We've long been fans of social media and the power it offers to build brands, market products and take word-of-mouth marketing to a global scale. It seems all the rage now to find businesses trying to figure out just how to harness social media and make the most of it.
We keep hearing, "It's free advertising!" And, of course, it is—sort of.
You won't pay a fee to get onto LinkedIn, send your Twitter messages or update your status on Facebook. But any business owner will tell you that money is only one way to pay for something. What about the time it's going to take for you to get up and running on all these sites? The more you use them, the more time they'll demand from you. How will you know if the time you spend is honestly providing you with bona fide results? How can you make the most of your social media efforts? What can you do to ensure that the cost/benefit analysis of time versus results is truly there? We're awfully glad you asked!
Your blog is your base
David Yaskulka of Halo, Purely for Pets, clued us into this tip long ago: Once you have a vibrant and successful blog, you have a home base from which you can then direct all your other social media efforts.
But, you say you can't write? Well, a blog doesn't have to rival William Shakespeare. Since nobody knows your products or the customers who buy them better than you do, you're bound to be able to identify and provide valuable insights customers will be happy to have. You can include photos, links to articles, FAQs and even an "answers" section where visitors can ask an expert (you) about details of your products. So get that blog up and running and don't let the challenge intimidate you. (If you decide you need help, freelance writers abound)!
Your Facebook posts should be business-like, but avoid direct advertising
It's hard to find someone now who doesn't use Facebook, but using the site for business is a little different. Facebook allows you to create "lists" of Facebook friends who will see only certain postings on your Facebook page. Here's the place to keep your private life and your business life largely separated.
Be careful about what you reveal to the business followers who join you on the site. That doesn't mean you should never show your personality, but remember that everything you post, link to, or write on Facebook sends messages about who you are, how you think and how you manage your life.
Using Facebook as a business tool means doing nothing that will alienate potential customers or business partners. That translates simply to: no politics, religion or arguing allowed. But, it also means no whining that your 2-year-old is up too early with the time change, or that the dog is sick and you've spent your morning cleaning up.
We recently witnessed a nasty public spat between an eBay employee and a former PowerSeller. Being friends with both, we stayed neutral, but both parties came off looking battered from the fray. We believe there was a clear "winner" and "loser" in the spat itself, but both parties really lost, with neither one making himself look any better for having participated. So don't let it happen to you. If someone gets on your nerves, hide their posts or un-friend them.
Your Facebook posts should be business-like, but avoid direct advertising. We befriended a distant relative who proceeded to blast our pages with ads for his business several times a day. Not only was that an annoyance, but it actually made it less likely that we'd attend to any one single posting. If you want to build buzz, post when you add something new to your blog or if you read an interesting article about your area of interest. Reward people for having linked with you by adding value to their Facebook pages.
Don't spend time in corners of Twitter that don't provide a payback
Don't underestimate the power of the Tweet! Twitter has proven to be a marketing powerhouse, but whether that powerhouse will pay off for you depends largely upon whom you follow on the site and who follows you. The more followers you have, the more vibrant your experience will be and the more time you'll need to spend sending Tweets and being involved.
You can use tools such as Twellow to identify people you'd like to follow. Simply search or browse based on your areas of interest and find people who are already actively tweeting about the same subjects. Follow them for a while on Twitter to see if you share synergies, and if you find their links, postings and recommendations useful. If you do, then you've built your Twitter presence. But if, after a time, you find nothing in common, unfollow them and seek other more compatible partners. You don't want to spend time in corners of Twitter that don't provide a payback.
Once you've amassed a good group of followers, perhaps 200 or so, use Twittersheep to create a tag cloud showing the interests of those who follow you. The words within the cloud vary in size depending on how prominent that area is (e.g., marketing) within your followers' bios. After you do this analysis, you can craft your tweets even more directly to the things your followers want to know about.
Social media is an incredibly valuable tool. But the more the tool evolves and the more familiar people become with using it, the more you'll have to fine-tune your efforts to achieve the best from these powerful tools that are definitely here to stay.