Social media, as Wikipedia defines it, refers to all the networks that “allow people to create, share, or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”
In 2005, Pew Research found that eight percent of American adults used social networking sites. By 2009 that number had grown to 47 percent; as of last year, nearly three in four adults used social media. That evolution—with the accompanying growth in Internet use, mobile devices, and apps—has had a huge impact on how businesses promote themselves.
There are multiple sources of information and influence. When everyone has access to 24/7 multimedia publishing platforms, the “gatekeepers” of traditional media and advertising matter less. With options ranging from Fox News to The New York Times, Instagram to Facebook, YouTube to blogs, the audience has fragmented, and businesses are left trying to figure out where their audience is and how to connect with them. Communication must be a two-way street. Now that consumers have access to real-time information and feedback, their expectations have increased. Half of customers who ask a question via Twitter expect an answer within one hour, Econsultancy reported—and if they’ve made a complaint, that number jumps to 72 percent. Brands need to be actively listening and ready to respond. People rely on their network for advice. Members of the global online community turn to each other for everything from medical advice to restaurant and travel recommendations; three out of four consumers “rely on social media to influence their purchasing decisions,” AdWeek reported. However, the same article points out, businesses “miss or mishandle up to 80 percent of customer engagement opportunities.”
Other promotions still matter, but the stakes are too high to ignore social media marketing—and businesses get it. In 2009 just 24 percent of small businesses had a social media presence. By 2014, a survey by LinkedIn found, nine in 10 small and midsize businesses (SMBs) were using social media or planned to do so in the near future.
This uptake means the conversation has shifted. SMBs no longer wonder whether they should use social networks; they want to know how they can get the most from their efforts.
THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING.
A Social Media Examiner survey found that social media efforts are paying off: 92 percent of marketers said social media has increased their exposure, and 80 percent said it boosted website traffic.
Other benefits included.
Developing loyal fans Providing market insight Generating leads Improving search rankings Growing business partnerships Reducing marketing expenses Improving sales.
Social media marketing isn’t without its challenges, however. That same survey found most people continue to struggle with.
Tactics (which ones work best) Engagement (best ways to get the audience involved with the brand) Measurement (figuring out the return on investment [ROI]) Tools (which ones help simplify social media management) Audience (keeping track of the target audience)
Keeping up with changing technology and consumer preferences, tying social engagement back to business and financial goals, and finding ways to make social media management easier are common issues—none of which has made social media marketing any less important to getting business done.
Recommended Social Media Marketing Freelancers.
Preparing for Your Social Media Campaign.
Social media can surface an overwhelming amount of information, and it takes both time and resources to monitor online discussions, engage fans, and see results from social media efforts.
Social Media Examiner’s survey found that a majority of marketers spend at least six hours each week managing social media; 37 percent spend more than 11 hours.
And it isn’t just a matter of investing time. “We have a fairly large team for social customer service compared to most small businesses, and still we were only able to manage what was coming to our handle when we built the team up to 17 people,” Katy Phillips of American Airlines shared as part of a social media panel at Wharton.
How do you figure out what your business needs to make social media work? The first step is being clear about both your goals and your expectations.
Choosing your theme.
Like advertising efforts, social media campaigns generally follow one of three themes:
To inform people about a brand and build awareness To persuade people to take action (for instance, to buy products) To reinforce the benefits of a brand and build loyalty among existing fans.
A theme gives the rest of your efforts a framework to follow. For example:
To meet your goal, whom do you need to talk to? This defines your target audience. What type of content can you create, or curate from other sources, to give your target audience information that will be of value? What’s an effective way to respond to comments and inquiries that will help move you toward your goal? How will you measure your results?
Once you’ve identified your destination, you need to find a way to get there—by focusing on the best social network for your audience.
Finding the right social network.
Identifying your target audience will help you with the next critical piece to the puzzle: figuring out where they “live” online and how you can reach them.
Facebook is often seen as a safe bet because of its sheer size: Roughly a third of the world’s population logs in regularly. It also trumps other social networks for the B2C market, with one Social Media Examiner survey showing that 68 percent of businesses rank it as their most important network.
That same survey ranked LinkedIn as the most important network for B2B (33 percent)—but Facebook wasn’t far behind on that list either.
But Facebook is hardly the only network around. There is no definitive social network for reaching customers; there are numerous channels shaped not just by numbers but also by geographic location, demographics, and interests. Here are some of the most common platforms.
A multimedia platform for sharing text, images, and videos. People can also interact through games and apps, special-interest groups (private, limited, or public), and events. For individual users, it’s a network of family and friends—called “friends”—with privacy settings and lists to help manage who can see what on personal “profiles.” Businesses are required to create public “pages,” which provide detailed statistics and advertising options. Individuals “like” pages to receive updates and stay in the loop. A multigenerational network, with nearly half of its users over the age of 35. Seventy percent of teens are “friends” with their parents—which some observers suggest is why many users under the age of 24 have left Facebook for other networks.
