Social media is literally the buzz everyone is talking about these days. It is what consumers are doing online, and it is what brand owners need to be doing online. Having and implementing a social media campaign is hot right now, and it is paramount for branding, marketing and public relations. As a business, small or large, learning social media optimization is crucial to reign in potential customers engaging in online social media.
Don’t be Bashful
You’re not alone if you have questions such as: What is social media? What are people tweeting about? These remain very common question across the board. Social media can be described as online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives. Social media can take many different forms—including text, images, audio and video. Examples—and currently popular social mediums—are blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. And some or all of these mediums should make up your social media platform, facilitating sharing and discussions about your brand—as well as creating a community around the brand. To make any given platform a success, it is essential that everyone in the organization is on board, and pushing in the same direction to execute effectively.
This technology moves quickly, so start building your social platform now—first by listening to what people are saying about your brand ... and listen carefully. Next, jump in the conversation, and remember that trust, transparency and authenticity are the key to branding and building your brand community. When people follow a brand, they are more likely to both buy that brand’s products and seek more brand information online.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the online research consumers conduct before buying products. Consumers are looking beyond what they are spoon-fed from companies’ Web sites, and they don’t believe TV commercials give enough of the information needed to make a purchase. Of the group surveyed in the article, 92% said they had more confidence in information they find online than what they are told by a sales clerk or other source.
Additionally, from a brand marketing perspective, research published in The 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study showed 60% of American citizens used social media. Of those surveyed, 93% indicated business should have a social media presence and 85% indicated businesses should interact via social networks with their customers.
Considering these results, it is difficult to come up with a compelling argument against the implementation of a social media marketing campaign.
Further, the study indicated businesses should use social media to:
Solve problems, 43%
- Obtain user feedback on product and services, 41%
- Enable consumers to interact with the company brand, 37%
- Market to consumers, 25%
Finally, the companies in this study who were currently using social media reported the following:
- Improved feedback, 78%
- Improved customer satisfaction, 66%
- Improved customer support, 71%
- Increased sales, 40%
- Improved public perception of company, 75%
Keep in mind that although social media is among the driving force behind successful—and economical—sales, marketing and PR right now, there can be a lot of noise out there too. So be strategic and efficient with your social media campaign. It will only be a time drain if you let it, so make a schedule. Be sure to have goals, focus on your brand and your community.
There are four basic elements of making social media flow for your business. As mentioned earlier, the first step is to listen to the conversation. There are many free social media sites and social media book marking tools out there that allow you to monitor what is being said about your company, product, brand and, perhaps most important, your competitors—Twitter, Delicious (www.delicious.com) and Facebook are among them. Listening will be the foundation for your social media marketing strategy.
Secondly, be sure to engage potential customers with interesting and informative branding statements. Third, monitor and filter these tools to be efficient. The numbers of users across all social media are staggering, so creating efficiency is vital. Take advantage of tools and applications to post your message in one place and have it automatically disseminated across all the social media accounts you use. Finally, create your plan and schedule and stick to it. There is simply no better spend of your marketing dollars than on a plethora of free social media tools.
Three Popular Mediums
There are many social media sites available, and many will fulfill the needs of your brand, the niche in which you operate and your target consumers. The number of users on these sites is growing exponentially, so find your community. There are three sites that are strong bases from which to build a social media platform.
Twitter tops the list based on its sheer growth and ability to connect to so many people. Twitter can be very effective to promote something online and get it noticed immediately. Twitter is where you have the best shot to go viral. In addition, Twitter is a fabulous means of providing pertinent updates and interesting news to the followers of your “tweets”—keeping them involved.
Start by using search.twitter.com and hash tags to monitor what people are saying about your brand, your competition and the space or category you are in as a whole. Setting up a desktop application and a handful of these focused searches will really contextualize things and make your Twitter efforts efficient and effective.
Although Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters, it is a very powerful tool to connect your brand with millions of people (as of early spring 2009, there were 14 million people on Twitter), and it is also a phenomenal research tool. Traditionally, businesses have paid exorbitant amounts for case studies, reports, white papers, think tanks and focus groups in the hopes of obtaining insight into their industry and target market. Now, small and large businesses that cannot afford to use up their marketing budget in these studies may use Twitter. It is a free resource reaching a global community, unlimited in scope or focus, that can be used to accomplish many of the same traditional market research tasks in real time.
Twitter, too, is a fabulous place to create a buzz, post giveaways and contests, and create polls. It is also live/digital customer service, and consumers are expressing their appreciation of businesses strategically using Twitter in this way.
Creating a Facebook fan page is an integral part of social media platform. With the new design of Facebook, it is easy to create this page exclusively to promote a brand and build an engaged and organic fan network.
Done properly, a Facebook page facilitates interaction with consumers, i.e., your brand fans. Facebook’s Fan Page is a dynamic tool encouraging participation and interaction of your brand’s fans with the brand. Fan Pages also yield more potential for virility, offer more ways to communicate and is a fabulous way to offer exclusive contests and coupons specifically for your brand fans.
Maximizing a Facebook presence is very timely and imperative. Provide strong content, market the page through your other social media sites as well as your Web site, and make it easy to share. These will be key to organically growing your fan base, and will build a more engaged consumer.
Note that cross-linking a Facebook page to your Twitter account is one of the first steps in creating this page—again, it’s a matter of efficiency. In this way, when you post in either of these two places, both the Facebook page and your Twitter fans will be updated automatically.
Creating a blog for your brand—or better yet, redesigning your legacy site on a dynamic blog platform—is an important component of branding online and search engine optimization. In addition, a blog is a tool that builds trust, and, therefore, is the cornerstone for a social media platform. This is where you can post any and all updates, in-depth company news, as well as create solid “about us” and “contact us” pages. Furthermore, because blogs maintain a log of posts, consumers can search them to discern where the company has been in the past months or years, becoming more engaged and connected.
Consumers really do want interesting stories. They also want to interact via commenting and providing feedback. So, keep your site simple and clean. Make it your priority to keep it fresh and up-to-date.
With the three basic elements of a social media platform in place, the next step is implementation. There is no better time to get started than right now—it is part of any effort to establish a brand as a leader. Realize that patience and scheduling work flow will be paramount.
Start by creating a plan with your team and a social media consultant. Educate the team members on the idea, the objective and the methods, and have them work together. Find someone on your team, or a consultant, who is passionate about the brand, as well as obsessed with the Web, to put the plan into action.
Don’t get carried away with stats, but do track analytics to gauge success of campaigns. There are many tools and applications for each social media medium (from Google analytics to Hoot Suite, www.hootsuite.com) to obtain metrics and gauge the ROI of everything you do. Everything online is trackable.
Be relentless in scheduling time to be online, and, based on the time you have to devote, set realistic expectations. Give yourself a break—this is still a fairly new and exploding area. You won’t get everything exactly the way you want it the first time. Know that every social media medium is customizable and that you can easily change or redesign anything based on your tactics and strategy.
It is evident that social media has become a consumer expectation. Brands that fail to embark on a social media campaign do so at their own peril. Now that you are onboard and ready to go, just hold on for a wild ride.
Heather Smith is the founder of Lady Luxe Inc., a social media, branding and product development firm based in Boulder, Colorado. She is passionate about her clients’ new product launches, creating a buzz and going viral in the digital world. She can be followed on Twitter@peaceloveluxe. firstname.lastname@example.org