Win with Social Media in 2013 – How to Get Started

If your company still hasn’t tapped into the power of social media, you aren’t alone. InformationWeek’s SMB study on social media usage in 2011 found that around half (47%) of small businesses operating in the US were not using social media at all.

The most common reasons for lack of social media adoption?

  • not having enough time
  • feeling overwhelmed by the number of social media sites available
  • not being able to accurately measure social media’s value

If similar concerns are holding you back in 2013, we’ve got your solution. You will worry less about making mistakes or getting in over your head when you come to the table prepared. And if you do make a mistake, planning a response beforehand will help to ensure that your company comes through in the best light possible. Start here to create a solid social media strategy that makes sense for your business.

Make a Social Media Game Plan

Before you ever pen your first Facebook post, send your first tweet, or put together your company’s LinkedIn profile, you need to have a plan. That plan needs to cover:

Goals & Metrics
Goals can be anything from increasing lead generation to cultivating brand advocates for word-of-mouth advertising to increasing SEO rankings through backlinks to your website’s content. Come up with a quantifiable goal – such as cultivating 5-10% of new traffic to your site through social media channels within 3 months. Once you’ve decided on what you want to achieve through your social media campaign, you need to decide how you will measure progress.

For example, if your goal is to increase qualified sales leads you would need to track how many leads come in through social media channels, and in particular how many qualified leads you get from posts designed to encourage lead signups.  If your goal is to increase brand awareness, you would need to track the growth of your online audience on each social media site to determine which channels are performing best.

Messaging Policies & Guidelines
With goals in place, it’s time to start thinking about acceptable use and guidelines. Social media is a great opportunity to engage with your customers, but it is not without risk. Your social media messaging policy should answer the following questions:

  • Who has access to post via official social media profiles?
    If you are allowing employees to post on behalf of the company, make sure you have guidelines in place regarding access. Be prepared to change passwords whenever an employee departs, or use a service such as LastPass to securely add and revoke access to your social media accounts. An alternative is to have individual employee accounts that are affiliated with your company, which will allow you to avoid confusion about “who posted what.”
  • What kinds of posts are acceptable?
    This part of the plan needs to go beyond the obvious things (e.g. no profanity) and cover such things as respecting copyright and providing proper attribution of sources to ensure your company is in full compliance with the law.
  • How will you handle unhappy customers/complaints?
    A prompt response to a customer complaint via social media is generally well-received and can even turn a negative into a positive. Make sure you have an official policy on how to deal with complaints and any other negative situations that may crop up.  Stay professional, and don’t be afraid to have a policy of blocking users who are abusive to your employees after resolution has been attempted – but be sure not to delete complaints out of hand.

Content Strategy
Will you be a content curator, or a creator? Most companies will want to utilize a mix of the two and it’s important to get the balance right. Here’s a quick breakdown to help you get an understanding of these two approaches:

  • Content Curation – the process of finding the best and most relevant online content for your customers and potential customers, and presenting it in a way that provides value.
    • Pros – may take less time than writing your own content, helps to establish credibility, builds trust, may offer more opportunities to connect with thought leaders
    • Cons – risk of re-sharing the “same old content” that’s been seen before, doesn’t necessarily establish expertise, less opportunity for backlinks to your site
  • Content Creation – the process of writing and designing your own original content to share that is engaging and useful to your audience.
    • Pros – establishes expertise and credibility, builds your brand, offers SEO opportunities through backlinks and keyword use, offers more opportunity to become a thought leader
    • Cons – potentially time-consuming, risk of losing customer interest if the majority of messages are company-centric

The biggest takeaway here is that you need to provide value to your audience, no matter which route you choose. If you messages are interesting and relevant, you will find it much easier to gain a following and meet your goals.

Social media is fast-paced by nature, which can conflict with the need for small businesses to get “real work” done. On the other hand, you can’t treat social media like a one-way street if you want your message to come across as natural. Instead, come up with a plan that allows you to have time to post and to respond to any comments or questions that your posts generate.

Also keep in mind that in conjunction with your goals, you will want to keep track of the days and times when you post content. This will help you to determine if you get greater audience response at a certain day of the week or time of day so that you can schedule posts for maximum engagement.

Find Your Target Audience

Consider this: according to statistics provided by Neilson, people spend more time on social networks than any other category of sites. A full 20% of time spent on PCs and 30% of time spent on mobile devices is dedicated to social networking sites. This means that no matter who falls into your target audience, you are likely to find them on a social network. But which one?

With the goals you established earlier, you should have a clear idea of who you want to target for your social media campaigns. Initially, pick two or three social media sites based on who you want your message to reach. You can always add additional sites later if time and resources allow.

For example, while a B2C company should definitely have a Facebook profile, a B2B company would gain more benefit from beefing up its LinkedIn presence.  However, both of these companies might want to use Twitter for various purposes such as responding quickly to customer concerns or sharing special deals and offers along with news and information.

Quick Tip for Success: Once you’ve found the social media sites you want to target, spend some time “listening.” Read posts, tweets, comments, etc. to get a feel for what kinds of messaging resonates most with the people you want to engage (and which types of messaging have generated largely negative responses).

Create a Compelling Profile

Long gone are the days of the simple Yellow Pages® listing. Many of today’s social media profiles incorporate images, audio and video as well. No matter which social media platform you’re using, you need to be sure that:

  • Your profile is complete.  Nothing frustrates users more than missing information, and if you don’t include essential details, you will likely miss out on opportunities to connect with your audience.
  • Your profile is visually appealing. A nice, clean layout and easy-to-read text are a must. Most social media platforms make this easy in terms of layout, but it’s up to you to ensure that the images and multimedia you use on your profile reflect the quality of your brand.
  • You make your brand story interesting. Your business is your passion. Share that passion with your followers and provide more than the usual “about us” verbiage if you want to increase engagement. Make your story resonate by talking about how you help your customers and what makes your company unique.
  • You invite dialogue. As we mentioned before, social media is a two-way street, and your followers and fans will expect you to do more than blast them with posts, tweets and messaging. Encourage communication, and respond when people take you up on that offer to engage.

Putting it All Together

If this seems like a lot to grasp at once, it is. That’s why we recommend taking the step-by-step approach above to avoid getting overwhelmed at the onset.
Make a plan, find your audience, create a great profile and you’ll be ready to engage with your customers and tap into the benefits of social media marketing in a consistent and manageable way.
In the coming weeks, we’ll provide even more information to help you tackle the most common problems SMBs have with social media, including:

  • managing social media work flow
  • building audiences on social media platforms
  • tracking the value of social media to your business

As you move forward with your social media marketing, we’re always ready to assist. Send us your questions, comments or concerns and we’ll work with you to create an actionable plan for social media success.

“Top 5 Social Struggles For SMBs.”
“Nielsen | Social Media Report 2012.”

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