Social media. In today’s marketing landscape, “social” is often tossed around as a buzzword. “You need a larger social media presence.” “Let’s run a social campaign.” “Make some friends, you have no social life.” Whoops, that last one was actually just about Jerry. There are a lot of benefits to a thriving, active social media presence. But what does that mean, and how do you achieve it? It’s important to remember that when talking about a “social media presence,” it means a lot more than just having a Facebook page. To really use social media to your (and your company’s) advantage, think of it as social networking. You want to use the various online social platforms to:

  • Connect with your audience
  • Engage them
  • Engage with them

Having an up-to-date Facebook page for your business is a great way to increase brand awareness and legitimize your brand (and a good launching platform to a more extensive social media presence). While websites tend to be more static and harder to maintain constant updates, a Facebook page is incredibly easy to keep up-to-date. From posting business hour changes to special events to promotions, Facebook (and Twitter) updates are a great way to let people know what you’re all about. Plus, when prospective customers are doing their research (and you’re fooling yourself if you don’t think this research is being done online and on social media sites), they’ll see that you’re an active, thriving business who will be responsive to their needs. Don’t you hate it when a company’s website says one thing, and you show up to find out something completely different is true? Just like an active social media presence can legitimize your brand, an outdated or nonexistent social media presence can delegitimize your brand even more quickly. If you have it, use it, and use it frequently. How frequently? That’s up to you and your customers. If you have a business that’s changing all the time, you may need to post updates several times a day. Twitter is a great platform if you’re looking to frequently update your followers. If you have a business that doesn’t rely on constant renewal or fast customer action, posting once or twice a week is A-OK. It’s important to know your business and know your audience before venturing down the social media road. A schedule and a plan can go a long way to make sure your accounts stay fresh. The next step is to engage your audience. Once they visit your account, they want to see that the updates are relevant and compelling. We’re back again to the issue of content, and if you haven’t learned from last month’s blog or the month before [links], providing shareable content really is the secret to online marketing. Post things that your audience will care about. They don’t have to be directly related to your business, but be sure they’re not taking you down a path you can’t keep up with, or can’t respond to should your audience decide to engage on the topic. Sharing or retweeting content that is relevant to your company and customers can be an easy way to engage your audience without having to develop all the content yourself, but make sure there’s a balance between original and borrowed material. You can also engage your audience by demonstrating who you are as a company. Beyond just what you do or what service you offer, what you share reveals your brand identity. Are you funny? Motivational? Are you passionate about your cause? Beyond that, what kind of culture exists within your company, and what kind of relationships do you have with your customers? What you post makes a difference. Engage your audience. Be sure that what you post is relatable to your audience and indicative of who you are as a company. And the great thing about social media sites is that you get real-time feedback on what your audience likes and wants to share with others. Use that feedback (or lack of feedback) to shape future posts. That brings us to engaging with your audience. Though it sounds almost the same, believe us when we tell you that it’s very different. Engaging your audience means drawing them in. They follow you and are interested in what you have to say or offer. Engaging with your audience means facilitating two-way conversation. Engaging with your audience is how you use social networking to actually increase business. It’s responding to customer reviews (positive and negative). It’s using social media as a platform for customer service (who hasn’t tried calling an airline a dozen times with no result, only to post a negative review on Facebook and get nearly immediate resolution?). It’s cultivating relationships with your customers, not just talking at them. Engaging with your audience means you develop a loyal customer base. And we’ll shout this from the mountaintops: there is nothing more valuable to a business than a loyal customer base. Common social media sites are even beginning to offer e-commerce right from those sites. Facebook has begun the process of setting up retail stores that exist within Facebook. Amazon and Twitter have a partnership that allows you to purchase things from Amazon directly through Twitter. Social media is no longer just for sharing pictures of your dog (although you can certainly still use it for that. Dogs are cool.). According to surveys, two thirds of the U.S. uses social media. And it’s not just Facebook. Though Facebook has the most users and is the best catch-all social media platform in terms of demographics, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram all have much higher growth rates. It’s about who you want to reach, and what you can maintain. A Twitter account requires quick responses. If you can’t provide that, you may end up losing potential customers. Instagram is all about images and visual posts, and 1/3 of teens say Instagram is the most important social network. Pinterest appeals more to lifestyle followers, with its users heavily skewed in favor of women. And Tumblr is an anti-blog microblogging platform that is definitely not for the social media newbie (or a target audience any older than young millennials). LinkedIn appeals to a professional audience, with more users in a higher income bracket than the other platforms. Vine, Snapchat and messaging apps also skew young, so it’s important to understand who you’re trying to reach before embarking on a social media blitz. Using social media for social networking has a lot of great benefits for your business and brand. But there are a lot of ways to go wrong. Here are a few of them that you’ll want to avoid. This is not an inclusive list. An inclusive list is impossible, because the Internet tends to bring out the worst in people.

  • Having it and never posting
  • Posting irrelevant content
  • Posting offensive content*
  • Posting political content**
  • Only talking about yourself, always, all the time
  • Posting every five minutes even though no one is responding
  • Complaining
  • Posting about personal issues on a company account
  • Not responding to comments/questions/messages/reviews
  • Only responding to positive comments/questions/messages/reviews
  • Deleting negative comments/questions/messages/reviews
  • Using it only to self-promote
  • Don’t highjack hashtags. Especially hashtags about important news stories or causes. (hashtag etiquette is an issue all its own. Use them, but know what each hashtag stands for).

It’s important to understand that simply having accounts on social media sites isn’t enough. It actually isn’t really anything. Today’s fast-paced, instant-update world wants to see that you are active on these sites. So don’t create a Pinterest account and leave it empty, and don’t create a Facebook page and then not bother to keep it updated with all your current information – hours, deals, sales, promotions, company updates, etc. Strategically choose which platforms you’d like to use, and make the most out of them. In addition, the social media advertising options available to companies are becoming more and more targeted and advantageous. So if you decide social media is good for your business, it’s also worth investigating the benefits of running paid, targeted ads on various platforms. One final tip: if you spend the time creating and maintaining social media accounts for networking, make sure your existing fans know about them. Put links in obvious places on your website, and include icons on your promotional material so people know to check you out. Then wow them with content once they arrive.   *Offensive content is, of course, subjective. Try to avoid it in general, but definitely steer clear of posting anything offensive that doesn’t relate 100% to your business. **Exceptions to this are if your company is directly affected by that political content, or if you work for, say, a political party. [email-subscribers namefield=”YES” desc=”” group=”Public”]

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