Embracing Social Media

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By Eoin Hudson, Digital marketing expert.

This guide has been developed to help entrepreneurs and businesses at all stages start, manage, and enhance their social media strategies. Click on the appropriate stage below for you and your business, or start from the beginning, to get concise recommendations and resources to help you at that level and prepare you for the next.

You’ve never used Social Media at all – Where to start?

Creating a social media strategy can seem daunting, especially if you don’t use it in your daily life already. There are so many different ways to reach your customers that it’s overwhelming. What do they all do, why would you use one instead of the other? Well, let’s take it slow and start at the beginning. You’re reading this because you know your company needs a social media presence, so let’s talk about why that really is.

Social Media

Social media is about creating a community and connecting with your customers authentically.

It falls under the umbrella of content marketing, which is a strategy that focuses on creating compelling and rich content that’s relevant to your target market. This content is spread out within your digital ecosystem—website, blogs, social media channels—and acts as a widely cast net over the web. The more content you have, the larger your online presence and the more likely you’ll be to turn up in a potential customer’s search. Social media acts as an amplifier and allows you to spread that content faster and more organically than ever before.

Think word-of-mouth-marketing that’s digitized. Now, people can communicate, recommend, and share with friends and acquaintances across the globe. The idea is to get them to share about your company.

Not only are social media networks great at exposing your message to a large audience, but they are the perfect way to build trust around that message by creating a community and becoming a resource. Give your audience relevant and interesting content, not just marketing and promotions, and they will share and spread that message, and by association, your business.

Best Practices

Let’s go over some very basic best practices. Every social network is different, and we’ll get to that below, but there are some overarching best practices to observe.

  • Keep it short. The best post length for maximum engagement on twitter is between 71 and 100 characters, Facebook is 40 – 80 or less, and LinkedIn is about 25. Not much room, add a picture with information (not more text!) such as a sale window display, to say more without saying so much.
  • Use Pictures. Pictures are your friends. Posts with pictures get 120% more engagement on average according to Wishpond.
  • Minimize the pitch. People on social media are there to engage and interact with a community, not be sold to. That doesn’t mean you can’t let your audience know about a great sale or wonderful coupon (According to Socially Stacked, 42% of Facebook fans like a page in order to get a discount or coupon), but you want a good 4-1 ratio of content to promotions.

The Elephants in the Room 

Let’s take a moment to summarize the big social media players.

A. Facebook

The top dog and the network you most need to engage with, it’s just too big to be ignored. Facebook is a newsfeed, with a constant stream of information from friends, news organizations, and brands. Many people used to read the newspaper every morning, now people check Facebook to see what is going on in the world, what their friends are up to, and take a quiz to see which Marvel character they are. There are also games, event pages, and messaging.

According to Pew Research, 71% of online adults use Facebook and the site accounts for a whopping 25% of referral traffic according to Shareholic. The next highest is Pinterest at 5%.

B. Twitter

Snapshots of life. These short posts are in the moment and expedient. You are capped at 140 characters and want to stay under 100. These are great for thoughts of the day, quick updates, joining a current conversation. It’s also a wonderful addition to standard customer service as your audience can direct tweets right to your brand and you can answer them in real time and publically. Think a constantly updating FAQ page.

According to Pew Research, 23% of online adults use twitter and the accounts for.9% of referral traffic.

Be careful, however. Twitter is by nature in the moment and off-the-cuff. Think before you tweet, many a brand and person has had their 140 characters come back to bite them. Before joining a conversation, think if it’s appropriate to do so.

C. Instagram

All about pictures, creating beautiful imagery, giving your brand a look and a feel. Lifestyle marketing all the way, but don’t be afraid to personalize it. Show your staff at a party, a team brunch or teambuilding activity. Have fun with it and don’t fear the filter!

26% of online adults use Instagram.

D. Pinterest

A place to organize your thoughts and dreams, Pinterest is a digital cork board. Pinterest has a very large female audience. Users create boards where they then “pin” products and photos from the internet, creating an inspiration space, an aspirational area, or just a place to organize one’s ideas around a subject.

