The buzz about social media as a business tool has reached a fever pitch. The challenge is to separate hype from reality and determine how it best fits in your organization.
Social media is a very powerful pull marketing tool for middle-market companies and has become a regular part of the overall marketing mix. The primary goals are to generate awareness, establish credibility and provide access. Perhaps the biggest change social media presents is the ability to create a two-way dialog with your customers. You no longer have to speak to customers via mass media.
This two-way dialog means that it is important to monitor what it being said about your company even if you are not engaged in social media activities yourself.
“You want to know what is being said about your brand and by whom,” said Joe Hodas, senior vice president of brand communications for Vladimir Jones. This way you can respond quickly and appropriately if what is said is negative or erroneous.
While there are many monitoring services, Hodas says that Google Alerts and Tweet Beeps are two good options for a basic level of monitoring.
David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”, likens social media to being at a cocktail party. It is a great way to meet like minded people and strike up a conversation. But you don’t necessarily want to jump right in and start selling your product to someone you just met. Social media is the same way. You want to provide interesting content so people can find you and then direct them to your Web site.
“Right now people are paying attention to social media messages. That makes it possible to generate awareness and engagement with your audience and strengthen the old method of creating a client base with e-mail, which has lost its impact due to spam,” said Lori Ruff, chief learning officer with IA Social Media. “With social media, you can send a message void of spam filters to people who want to hear from you and don’t feel bothered.”
Creating content that people want to read and to which they can relate is an effective way to build your credibility.
Trevor Dierdorff, Amnet president and CEO, entered the social media scene last year.
“We are using social media to establish ourselves as subject matter experts and to stay top of mind,” he said. “We are engaged in branding activities more than advertising with our social media efforts.”
Knowing what to write about and say can be very intimidating. There is also a fear that social media will take too much time. Having a plan in place helps ensure that the content is quick to create, meaningful for your target audience, and that you have enough to say.
Dierdorff recommends creating a social media strategy and a plan before doing anything.
“It starts with your Web site,” he said. “Make sure it is optimized for a social media strategy because ultimately that is where you want people to end up. That is what pull marketing is all about. Make sure your Web sit is set up to illustrate that you are someone who they want to do business with.”
Joining social media groups like the BusinessCatapult.com, a social networking platform for entrepreneurs, advisors and investors, is also becoming a way of doing business.
“Everything on the Business Catapult starts with a group, said Business Catapult chairman Kevin Johansen. “Groups work to build better entrepreneurs faster by appropriately socializing and sometimes capitalizing the new business. The result of the process is better businesses starting up faster, with more confidence, more resources and within better networks.”
As with any social situation, there are certain unwritten rules and expectations. Here are just a few to get started.
Rules of the game
Avoid spamming contacts with sales messages especially on the first contact.
Be informative not sales focused in your communications.
Save personal and political views for your Facebook friends and not your business communications.
Be consistent with communications, but don’t over do it.
Make sure what you are saying is of interest to your audience, think like a publisher.
Set aside time every day for social media efforts. Just 30 minutes each day is all it takes to build a network.
Always keep the strategic goal in mind for all social media activities. Know why you are doing this.
Kevin Knebl, founder of Knebl Communications, points out that social media is not the latest pet rock or a fad that will fade away anytime soon.
“Social media is a true business tool that drives revenue.”
Companies can cast a wide net and start building relationships through social media, but it still comes back to having some type of relational skills.
“After all, no one lives online. Business is still conducted in the real world” Knebl said. “All things being equal, people do business with those they know, like and trust. The challenge is to figure out how to convert online relationships into off-line revenue.”
Ann Snortland is principal of Snortland Communications www.snortcomm.com. She is the spokesperson for the Peak Venture Group Middle-Market Entrepreneurs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.