, and how to do it to achieve specific results.
Here are some interesting facts about small businesses and social media:
- 43% of small business owners spend 6+ hours on social media efforts
- 90% of small businesses are on Facebook
- Almost 70% of small businesses are on Twitter
- 55% of small businesses have a blog
- Social media budgets are on the rise at 2x the rate of general marketing budgets
That’s a lot of time and money being spent on social media efforts.
And given the steep investment businesses are making in social media, this jaw-dropping, statistic is even more stunning: 72% of businesses that use social media don’t have a clear understanding of how and why to use it.
Types of Social Media
The term ‘social media’ is often used interchangeably with ‘social networking’, however social networking is, in reality, just one component of social media. Social media encompasses all the online mediums we use to share content, information, images and videos.
It’s helpful to break social media down into it’s individual components – only when you know what’s available can you decide which ones you’re going to invest your time and efforts in.
Following are the 4 main types of social media.
Social Networking Sites
These are the sites that typically come to mind when we think of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and LinkedIn. There are a myriad of others you may or may not have heard of, but these 4 are the major players.
One of the most popular blogging platforms for business today is WordPress. Some small businesses prefer to test the waters by starting a free blog on WordPress.com, but there are many benefits to jumping in with a self-hosted WordPress.org blog.
Using WordPress.org means your blog will be hosted by the same web host as your business website (in fact many websites are actually built entirely with WordPress). Having a self-hosted blog allows you to customize your blog’s look and feel to match your website, and is great for SEO.
Using your blog effectively can result in:
- More traffic to your website
- Increased interaction with website visitors
- Building trust with current customers or clients
- Social proof (visitor sees many comments, likes and tweets, and thinks, “Wow, there must be something to this guy!“)
Content communities such as YouTube & Flickr enable users to share multimedia materials, rather than just ideas or information. Users create and upload videos or images and then share them with the community, who usually find the content through a built-in search feature.
And of course by now we’ve all heard of Pinterest, the online pinboard for images. Although components of it smack of social networking, it’s a great example of a true image sharing/social network hybrid.
While there’s some controversy over whether podcasting is really considered social media, I’ll include it here because of it’s usefulness to businesses. Podcasting is simply online audio content sharing. It can be used for sharing news, music, educational content, stories, or pretty much anything you can think of!
Ways to Use Social Media for Business
I think there’s a common perception that the main benefit of social media for business is it’s use as a marketing tool. And while social media is definitely great for marketing, that’s only one piece of a bigger picture.
The terms ‘social media marketing’ and ‘social media for business’ can be, in some senses, used interchangeably. One of the primary goals of using social media for business is to get the word out about your business or product.
Social Media marketing at it’s most basic form is simply using social media (social networking sites, your blog, videos, etc.) to increase brand awareness, and ultimately – directly or indirectly – to increase sales.
Take Pacific Rim Winery’s ‘Riesling Rules‘ campaign on Facebook. This small Oregon-based winery’s goal was to create awareness of their Riesling and create a community of Riesling enthusiasts.
When they launched their Facebook page, they incentivized likes by giving away a free branded calendar cube. This campaign gained them 11,000 likes in the first week, and over 300 comments on their wall.
1 in 5 consumers have used social media to get a customer service response in the past year. And here’s the thing about customers using social media to ask questions or voice complaints: There’s an audience.
Unlike phone or email inquiries, customer queries left on your Facebook page or tweeted with your company’s hashtag are there for all the world to see. And if you’re responding promptly and helpfully, this can be GREAT for your reputation and for customer loyalty. Leave someone hanging, or respond in a less-than-steller manner? You don’t have just one disgruntled customer, but potentially many disgruntled customers.
KLM is a great example of superb customer service on social media. A quick glance at their Facebook page shows a new customer query every minute or two. Responding to these queries must be a full-time job!
We all know how blogging increases your searchable presence online: Create good quality content on a regular basis, and the search engines will find you and ideally, increase traffic to your site.
But something that’s often not taken into account is the power of using social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn to increase your company’s searchability. Because of their high pagerank, in some cases social media business pages or profiles outrank company websites.
Social media ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are also considered by Google when it comes to ranking factors. So don’t underestimate the power of social media virality when it comes to SEO.
Social proof makes it more likely someone will try your product, ‘like’ your Facebook page, or subscribe to your feed or newsletter. Essentially, social proof encourages people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Some ways to show off your social proof:
- Displaying a Facebook widget prominently on your site
- Displaying your RSS feed subscriber stats
- Displaying your Twitter follower count
How to Develop a Smart Social Media Strategy
All this information is great, but we’re still left with the question: How do I incorporate what I know about social media into my overall marketing plan?