28% of online adults use Pinterest and the site accounts for 5% of referral traffic.

Create boards that speak to a need. If you run a furniture company, create boards for each room with ideas and DIY projects and a sprinkling of your products. If you run a catering company, put boards for weddings, birthdays, etc. Keep the 4-1 ratio from above firmly in mind here!

E. LinkedIn

B2B. While not as interesting or exciting as the other social media platforms, LinkedIn is great tool for business to business marketing, creating buzz within your business community, attracting talent, etc. It is the largest professional network online with 161 million users in over 200 countries.

28% of online adults use LinkedIn and the site accounts for .02% of referral traffic.

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Join In

Not your company, you. If you’re reading this article, don’t think about applying social media to your business just yet, we’ll get to that in the next article, now is the time to familiarize and immerse yourself with the different social media cultures. The culture on Facebook is very different from that of Twitter or Instagram. You need to understand that difference before joining that space. The best way to do this is to do it yourself. Experiment, learn, understand why people join that community—it’s the only way you can authentically become a part of it, and if your social media efforts aren’t authentic they’ll fall flat.

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You Use Facebook & Occasionally Tweet – Now How Do You Apply It To Your Business?

Social media—you got it, you get it, you use it. You just posted a picture of you and your friends to Facebook and today’s heavy traffic was duly tweeted as was the barista misspelling your name. In fact, you didn’t even read the above article and have skipped right to numero dos. But how do you apply your personal habits to your business?

The key to creating an effective and rewarding social media strategy is to focus on a core few social platforms and make sure you really nail them. Start with these five steps.

Step 1: Find out who your customers are

Social media marketing is about making a connection with your customers, so start with them.

You’ve probably already done some analysis into who your customers are. Use that analysis as a foundation and build upon it by testing your assumptions. Look to your website’s analytics, talk with sales people, reach out directly to customers and find out who they are. Age, sex, income—do they like art, are they city dwellers, family men or single women, do they prefer funny movies or dramas? Each social media environment attracts a different demographic and fulfills a different need; your customers will dictate where you focus your efforts.

Step 2: Pick Three

I mean it, start with three. A successful social media strategy is an investment, not an afterthought.In order to even consider yourself having an online presence, much less social media, you need to be on both Facebook and Twitter, so there’s your first two out of the gate. Now take some real time and choose the more niche social media platform that matches your customers—don’t just choose what your current customers use; this is about acquisition and retention. Only after growing an engaged network that’s meeting its goals and producing good ROI do you increase investment. Go back to the first section for some basic information on the major channels to help you make your choice.

Step 3: Integrate With Your Marketing Plan

Do not create your social media strategy in a silo—take a holistic approach. Your social media efforts need to support, be supported by, and be a part of your overall marketing strategy. Looking at social as a separate entity will fracture your message. Customers nowadays expect consistency across your brand and channels.

Now, that doesn’t mean that your social marketing strategy should simply parrot your other efforts—quite the opposite!—but they should be created together and drive towards a single purpose: increasing sales and getting great ROI.

You can have social-only and channel-specific promotions and coupons, and should have individual messaging and community involvement, but keep it as part of a master plan with all your players understanding that they are simply different positions on the  field playing for the same team. When creating campaigns and forecasts, define what the strategy will be on the website, in your store, and on social media from the beginning and then let the various departments run with the ball.

Step 4: Create Goals

This is the scaffolding of your social media strategy. Now, What are you hoping to achieve? Do you want to create a community, grow brand awareness, increase site visits? Set quantifiable and simple goals so you can measure your efforts. If they’re too complicated you won’t see progress when it’s being made. Remember, social media often doesn’t result in direct sales, so create objectives around reach (how many followers or likes/people reading posts), engagement, and click through rates.

Once you have those goals, track them and stay on top of it. This is your first brush with social media, so try not to be overly reactive. Check your onsite and social analytics once a week—look at post-specific data and try to find trends. Attempt to repeat your successes and see if they work a second time.

