Social Media Marketing for Small and Mid-Sized Businesses
Small and mid-sized businesses looking to initiate or revamp their social media marketing efforts should follow some very simple guidelines to be successful.
Just merely having a website is no longer good enough in the world of Web 2.0. People are now referring to the "social web", which refers to the social media movement that has taken hold and is the driving force on the internet. Even reference sites now have built-in Facebook and Twitter sharing buttons.
But before jumping in to what to do in social media, lets define social media. If you ask 100 people you would probably get 100 different answers, but the consensus would likely be something similar to what Wikipedia uses as its main definition
: "Social media includes web-based and mobile technologies used to turn communication into interactive dialogue...Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication techniques, social media has substantially changed the way organizations, communities, and individuals communicate."
Social media comprises a myriad of different content types. People are participating in social media on blogs, social interaction sites (i.e. Facebook
) or aggregation sites (i.e. Digg
) and microblogging sites such as Twitter
. They are engaging in social media when they are sharing information with their community of relationships.
Now that we have defined social media, let's discuss how and why small businesses can use it to their advantage.
The first step in social media marketing is to define your social media strategy. Most companies would say that their primary objective is to increase sales. While sales may be the ultimate goal, using social media as a sledgehammer to pitch your products and services is the most common mistake made by companies on the social web.
It's important to keep in mind that social media is primarily about engagement. Just like all social interactions, social media should be a two-way conversation. There is nothing social about a person standing on a street corner shouting slogans into a megaphone, right? That is the equivocal of using the company twitter account to do nothing but post slogans three times a day.
Once you understand that the goal of social media is to engage your audience in a conversation, then the first (and some would say the most important) step is listening. As Social Media expert, Chris Brogan, states
"listening is my first move to understand social media."
You should read blogs about your industry and competitors. If you are big enough, there may even be blogs about your products. Read them - you need to understand what people are saying about you and your competitors. You should also be searching twitter for key words that relate to your company or products. Are people talking about you on Twitter? If so, what are they saying?
The next step in a social media plan is to decide how you are going to communicate. There are a number of platforms to engage your audience. The first step in determining which to use is to understand where your audience is. As a rule of thumb, LinkedIn is generally a more effective platform for B2B inbound marketing while Facebook is more effective for B2C.
Most inbound marketing experts agree that the first step in a social media program is to create original content by blogging. On your blog you can discuss industry trends, post behind the scenes videos, interview key employees, or dissect the trends or topics that interest your audience. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook should be used to promote your blog content to your followers.
If you want to create a community atmosphere around your company, then getting involved in sites like Facebook is what you want to do. On Facebook you can read and comment on the things that your audience are talking about and engage them in discussions on the media that they are sharing. You can also easily share media there with your community.
On social media sites you need to be careful to strike a balance. You do not want to just talk about yourself. You want to comment on other people's media and share content from other sources as well as mix in your own original content. Social media is not the platform to hawk your wares. If you're doing things right, your followers will promote your content, goods and services to their followers.
Microblogging sites like Twitter are useful in seeing what the hot topics are in your industry or geography. Topics that are trending on Twitter are often the most discussed topics of the day. Twitter is also the destination that many people will go to complain or celebrate the things that are affecting them the most. It is important to have your ear to the ground on Twitter so that you will hear if people are talking positively or negatively about you.
Twitter is also a good place to share content, but because of the short character limitations, most often people use Twitter to share links to other sources of media (YouTube, Facebook, blogs, etc.) You should get in the habit of sharing content from other platforms to your audience on Twitter.
The bottom line for all social media platforms is engagement. You should engage your audience in conversations by answering their questions and asking your own.
Those are the basics of social media marketing for small and mid-sized businesses. Use this information as a starting point - get involved with social media and you will find the right balance of the ideas that work best for you and your company. As th folks at Nike say - just do it!