There are many possible components to a solid social media strategy. The point is being intentional about how and why you’re using social media, and then tracking and monitoring if you’re reaching your goals. Your ultimate goal is ensuring your social media efforts have a good ROI; the problem is it’s impossible to determine the value of increased trust, brand loyalty, and customer engagement.
That said, here are 8 steps you can take to give your business the best possible chance of succeeding in the social media arena.
1. Know why you’re using social media for your business.
While it’s easy to say “We’re using social media as a marketing tool”, that’s not going to give you the laser focus you need to stick to your plan.
Determine exactly why you’re using social media for your business, and what you want out of your efforts.
This might include:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Giving your company a more personal, approachable feel
- Increasing sales
- Increasing newsletter subscribers
- Expanding your online presence
- Building customer loyalty
In reality, your goals may include all of these and more. Just be sure you’re crystal clear on what your ultimate goals are from the outset.
2. Make sure your social media plan fits into your overall business plan.
Many businesses compartmentalize their social media strategy, in which case it becomes simply an ‘add on’ to the company’s overall marketing plan.
The problem is this doesn’t take into account your business’s overall mission and goals. And if your social media strategy and your overall business strategy aren’t cohesive, a possible best case scenario is ending up with an awesomley-successful social media effort that completely undermines your company’s overall mission.
3. Decide which social media platforms you’re going to use.
That’s right, you don’t have to use every single social media platform! In fact, I’d say DON’T use every single social media platform. Know what’s out there, which ones work best for our industry or niche, and determine which ones are the best fit for your company.
And if you’re the one who’s going to be implementing the strategy, make sure it’s a platform you can enjoy and stick with. For instance if you hate the sound of your own voice, chances are you aren’t going to succeed with podcasting. Not a writer? Don’t force yourself to blog. You’re going to end up frustrated, and it will never succeed.
You can however, consider hiring someone for these tasks if you believe they should be part of the plan (more on this below).
4. Determine what the ‘voice’ your social media presence is going to be.
When it comes to your blog, your Twitter account, your Facebook page, or your podcasts, what do you want the overall tone to convey? (This may be slightly different depending on the medium, but I’d suggest some overall uniformity).
Do you want to come across as:
- Friendly and approachable?
- Experts in your industry?
- Young and trendy?
- Established and respected in your niche?
- Lighthearted and/or funny?
5. Consider hiring a social media manager or outsourcing.
It’s important to realistically gauge if you have the time and skills to carry out your social media plan on your own. Creating the strategy is only the first step; implementing it is the time-consuming part.
When considering who to hire to run your social media campaigns, look for someone who:
- Is already deeply entrenched in a variety of online communities
- Is a good writer (non-negotiable!)
- Is prepared to be extremely responsive to customer queries and complaints (i.e. they need to be online A LOT!)
- Has the desire and ability to connect with people
- Is aware of and on board with the company’s mission and goals
- Understands your social media objectives
6. Set up pages and profiles.
Now that you’ve determined which platforms you’re going to pursue, it’s time to jump in and get started. Set up your blog and get writing, create a Facebook page for your business, start a Twitter account, create a LinkedIn group for your business.
7. Start Getting Connected.
The first step is to reach out to businesses in your industry. There are simple ways to do this in any of the above social media platforms.
Facebook: ‘Like’ other business pages in your niche, as well as in complimentary niches. Be sure to use your business profile when doing this rather than your personal profile.
Tag people or businesses in your updates, send a private message to introduce yourself to other page admins, and to see if you can work on cross-promoting each other’s businesses.
DO NOT post a link to your page on other page’s walls! This is a great way to get marked as spam.
Twitter & Google +: Do a search for businesses in your industry, either by keyword or by company name. Follow them, and then go through the list of people they’re following, and follow them as well.
LinkedIn: Start by connecting with people you already know by letting LinkedIn search your email account. Once you have some connections, LinkedIn will begin showing you a list of ‘People you may know’. Simply click on ‘Connect’ under each profile to send them an invitation to connect with you.
Be interesting. Be funny. Be responsive. Be someone people want to engage with! More specifically:
- Post content that your target market will find interesting and will want to share
- Ask questions
- Show an interest in others, just like in real life!
- Invite comments, discussion and feedback
- Be responsive to questions and queries
As an example of the right way to engage, take Whole Foods, the largest retailer on Twitter. 90% of their tweets are simple responses to individual customers. How’s that for an investment in customer service?
Hopefully this guide has given you some direction as you think about implementing your own social media strategy. In short, know why you’re engaging in social media, know what types of social media are available to you, and then use this information to put together a solid social media strategy.
I’m curious: How has social media benefited your business? Any tips for effectively using social media for business?