Step 5: Benchmark

Starting anything new from whole cloth is difficult and a lot of time can be wasted, which is why you need to find a benchmark: a competitor or brand that attracts a similar demographic and is doing really well on your chosen social media network. Follow them and see what they do—learn from them. Choose a few so you get a breadth of ideas. You don’t need to have the same brands for each social community—find who is succeeding in your given space and emulate it.

And don’t limit yourself to the same industry you’re in. Once again, look to your customers. You’ve identified who they are and you will have some following within your social ecosystem, so use that data, and watch your customers. Who are they following besides you, what content do they share and comment on, what excites them and gets them to engage? Follow who your customers follow, then use that information to create your own voice and lead.

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You Have a Facebook & Twitter Presence & Want to Grow Your Reach & Audience

You’ve created your brand pages, identified your customers, started posting, and gained a small following. You have established goals around reach and now it’s time to start hitting them. So, how do you get there from here?

Scheduling

As I said above, your social media strategy has to be part of your marketing strategy as a whole. This means that your posts should support and/or coordinate with your marketing efforts. Look over your marketing calendar for the next quarter and at each campaign, sale, event, etc., going forward and build in a social component. Create Pinterest boards that correspond with your next sale, show your product being used via video on Youtube and Facebook, do an AMA (ask me anything) around a new store launch on Reddit, etc. All of these tasks take time to complete and cannot be done on the fly, despite the fact that that’s how social media is presented. Have a quarterly social marketing calendar that is attached to your marketing calendar so you can properly prepare.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a service that allows you to post to and analyze all your social channels from one place. Within the site you can create a dashboard that gives you a quick overview of what you find important. The service lets you create what they call “streams” that show you a segment of information within a given social community such as Facebook’s newsfeed, LinkedIn’s updates, or Twitter’s homepage. These streams are organized into tabs you create, allowing you to organize your information in whatever way works best for you and your business.

Use Hootsuite to actually craft and schedule your posts. Create your post and schedule it for the time and date you want it to go live—by using this tool you can coordinate your entire social media calendar, get a snapshot of what’s going on in each channel, and look at your analytical data in one place. You can also post right away without scheduling, so this will quickly become where you live, trust me. It saves you time, stress, and makes this huge flow of data manageable.

There are varying tiers of service. The first tier is free for two members with limitations on number of social accounts, and reporting. Hootsuite Pro gets you better analytics, more customized reports, more social channels, and a third member on the account for $9.99/month. Its then between $14.99 -$30/month for additional members.

Pay to Play

The age of social media being the free alternative to traditional marketing is gone, although, to be honest, it never really existed in the first place. Social media has always taken time and talent and both of those things cost money. However; social media didn’t use to have the additional costs of paying for your audience, like TV, print, radio, etc. Those days are gone.

Social media networks are monetizing and they are loath to do so at the expense of their users, which means they are putting the burden on businesses by making them pay for all those eyeballs.

But, this isn’t a bad thing. Facebook, Twitter, and the rest want marketers to get good value for money, so they are leading the way in analytical feedback and targeting while still coming in well under traditional marketing. A single Facebook post, promoted for $15, can get seen by 5-10,000 leads. When you post and don’t promote, only 20% of your audience will ever see it in their wall.

By far the best part of a promoted post is the targeting. Promoting a post (and this works slightly differently for each social community, but the concept remains constant) allows you to choose the audience that it’s shown to based on their likes and demographics. You can choose age group, sex, state, city, and a host of interests ranging from luxury bedding to organic farming. Couple this targeting with instant reporting and detailed data and you have a return that’s well worth the investment.

Humanize

Yup, be a human being. Seems simple, but you’d be surprised how often brands fail on this one. Social media communities are all built around authenticity. It’s a word I’ve been using a lot in these articles, because it’s key to making an impact instead of just being ignored. Social media users, your audience, will tune out marketing, they are not within these communities to be sold to, so be a person and speak with them.

