Harnessing social media tools to boost sales, connect with customers and increase brand recognition has become standard operating procedure in Corporate America. More than 60% of Fortune 1,000 companies with a Web site will connect to or host some form of online community to build customer relationships. The flip side is that more than 50% will fail, ultimately eroding customer and company values.
The numbers among small businesses are more dire. A recent survey found that 76% of small-business owners say social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are not helpful in generating business leads or expanding their operations. Eighty-six percent say they have not used social networking sites to get business advice or information.
That, experts say, is a mistake, because even for those consumer-oriented businesses well-versed in social media, the effort can be surprisingly effective, bringing in unexpected demographics and customer loyalty.
Start with a plan. Determine your goals and objectives and what role social media will play in an overall marketing campaign. Then find ways to share content and bring communities together. Market and promote your company’s blog, Twitter contacts, fan pages, YouTube channels and any other media to targeted prospects and clients.
Identify which social media sites your customers are using. Search for your brand name, your competitors’ names, key words or industry. On Twitter, tools such as Advanced Search, Twitter Grader and Twellow can help you find people who may be interested in what you have to say. Join Facebook, Flickr or LinkedIn groups relevant to your business and become part of the conversation.
Register your brand name on as many social media sites as possible, whether or not you plan to use them, and use the same name on each. Web sites such as KnowEm.com and UsernameCheck.com will check availability on a large listing of social media sites at no charge.
Don’t chase technology. Instead, commit to one or two social-media sites and work on creating regular content. Readers, viewers and search engines will better recognize your expertise if you’re consistent. And you can very quickly overextend your capacity by being in too many places and not doing it effectively.
Determine what you’ll say and who will be in charge of saying it, including responding to positive and negative comments. Guidelines should spell out what kind of information employees can and can’t share.
Generate compelling content. Based on user feedback, the Art Institute of Chicago found its social media followers enjoyed watching behind-the-scenes videos of the new Modern Wing as it was built and of recent exhibitions as they were installed.
Post regularly and frequently, but avoid empty automated tweets or computer-generated messages, even if they seem more efficient. You’re not creating a conversation if you’re staying silent.
Hold the sales pitch. The goal is to foster conversation, not push products. It’s not that people don’t want to buy; people don’t want to be sold.
Recognize that social media has changed the nature of customer communication. Dialogue is critical. Communicate, contribute, and connect are the three keys to success.