Twitter & Vine.
Twitter is a text-based network, built around 140-character-long messages. Twitter has recently added images and video—including streaming video, the latest addition. But brief text messages are still at its core. Profiles are typically public, although there is an option to make accounts fully private. Vine (owned by Twitter) is built around six-second-long looping videos that often incorporate comedy, music, and stop-motion animation. It averages 1.5 billion loops—or plays—every day.
A strongly professional network, whereas other networks including Facebook and Twitter often blend personal and business users. Because it’s such a career-focused network, users tend to be older and well educated—although the fastest-growing demographic is students and recent college graduates. For individuals, LinkedIn is like a living résumé, highlighting goals, experience, and professional interests with the support of social recommendations and endorsements. Companies can build pages to keep people up-to-date about news and job opportunities. LinkedIn also offers a publishing platform for people with ideas to share.
Like Facebook, Google+ has both personal profiles and business pages. It allows “circles” for contacts, which helps users control who sees their information. Links have been established between activity on Google+ (i.e., when a user likes a web page or blog post by clicking a “+1” button) and search engine optimization. Its Hangouts—video functionality that can be used for small online conferences or live-streaming events—also provide a direct tie-in to YouTube. Google announced in March 2015 that Google+ will be split into two properties: Photos (focus on photos) and Streams (focus on information). This will divide the platform, but it’s uncertain what the impact will be.
A video-centric network that has become the world’s second largest search engine; it’s owned by Google and attracts a lot of “natural” traffic—people who browse the site or watch videos through features like search or “related videos.” It’s used for everything from music videos to home videos, professionally produced short films to do-it-yourself instructions. 300 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. It attracts four billion views every day.
Another video-centric network, but unlike YouTube, Vimeo is an ad-free experience. Vimeo has significantly less “natural” traffic than YouTube, so it works best when a video will be shared across other channels.
A photo-sharing website that has the lead over Facebook and Twitter as the “most important” network among U.S. teens; more than half of teenagers and people in their early 20s use the site. Instagram only hyperlinks URLs in profile bios, not in photo descriptions or comments. As Instagram’s Jim Squires commented to Business Insider: “For your next campaign, if you could use no copy at all, how would you do it?” This is great for engagement but harder for direct sales. Hashtags—topics or keywords preceded by a pound sign (#)—are a primary way for people to find and organize photos on the network.
An image-centric site, it’s less a platform for hosting original content as it is for curating content from other sites—using images as the hook. With a largely female user base, Pinterest is known as a resource for food, fashion and accessories, DIY, kids, gardening, and self-improvement. Facebook is the top network for driving sales, but Pinterest makes it easy to build a “virtual storefront” that links people directly from image to purchase page.
A microblogging site that has a reputation for attracting creative people who want a home for artwork and writing. The platform hosts more than 225.1 million blogs and has 420 million users—half of whom are under the age of 25. Much of the community shares posts they like rather than generating unique content. Most popular with teens and college students, it has attracted high-profile users who want to reach that demographic, including Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and President Barack Obama.
Foursquare & Swarm.
The network that popularized the concept of “checking in”—registering your location for rewards such as “badges” and “mayorships” for places visited frequently. Foursquare hosts tips, reviews, and recommendations from the community. Recently split into Foursquare and Swarm. As described by social media management company Hootsuite: “Foursquare now focuses on the personal, location-based discovery, while Swarm is more about shared experiences with your friends.” The Foursquare app is where organizations should focus their attention, as that’s where all business details are stored—including check-ins, statistics, and information from the community.
A Key Ingredient of a Good Social Media Campaign: Listening.
Once you know which network(s) to use to reach your target audience, your first move shouldn’t be to jump into the conversation; it should be to tune in. Listening is an often-underrated part of the social media process.
Social monitoring is where many businesses focus their attention: keeping track of what people are saying to the business or about the brand, watching comments, likes, and retweets. These are often referred to as “vanity” metrics; they have value, but are entirely centered around the brand itself.
Social listening expands that circle. Its focus is understanding a brand’s position in the marketplace and what’s going on in the industry as a whole. Listening depends on following active influencers in the community and what they’re talking about, seeing what competitors are doing, paying attention to what the online community your brand wants to be part of is talking about—not just as it relates to your product but also the issues, causes, and activities its members care about.
Social listening can help you.