Make your posts funny, personal, use emoji. Dare to be off-topic; you can talk about the local football game or current events without awkwardly attempting to insert your brand messaging into the conversation.

Be Trendy

And speaking of current events, be current! Stay on top of what’s happening online, what’s trending, what’s gaining interest, and what people are talking about. Now, join the conversation before it’s over, be a part of the community. And for goodness sake, don’t ham-fistedly throw your product into the mix unless you can actually do it cleverly or what you’re selling is relevant. Every post doesn’t need to make a sale; every post doesn’t need a Call To Action (CTA). Remember: community building, creating a pool of soft leads that can be turned towards a promotion at the right time is your goal here and you can’t do that without trust.

Next time something is blowing up online like the infamous blue/black gold/white dress, look at what brands do and see if it adds to the conversation, makes you want to buy, or is at all relevant. You don’t want to come off like “hey, we noticed you like this; it reminds of us of this stuff we sell. Buy our stuff!”

#Usehashtags. Hashtags organize posts and tweets into groups. When someone clicks on a hashtag, all the posts using that hashtag come up. When something’s trending and there’s a hashtag involved, use it. If there isn’t, make one and own it! Use hashtags for your own posts as well; it helps codify the sentiment into your customers’ brains by being short and sweet. Like a little #summary.

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You Have An Audience But Now Need More Engagement & e-Commerce

Audience – check;
Reach – check;
Schedule, check;
Engagement… Beuller, Beuller?

Engagement is one of the three pillars of social media along with reach and referrals. Engagement is what creates community and therefore needs to be a vital portion of your strategy. So, time to start mingling.

Defining Engagement

But before you start rubbing elbows, you need to define what engagement is, both for you and your marketing goals and for the specific social channel. For example, engagement on a Facebook post could be measured by how many people shared it, liked it, or commented; on Twitter, how many retweets, clicks on a link, or tweets directed at the brand; and on Pinterest, how many people re-pinned your pin or added a pin to one of your boards. All of those equal engagement, but they aren’t all equal.

Define what kind of engagement is important to you from a brand-wide perspective and a more granular, campaign-based perspective. You may want to increase the number of shared posts and brand awareness as an overall strategy, but for this particular campaign, comments are a better metric.

Engage

Pretty on the nose, but absolutely necessary. Creating an environment of engagement across your social media ecosystem starts with you, the brand. When someone replies to a post, tags your product in a photo, tweets about your services, asks a question—jump on it. Do not leave that valuable customer interaction hanging out there, engage with them and form a dialogue. Answer their questions, be funny if appropriate, make their interaction with your brand memorable and they’ll want to do it again. Help them with their problem and they’ll come back to you.

You remember that store where you grew up—maybe it was a hardware store or a general store, perhaps a pharmacy—the one where they knew your name and went out of their way to help you. You trusted them, you defended them when your friends said they preferred a different joint, and you shopped there even after the cheaper place moved in. It’s the one you think of fondly when you’re at a new store where no one seems to be able to help you and you’re just another customer. Be that store, be trusted, and you’ll be remembered.

Ask Questions

Want people to engage with your brand? Ask them questions. According to Kissmetrics, posts with questions get 100% more comments. It’s a great way to get dialogue going, both between your business and your customers, and between customers themselves. Ask a fun, opinion-based question that there won’t be consensus on. Try to find something that people are passionate enough to want to express their thoughts on, but not so passionate that it will get ugly. Think “what are your favorite places to eat in the city?” and not “who’s the better candidate?”

To that end, once again, simple is best here. Don’t pose a question that takes a whole lot of thought and introspection. Not because your audience isn’t intelligent, but because they don’t want to have an existential crisis over their morning coffee. Easy-to-answer questions get more answers by virtue of being easy. And that is, after all, the name of the game.

Are you more likely to answer a multiple choice survey or one using essay questions? So, ask which, should, would questions and not as many how, why, what questions.

