Social Media – Are you doing it right?

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It’s no secret that social media is a hot topic. Every marketer wants to jump into what is — and has been for more than a year — the most dynamic and exciting two-way communications platform since email.

The question used to be “Should my company participate in social media?” About halfway through 2009, that question became “How fast can we dive in?” — quickly followed (after a few high-profile failures) by “How do we do it right?”

Consider this: recommendations or content from “people like me” are trusted almost three times more than marketing materials. (Source: Edelman Trust Barometer, April 2010.) Many experts now agree that over the next year or two, companies that refuse to embrace social media will likely suffer market losses to more savvy competitors who’ve enthusiastically jumped in.

Established companies understandably have a harder time getting their heads around social media. For one, you have to move fast in the conversational world. You also have to be forthright, honest, agile, generous and receptive. Really, these are the qualities of success for almost any company. Social media merely amplifies the need to embrace them as the core of your consumer-facing communications.

ROI can be a sticking point. Social media (SM) is so new, we’re still figuring out the metrics. But one thing is for certain: we have more data, not less. We can now see deeper into consumer behaviour, before and after the actual transaction. We have data on pre-transactions such as sentiment analysis and assessing brand conversations, and post-transactions such as word of mouth, good or bad. While measuring transactions (revenue) is still somewhat elusive for social media, we will get there, quickly.

What companies have learned over the past year — often by trial and error — needs to be taken to heart. Why? Your bottom line depends on it.

Consider these statistics (Source: Consultancy’s Social Media Statistics, January 2010):

  • Facebook claims that 50% of active users log on to the site each day. This would mean at least 175 million users every 24 hours.
  • There are more than 3.5 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, etc.) shared each week on Facebook.
  • Purpose-built Facebook pages have attracted more than 5.3 billion fans.
  • 70% of bloggers are organically talking about brands on their blog.
  • 38% of bloggers post brand or product reviews.
  • Twitter now has 75 million user accounts (15m regular users — up from 6-10m just a few months ago).
  • LinkedIn has over 50 million members worldwide — an increase of around 1 million members month-on-month since July/August 2009.
  • According to Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank — an online marketing agency that services Fortune 1000 companies — social-media marketing is more like public relations than direct marketing. Odden’s posts on SM topics (http://www.toprankblog.com/) have concisely captured the best practices and watch outs that continue to define corporate success in the SM sphere.

Experts used to say that failure was a rite of passage in social media. Not anymore. With the proper planning, any company can come out swinging with a solid SM strategy. These tips, which draw on Odden’s sage advice, can get you started right.

Planning, planning, planning Too many marketers jump right in and start Tweeting or using Facebook without spending some serious time building their roadmap. How will SM complement your overall marketing strategy? Who is your audience? What are your objectives? What SM tactics (conversational, promotional, trial, feedback, etc.) will get you there? Which SM tools and technologies make sense? And finally, how will you collect and analyze your results?

Ask and ye shall receive This may very well be the golden rule of SM. Marketers must be prepared to “give” with no expectation of anything in return. Think of SM as more of a PR play than a sales strategy. If you “give” value — in terms of content, advice, insight and service — you develop relationships and trust that will very likely lead to sales and/or advocacy down the road.

These things take time And resources. Even if you decide to dabble in SM at the beginning to feel out what engagement tactics work well and make sense for your brand, you need to plan with absolute success in mind. This means considering who’s going to write and manage your SM accounts, how often they will monitor and/or participate in conversations and how much process will be required, etc. You may be able to handle the load with an existing team — for now. But this shouldn’t be your long-term plan. If you want success, you need to commit the bodies and bandwidth.

Honest as the day is long Subterfuge online always backfires. Some of the early failures of big-brand SM marketing involved companies trying to pass off agency-created content as community-generated. Big mistake! Online communities appreciate and respond to honesty, which means that even overt sales messages can be OK if you’ve been perfectly clear that this is the purpose for your SM initiative. That said, you’ll get better results if you invite feedback, including critical opinions from users. If they see you walk the walk, they’ll trust your talk.

Embrace your public Social media is not the place to police your brand image, language, trademarks, etc. Let it go and you will see this generosity paid back in tributes or satirical treatments that — no matter how off-brand they are — nevertheless perform a valuable advocacy role. Simply put: in the SM arena, you need to relinquish control of your message. This can be the hardest “rule” to follow for some brands (especially the bigger, traditional ones), but it’s also the most important one. If this makes you uncomfortable, perhaps SM is not for you.

Keep it real Speak clearly and concisely. Avoid all “sales speak” and overblown and empty claims such as “cutting edge”, “industry leading” and “world class.” David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, has made it a personal mission to battle against such “gobbledygook” words. If Twitter and Facebook have taught us anything, he says, it’s that brevity and personality make a message stand out more than hyperbole and exaggeration. Talk like your customers talk — and they will talk back.

Make friends with your friends Reach out to your customers who are already brand advocates. This applies to private individuals as well as bloggers. Invite them to participate, send them information and links to “inside” information, ask them for feedback. Empower them, and they’ll empower your brand.

Interpret your results Measuring ROI means determining exactly what results you expect. Many SM successes lead to results gradually, rather than providing an immediate boost. As Odden points out, “It’s more like providing resource A [that] results in action B that influences outcome C.” So break it down to performance indicators like number of friends or fans, comments, links, blog posts, mentions, etc., and you’ll know when you’re on the right track.

If you find these recommendations easy to implement, then you’re well on your way to success in social media marketing. Think of social media as another tool in your marketing mix — and not some kind of magic pill that will deliver results overnight — and you will naturally discover ways in which social media can complement and enhance everything from customer relationship building to product promotion.

To learn more about how Supernova Studios can help you implement your social media strategy and do it right from the start, contact us at 1-877-745-8687 or visit us at http://www.supernovstudios.ca/

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About Nancy Bain

Our services include building optimized, functional and self managed WordPress websites, Nova Scotia social media training and consulting, interactive full screen high definition virtual tours with lead capture and print advertising. For most of our clients, we are their one stop solution for all things marketing, branding and small business development related.

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