Social media is an essential part of the marketing mix for any modern business.
Getting in touch online adds the human touch to your brand and enhances your relationship with your customers. But, as with any other aspect of your business, you need to be sure that you are using social media as effectively as possible.
Developing a Social Media Strategy
It is surprising how many businesses start using social media without any formal policy.You spend a lot of time planning and monitoring everything else in your business, so why not apply the same approach to social media?
Social media should be an integral part of your marketing strategy. This means understanding your audience, and anticipating how they will respond. Choose the social media platforms that your customers are most likely to interact with, segmenting your markets where appropriate.
As with any type of marketing, have a look at what your competitors are doing, and track the outcomes from your activity to see what works best.
Use Social Media to Tell a Story
The landscape of social media is changing. According to the Poynter Institute – in 2012, 19% of Americans got news from a social network such as Facebook, an increase from 9% in 2010. For adults below the age of 30, the figure rises to one third. This means that people are no longer using social media just as a place to create content, posting updates about their own activity; they are actively using it to find information.
The challenge for businesses is to engage the users who come to them via social media. To attract the widest audience, you want to get as many likes, shares and comments as possible. You will not get these from direct advertising, which is why the advice to businesses is to avoid any hard sell advertising on social media.
What you need to do instead is to create a story, to show what your brand is about. A story could be anything from the history of your company, the ethos of your brand (do you have unique green credentials, perhaps?), or the people who work for you.
Shawn Hessinger of Small Business Trends describes how seven major brands used stories to work for them in their marketing: it is an excellent way of exposing yourself to a wider audience, no matter what the size of your company.
Keep it Professional
One of the basic rules of using social media for business is not to do anything that might undermine your brand. This means being consistent in your branding, and not deviating from the storyline that you are presenting.
It also means proofreading carefully (typos in your posts make you, and by extension your business, look careless) and not posting anything that is potentially offensive or inflammatory. Remember that it is very difficult (and often impossible) to remove any posting that you may regret later.
Some platforms, such as Facebook, allow you to have separate pages for personal and business use. This is a useful way of separating your professional and personal lives. While some business owners (particularly if they operate primarily in the local community) like to share some personal details with their online followers, this should be done with care.
Always ask yourself: does this fit in with my branding, and am I happy to share this information with the entire Internet community?
Part of keeping your Internet exposure professional is the way that you deal with criticism. Hopefully you will get comments and tweets from satisfied customers, but you must expect the occasional posting from someone who is less than satisfied.
It may be tempting simply to remove the post, but in most cases you will enhance your brand and make your customers more confident if you are seen to deal with criticism constructively (by private dialogue if necessary), publicising any apology or changes to your procedures.
Social Media for Business: Final Thoughts
So long as you remain professional and focused on your goals, social media is a great marketing tool for any business. But updating and replying to comments can be compulsive: don’t let it take over your life! Allow a set amount of time each day to update your social media profile and engage with your customers. Used properly, this is a tool that can be both profitable and enjoyable.