Gamification

In order to play a game, one must engage. So, make your posts into a game, which can get you all sorts of different engagement depending on how you design it. Below are just a few examples:

  • Guess what’s in the picture
  • Like this page and post the hashtag #Example to get entered to win our prize
  • For every share you’re entered to win another prize
  • How many state capitals can you name?
  • What fairy tale character are you? Take this quiz and find out – quizzes are particularly good at getting people to click through to your site. You can then set up a pay wall (not overly recommended) or have them sign up for your mail list to get results. You can also just give them the results and throw in a great call to action to explore the rest of your site.

Emoticons

If you don’t know what an emoticon is, :P. Emoticons add a human element to your posts and people really respond to them. Don’t believe me? Seems trivial? Well, the data backs it up. According to AMEX OPEN Forum, emoticons can result in posts garnering 33% more comments, as well as getting shared 33% more often. What’s more: they get liked 57% more often than posts without emoticons. :O

Coupons & Calls to Action

According to Socially Stacked, 42% of Facebook fans like a page in order to get a discount or coupon. So, give them some—but don’t give them away for free; ask for something in return, like clicking a link, liking your post, adding a pin to your board, and so forth. You need to provide your audience with a strong Call to Action (CTA)—two in fact. The first is channel wide, such as “like our Facebook page for access to exclusive giveaways, coupons, and early access to new promotions.”

The second is in your posts themselves, and that is done on a campaign level. Construct posts with good CTA’s that will compel the reader to click the link, re-tweet, like the post, etc. You know, engage. Below are some examples.

  • Like our page for exclusive access!
  • Please re-tweet this #Pleaseretweet – yes, just asking works incredibly well
  • Only 100 tickets left. Click this link and get yours today!
  • Share this offer with your friends – get another 5% off!

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You’ve Gotten Social Media Traction & Need to Invest More While Ensuring You Get a Great ROI – How?

You’ve figured out who your audience is, created a social media strategy that’s integrated with your marketing calendar, scheduled your posts and used analytical data to craft those posts to be wide reaching and enhanced for engagement. You’ve proven the social media channels you’ve chosen work for your business and that you know how to get a return out of that initial investment.

So, where’s the next investment and how do you continue getting a great ROI on the investments you’ve already made?

Website

Before investing further in social media, you need to invest in your website. If you don’t already have a website, create one. If you do have a website, its’ time for an audit. The ultimate goal is to convert your social media network into referral traffic and finally into customers, preferably return customers. Social media will qualify your leads, making sure you are getting good traffic to your site, but it can only get potential customers through the digital door, your website needs to then pick up the baton and convert those leads into sales.

Invest in a website that is modern, user friendly, and content rich with strong calls to action. We’re hitting e-commerce territory now, which is an entirely new can of worms, but without a website optimized for e-commerce, your social efforts are in vain so it must be top of mind in any social strategy.

Are you a service-based company/mom-and-pop shop/restaurant—in other words, don’t have an e-commerce arm? Doesn’t matter. You still have the same burden of converting your leads, but instead of adding an item to their virtual cart, they’re going to your location. Again, we’re straying outside the realm of social media, but a strong web presence is critical, and every business needs a digital space that is all their own where they can direct their traffic and which acts as the hub for their efforts – a website.

Content

Invest in the people and the time to create really compelling and rich content. Be a content generator, not just a curator of relevant content around your industry—be the source. Yes, of course you can’t only share articles and pieces that are branded and created by you—the volume of posting is too high—but aim to consistently create.

When looking to create content, do your research. Use tools to see what’s trending online, what’s popular within your industry, what your customers are currently engaged in and looking up. Find a topic you speak to, a need you can address, or a question your brand can answer and create a rich piece of content. A rich piece of content is a white paper or blog that is dense with information—for example, this guide you’re reading right now. Publish and then take that piece of content and iterate upon it.

Keeping this guide as an example, you could take the first article and re-release it as a standalone blog, use the engagement section to create an infographic, make a top ten listicle out of the Tool section below, produce a video around getting reach, and break the advice for applying social to your business into a series of short tweets and posts.

