A properly designed and executed social media strategy is one of the most powerful tools in the marketing arsenal.
Not only do sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have the potential for generating substantial inbound marketing on their own, the reader interaction features of those sites can dramatically enhance your own site's search engine ranking.
Learning how to use social media for marketing requires patience and perseverance.
It's a gradual trust-building process in which, over time, you establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. You want to position yourself as a reliable source for valuable information that solves problems, answers questions, saves time and money or just generally makes readers' lives a little easier.
A social media program is like any other marketing effort — it requires planning and commitment. Here are key steps in using social media for marketing:
- Develop a strategic plan — build management consensus to identify your target audience, your goals, the tactics you'll employ and how you'll measure success. This should also outline the message(s) you want to convey so you remain consistent in your communications.
- Commit to success — a winning social media program requires frequent contributions and responses and continually monitoring your sites for input from participants. Develop a social media calendar that specifies when and what you plan to post.
- Listen, listen, listen — probably the most important part of becoming an insider on your chosen sites is to be in tune with what the most active participants are discussing and their style of communicating. Until you know your audience thoroughly, you run the risk of alienating rather than engaging.
- Build you participation level gradually — start by answering questions, offering comments or asking questions of your own. You don't want to barge in on a conversation or be perceived as trying to take it over.
- Produce strong content — powerful content is the ultimate tool once you become established on your social media sites. A professionally written and objective white paper, devoid of overt sales pitches, is a good example. A white paper posted on your site or a social media platform can be the source for much of your interaction on social media sites. Use excerpts from your white paper or provide links to it. Links to and from the white paper as well as built-in sharing and commenting features will catch the attention of the search engines and gradually move your home site up in the rankings.
- Promote interaction — encourage comments, sharing, voting or audience sourcing on all your content. Reader engagement is not only the key to capturing your audience's interest, it will enhance your search ranking.
- Leverage your content — once you've invested in your primary content, recycle it for multiple uses to save time and money. The information in a white paper, for example, is easily adapted to other venues such blogs or posts to LinkedIn groups or industry forums.
Using social media for marketing can be highly rewarding in terms of lead generation, increasing brand awareness or whatever your goal is. With the proper understanding of how to use social media for marketing and sound execution of your strategic plan, you will reap the benefits. Always remember, however, that building relationships and gaining the trust or your audience is an ongoing process that requires constant nurturing.
Be sure your expectations are realistic. Although your ultimate goal may be increased sales, they may not be generated directly through social media. Rather, consider increases in the number of likes, friends, links or comments as indicators of success — and track them regularly.
What has your experience with social media and marketing been like? What successes and setbacks have you encountered? We'd like to hear from you in the COMMENTS section below.