Make social media work for your business
Are you LinkedIn? Do you “tweet”? Do you have Facebook fans? If your business is invisible on social media, you could be missing out on important opportunities like new leads, brand awareness and connecting with potential clients and partners. These sites and services are free — but many business owners are still trying to figure out how to make them a successful part of their marketing strategies.
So how can you make social media work for you? We spoke with Heather Angus-Lee (president of PROsocialmedia, social media strategist, trainer and blogger for Century 21) to get some expert advice. Here are some of her top tips:
Establish your domain
Your first step: Stake your claim. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for people to register someone else’s name in the hopes of making some quick cash by selling the account. Even if you don’t plan to use your account right away, try to reserve the name before someone else does. To keep your branding consistent — and to help others find you easily — keep your account name as close to your company name as possible (e.g. “http://twitter.com/yourcompany”).
Before you sign up, make sure you’re creating the right kind of account. For instance, in Facebook look for the “create a page” button as regular profiles are for people, not companies. In LinkedIn (a professional, business-to-business social media site), create a company profile for your business and a separate profile for yourself as a professional.
Develop a strategy
Before you start posting content, get out a pen and paper or open up a spreadsheet. Social media may seem spontaneous, but there’s a lot of planning behind the scenes.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make with social media is diving in without a plan,” says Angus-Lee. “The Internet isn’t the Wild West. For businesses, it should be 100 per cent strategic.”
Like any marketing program, you want to think carefully about your goals, what messages you want to communicate and how to engage your audience. How can you demonstrate your expertise and keep people up to date about new products or services?
Use an editorial calendar or a timeline to help you plan content, and make a list of potential themes, topics and events you’d like to cover — such as an upcoming product launch, special promotion or expert tips you can share.
Set a schedule (and goals too!)
Just because the Internet is “always on” doesn’t mean you have to be. Unless you’re a certain type of business like a media outlet, a steady stream of content can overwhelm you and your audience.
“It’s about quality, not volume,” Angus-Lee warns. “Set realistic goals for yourself, and make every piece of content count.”
For instance, aim to “tweet” three times a week, update your LinkedIn status every Monday, and post new content to your Facebook account once a week. If you have a company blog, a new article or post twice a week is enough to keep it fresh.
To help you stay on track, create reminders and set aside time in your calendar (whether it’s electronic or print).
“Plan for an hour a day, at least at first while you’re still learning,” Angus-Lee advises. “Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be faster and more efficient.”
Optimize your pages
You want to get noticed — so set your profile up to cater to online searches. For example, use keywords relevant to your business in your text. Also, make sure all the forms and boxes are filled out to give people more criteria to search.
And don’t forget the link love! Make sure your business’s social media pages are all interconnected so viewers can get from one to another. For instance, your Facebook page should include a link to your website, Twitter account, blog, etc. Your company’s website should have buttons or links pointing to your social media accounts — like “Follow us on Twitter” or “Become a fan” on Facebook.
Tech-savvy users can even save time by connecting their accounts, like adding Twitter to their Facebook or LinkedIn pages so that selected tweets are automatically published to their pages.
Stick to business
One exception to the linking rule: Avoid links to any personal accounts that you or your employees may have. According to Angus-Lee, many people fall into the trap of letting their personal life creep into their business social media accounts. Unless you’re a chef, people don’t need to hear about the soup recipe you just tried. Worse yet, relevant content can get lost among funny videos and your vacation photos.
What’s the content litmus test? “The question is whether it will help you meet your goals — like generate sales or leads,” Angus-Lee notes. “If not, people may find it annoying after a while and will ‘unfollow’ you.”
Keep your business and personal accounts and content separate. “Focus on your business goals, and don’t get sucked into the ‘cult of self’,” she advises. “You can play some place else — keep your business separate.”
Make quality connections
Having lots of followers is great, but social media is also about forging relationships. You want to join groups and online communities and make connections with potential customers and partners. However, Angus-Lee warns it is possible to go overboard and become overwhelmed. You don’t need to follow hundreds of people in Twitter, or accept every friend request or online introduction.
“It’s not a popularity contest or a numbers game,” she warns. “Generating leads and sales is about quality connections. You want to strategically make contacts, accept requests and get introductions.”
In other words, focus on the connections that will bring you paying customers or contribute to your company in a significant way.
“You don’t have to do it all. Be picky,” Angus-Lee advises. “Otherwise you’ll wind up in a situation where there’s more content than you can handle and most of it isn’t providing any real value — like drinking from the fire hose. Take advantage of niche groups rather than large, general ones. Drill down to local, relevant groups and communities.”
Also, don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. If you receive an introduction request from someone you don’t know, take the time to visit that person’s profile page before you accept or deny. Otherwise, you could be turning down someone who could help you later on, Angus-Lee warns.
Learn about privacy
When it comes to an online world, privacy can be a huge issue — especially for boomer entrepreneurs who didn’t grow up with the Internet. Unlike personal content, you want your business information to be in the public eye. Users can get past the “fear factor” by learning more about the social media sites they use.
“Take the time to go into the settings and learn how to use them.” Angus-Lee advises. “You have more control than you think. You control how much information you share and with whom. You have the option to block people, and you can control how people contact you — like through email or by phone.”
Some common sense is also essential. Personal or confidential information should never be posted, and negative comments or critiques should be avoided.
Track your numbers
Like any marketing strategy, you want to make sure it’s working for you. Use analytics or tracking features to see if your time and effort are paying off. For instance, use a service like Google Analytics to see if Twitter or Facebook is sending significant traffic to your company website. Better yet, you can use these services to generate monthly reports.
Of course, tried-and-true strategies work as well, especially when you can’t tell what prompted a phone call or a visit to your business. “It’s like any other lead,” Angus-Lee notes. “Ask how they found out about you, then use this information to focus your attention on where you’re getting results.”
Again, Angus-Lee warns it isn’t just about numbers. “Ultimately, the most important metric is are you getting more leads, more requests and more meetings? Are more people downloading your product information or white papers?”
One final word of advice: social media isn’t a “set it and forget it” proposition. If you want to keep people interested, expect to put in some ongoing time and effort. Out of date and stale content can often be worse that not being there at all.
“Ultimately, you get out of it what you put into it,” Angus-Lee reports. “Set goals, set a schedule and follow up on your goals — then continue to grow.”
For more information about the benefits of social media, visit PROsocialmedia.com.