Content creation can seem a bit daunting, and when the time and talent required to produce it is factored in, content creation isn’t cheap. But it is well worth the investment. Not only for being a resource to your target audience as we’ve already covered, but because you’re spreading your brand and cloaking it in trust. Branded, relevant content will stick with people far more than any ad will, especially if they consume it from a trusted source, which means going outside your own social channels.

Syndication

Another word for this is link-juice. The idea is to take the content you’ve spent all this time on, rich blogs, infographics, videos, etc., and get them shared. A lot of this can be done organically. If you make compelling content, people will share, but you cannot simply lie back and allow fate to take over. Fate will always try your patience.

Be proactive and find influencers and ambassadors. Influencers are the people that drive the decision making of your key audience. For example, if you sell organic baby food, an influencer for your audience might be a mom who blogs about raising her kids naturally and healthily. Find these influencers and connect with them directly to get your content and links to your website and social pages on their site.

This is all about relationship building and creating a portfolio of people who will help spread your message. Use tools such as the ones mentioned below, and research blogs with relevant topics to your business. Use your analytical data such as Google Analytics to see where your audience is coming from when they get to your website or social community and then contact the people who run those pages.

They’re generally not going to take your content with open arms—this will be a negotiation, and there will be quid pro quos, but it is worth it. When customers see people they trust talking about your brand they are far more likely to take the next step.

New social media platforms

Remember when I said many paragraphs ago to pick three social media communities and nail your ROI before making further investment? Well, here’s the further investment: if you have an engaged and growing community on those three channels with a good stream of referral traffic, and you feel comfortable in your abilities to create appropriate content, it may be time to find your next challenge.

I say it may be, because you need to once again evaluate your customers. If you find that they really only use Facebook, Twitter, and the third channel you chose, than there is no reason to enter a new space. However; if your audience is on other social media networks, or a customer base you’re trying to tap into is, it’s time to go after it.

This may be a great time to experiment with more niche channels, such as Snapchat, Vine, Reddit, podcasts, etc. But remember to do your research. This is an investment; don’t treat it like anything less. You’ll be investing at least as much time, people, and money in this channel as you have the others.

Tools

Social media and content creation take a lot of time and people power, but the work can be made easier with the judicious use of tools. I say judicious because for as many social communities as there are, there are three times as many tools available intended to save you time, organize your thoughts, curate content, etc. They almost all cost money, and many are worth the investment, but it’s easy to lose track and become overwhelmed. Below are a few tools, categorized by use, which I find particularly useful. For a more complete list of tools, look to the articles section of this page.

Content Curation & Discovery

  • Pocket – lets you to read and save a variety of online articles, which you can then post to Twitter or Facebook, schedule or review at a later time.
  • Talkwalker – Monitors trends, your brand, your products, while identifying influencers.

Research

  • BuzzSumo – type in a topic or keyword and see how it’s trending online. SumoBuzz pulls up articles, infographics, and more and then shows how many shares they got through each channel. Can filter based on time.
  • Swayy – a socially integrated, widely scalable content discover tool that not only finds you content, but finds you content that is relevant to your audience. Huge time saver.

Syndication

  • Inkybee – helps you build a list of bloggers based on your criteria and then connect with them.
  • NOD3x – a tool that helps you build relationships with your influencers and analyze what social channels are providing your content with the best engagement.

Scheduling

  • Hootsuite – we covered this, but it gives you data and a social media scheduling hub. All your channels controlled from one place.

Creation

  • LeadPages – generates landing pages that help convert your leads into customers.
  • Piktochart – no design experience? No problem. This tool lets you create simple infographics and more in a user friendly way. A great way for getting around the steep Adobe learning curve or hiring a designer right out of the gate.

Analytics

  • Bitly – shortens your links, which is great, but it also then gives you share and click through data on those links and compares your click through numbers to others who shared the same content.
  • Bottlenose – provides data and real-time analysis on activities happening in the present across your social media platforms. Really nice visual display as well.

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