Understand your target audience better. What do they talk about? What hashtags and conversations attract their attention? What types of messages do they respond to? Track your competition. What do they do well? What have they tried that didn’t work? Is there something they aren’t doing—or that they do poorly—that your business could do? Create smarter content. By listening to what your audience is talking about, learning their pain points, spotting gaps in what your competition provides, and understanding the tone and style your community relates to, you can create content that meets their needs and speaks their language.
More than anything, social listening has the potential to help you home in on competitive intelligence that can have a real bottom-line impact—if you choose to pay attention.
A study by McKinsey & Company found that organizations that use social technology to “scan [their] external environment for new ideas” and integrate it not just into marketing activities but other parts of the operation often boost financial performance and improve market share as a result.
Getting Your Audience Engaged.
An article in Harvard Business Review said that one risk of managing customer relationships is that a company could be seen as “stalking, not wooing, customers.”
When it comes to sharing personal information or talking to brands, every customer or potential customer is going to ask “What’s in it for me?” Getting the answer right is no easy feat.
People use social networks to stay in touch with family and friends, to stay informed, and to be entertained. They don’t use it to stay in touch with brands. In fact, a survey by IBM found that more than half of consumers say they don’t interact with brands on social networks at all.
The ones who choose to connect want something of value in return—but there’s a disconnect between what they want and what businesses think they want.
In a survey by IBM, consumers ranked “getting discounts or coupons”and “purchasing products and services” at the top of their wish list. When asked why customers would connect with them, businesses put those same reasons at the bottom of the list.
How do you bridge that divide? Start thinking like your customer!
Market research can give you a starting point, and social listening can provide a lot of insight into your particular audience.
Perhaps the easiest thing to do—especially with social media—is to ask.
Ask your community for feedback. Invite people to share their thoughts and advice Organize contests. Use polls to solicit opinions. Plan challenges.
Getting input gives your community the chance to get involved and improves transparency in your communication—something that can also help build trust online.
Connecting Social Media Activity to the Bottom Line.
Measuring the impact of any marketing activity can be a challenge, and social media is no exception.
“The value of any advertising, online or offline, depends on what effects it has on purchases,” wrote Frank Cespedes, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, in an article for Harvard Business Review. “These effects are difficult to measure, because consumers buy in (or not) for many different reasons.”
Depending on the theme of your campaign, you can measure any number of factors—from the number of direct sales on Pinterest to the impact on customer service inquiries after expanding your social media efforts to 24/7 support. (Check out this blog post about social media’s return on investment for ideas.)
There’s a lot of discussion about the true financial ROI of social media and the challenges in trying to measure it. An article from Forbes cited a survey by small-business directory Manta that found while many SMBs had increased their time on social media, “more than 60 percent reported no return on investment. Forget moving the needle— all that work on social did not even make it tremble.”
The calculation for ROI is:
ROI = (return – investment) / investment.
However, when you look at some of the key benefits reported by SMBs using social media—such as developing loyal fans, gaining insights into the marketplace, and growing business partnerships—the value is clear, even if a specific dollar amount is not.
With some creativity and critical thinking, you may find a way to assign a value to partnerships or to the referral power of a fan. As Kevan Lee explained on the blog for social media automation tool Buffer, you may find that other metrics provide better guidance or more value to your marketing efforts as a whole.
Who You Need on Your Team.
The nature of social media is such that everyone in an SMB is likely already involved to one degree or another, whether through branded channels, a professional profile on LinkedIn, or a personal Instagram account.
Consider creating a resource for everyone in the organization that explains what is and isn’t appropriate regarding social media, especially when it comes to that “gray area”where personal and professional lives can collide online.
For your hands-on social media team, you may need multiple contributors, or you might be fine with a team of one. The right solution for your SMB will be shaped by a number of factors, including.
The organization’s overall commitment to social media The resources available (i.e., people and budget) Your goals and objectives The number of networks being used The target for availability (for instance, 24/7 versus business hours only)
Your team will also be shaped by the skills you need for your efforts to be successful. One person may be able to manage it all, or you may need additional support to get it right. Here’s a look at the skill set you need:
Someone who is passionate about social media and the work you do. This person should be an active user already, either for personal use or on behalf of other organizations. Someone who can oversee social media management and content creation. He or she needs to have a firm understanding of your company, its processes, and its people. This person should also understand how social media supports your organization’s goals and be able to respond to questions and comments or know whom to ask. Someone who knows analytics and can create regular reports that help measure the impact of social media activities. This person should have a solid understanding not only of the campaign’s goals and objectives but also of the metrics that need to be tracked in order to show actual impact.
Anyone who will be the “voice” of your social media accounts should be a good communicator: professional, friendly, and able to stay calm in an unpredictable and public environment. These spokespeople need a clear understanding of your social media marketing strategy, its goals and objectives, and their role in making things happen.
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Social media, as Wikipedia defines it, refers to all the networks that “allow people to create, share, or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”