Social media, Web 2.0, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube: the words have bounced around your boardroom like superballs. You’ve heard of some businesses using them with success. Maybe you’ve given some of them a shot yourself — and then wondered what all the fuss is about.
For many entrepreneurs, it’s becoming harder to justify the ROI and time spent in these many new and crowded online social spaces when the results are not immediate and obvious. In the end, is social-media marketing really going to help you grow your firm and make more money?
The answer is yes. It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in, how small or large your niche is, whether you target consumers or businesses, or whether your product sells for $1 or $1 million. If people can’t find you online — especially in social-media channels — you are invisible. If you do not acclimate yourself to social media now, you will soon fall far behind your competitors.
There’s plenty of evidence that consumers are increasingly digital. Canada is No. 1 when it come to online video viewing, for example. And there’s huge power in engaging online communities. A 2008 report by the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California reported that 55% of online community members feel as strongly about their virtual community as they do about their real-world community.
Whether you’re a social-media newbie or you’ve already tried without much success to make social media work for you, consider these steps to get the most of out the exciting and ever-changing world of Web 2.0.
Create a strategy
Social-media marketing is more akin to dating than it is to the one-night stand. Without a long-term strategy, all you’re doing is chasing the latest and greatest shiny object. I’ve seen so many companies hop onto Facebook or Twitter with no set plan other than “trying it out.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but before filling out any online social-networking profiles, why not first jot down what you want to accomplish and why you want to accomplish it? If you uncover the strategy after you have already started, you may wind up with online profiles and spaces that really don’t match your strategy. If someone comes by and sees those initial forays that you have since abandoned, it might not make the ideal digital first impression.
Audit your digital footprint
To create a strong strategy, you need to be aware of what your customers are already saying about you online. It will help you decide which direction your initiatives should take. There are tons of free tools that let you see and hear what is being said about you, your company and your products. Google News Alerts, Technorati, Twitter Search and even simple searches on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing can give you the overall temperature of who is saying what. In order to best manage these many tools, grab all of these feeds and unify them in a news aggregator such as Google Reader or Netvibes.
No matter what your line of business, there is almost certainly someone in your industry who’s already podcasting, blogging or using YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. Find out whom your industry considers to be the most respectable “voices” in the many online channels. Subscribe to their in your RSS reader and make a point to read, listen and watch the content every day. By following those who are already respected, you will be better positioned to see where you can add your voice.
Choose matching channels and networks
All too often I see businesses on Twitter that really ought to be blogging. There are companies doing things with text that might be better suited to images. My point: it’s best to focus on creating and publishing the type of content that makes the most sense for your business. Also, consider what you would enjoy creating the most. I was a writer before I started my company, so blogging and Tweeting are natural for me. If you did college radio, a podcast might be up your alley. Think about what you have a knack for.
Add your voice
You can choose to become a frequent commentator in spaces such as popular industry blogs, or offer to contribute content to some of the many multi-author online destinations. (Among them are industry websites such as onedegreee.ca for marketers and general-interest sites such as the Huffington Post, which offers syndicated columnists, blogs and news stories with moderated comments.) By inserting your voice in places that are highly trafficked you can build your presence (and Google Juice — that is, the value that Google gives to your site) without having to maintain your own.
Have a plan and be consistent
Your overall strategy will become your lighthouse. As you fall deeper down the rabbit hole, you’ll always be able to fall back on your strategy to ensure that you are on course. But if you choose to publish your own thoughts on your own platform, you’ll have an easier time if you have a specific plan — one that outlines how often you will publish, how you will tweak the content as your community grows and what will happen if you stop publishing. A plan, even one that includes specific dates for when you should publish content, will help you focus as well as get you in the habit of contributing and publishing. Remember that people like consistency and that this is largely a volume game. The more you publish, the easier it will be for people to connect with you.
Partner with excellence
By the way, there’s no rule against delegating some of these steps. If it makes sense for one of your senior managers to do a podcast, or for a PR firm to write your blog, there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as you’re creating content that people want and you’re completely transparent about who’s behind it.
And one final bonus tip: have fun! One reason why businesses abandon this type of marketing is because they are no longer having fun with it. There are so many channels out there. Find ones you enjoy, then create the type of content that you can be passionate about.