Let’s Talk About Social Media
Many executives have wondered how they will ever be able to develop this murky concept, called social media, into a viable strategy that will help grow their businesses. Social media is not as complicated as you might think. Essentially, the term means sharing information, such as ideas, personal messages, videos, etc., with an online community, like your friends on Facebook or your peers on LinkedIn.
While social media can be a great asset to any company, it is not necessary (in fact, often it is counterproductive) to use every social media application you can get your hands on. The trick is to be selective. Pick and choose the applications that seem best for your business when you weigh the costs (both monetary and time) with the benefits.
Here is a list of the top five social media applications you should check out, if you haven’t used them already.
- Facebook (www.facebook.com)
Both of these free applications allow your company to connect with individuals on a personal level and maintain a dialogue with current and potential customers and partners. These days, nearly everyone, from your 14-year-old son to your 75-year-old mother-in-law, has a Facebook account (and Google+ has also risen in popularity).
In order to utilize these social networking websites, people need to “like” your company’s page. Just as you would ask people to subscribe to an e-mail list, you would ask people to “like” your Facebook page. While millions of people are on Facebook, you are only communicating with the ones who have found your page and decided to connect with you. Although this may restrict the number of people you can connect to, it also ensures that the people who receive your posts are interested in your message or company. The more people who “like” your page, the more visible your company will be, allowing you to foster relationships with customers and partners, thus generating new business. Facebook is used primarily for personal social interaction and business-to-consumer relationship building, rather than business-to-business interaction.
- Twitter (twitter.com)
When the free Twitter application first gained popularity in 2008-09, many people wondered how one could successfully communicate with a limit of just 140 characters. As users have become more comfortable with the platform, it has become clear that Twitter can be extremely useful for sharing new products and services, upcoming events, and breaking news. Essentially, think of Twitter as a way to communicate headlines, with links to other websites to provide additional information.
Twitter created a worldwide stir when Iranians used the application to instigate and organize national protests in 2009. Dubbed “Iran’s Twitter Revolution,” traditional media sources relied on Twitter posts to cover news of the national unrest because Iran had banned all traditional media from the country.
In the marketing arena, many companies are launching Twitter campaigns, including the Emmy-winning “Old Spice Guy” campaign that combined commercials, Twitter, and YouTube. The Old Spice Guy solicited questions from fans on Twitter and then answered them in personal, short, humorous YouTube videos. According to the social media experts at Mashable, the “total upload views for the Old Spice YouTube videos (including both the TV and the social media campaigns) [stands] at almost 135 million.”
- LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com)
This is the only popular social media application that is designed specifically with businesses and professionals in mind. LinkedIn is a free website that helps you to foster relationships with peers, interact directly with clients, and find and recruit talented employees. This program allows you to create a user profile and develop strategic “connections” with other professionals. LinkedIn provides many great resources, including allowing you to create a forum to interact directly with your “linked” customers to create a community, professional groups for problem solving and industry discussion, and recruiting resources. Like Facebook, LinkedIn is more effective the more people you are
“connected” with; however, it focuses on both business-to-consumer and business-to-business interaction.
- YouTube (www.youtube.com)
Since the mid-2000s, YouTube videos have surged in popularity, as the free service allows anyone to upload a video and share it with the world. YouTube can be a great resource for sharing educational and marketing videos about insulation products and systems; indeed, several insulation manufacturers have posted product and/or installation videos that you can link to on your website or send to your customers.
In order to use YouTube effectively, it’s important to ensure that you have a high quality and pertinent video. YouTube can be combined with other social media, such as using Facebook and Twitter to advertise your videos.
- Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts)
This free Google feature is an easy way to help manage your reputation, find out about new industry developments, or get updates on business partners or even competitors. Google Alerts lets you run a continuous web search on any topic. As new resultssuch as web pages, newspaper articles or blogsappear that match your initial search query, you will be sent an e-mail alerting you of the news. You can use Google Alerts to monitor anything on the web.
For example, many insulation professionals use Google Alerts to perform the following:
- Find out what is being said about
- Monitor a developing news story
- Keep up to date on a competitor
- Find out about new industry
- Monitor codes or pending legislation
that affects the insulation industry
- Find out what is being said about
In case you are worried that this feature has the potential to clog your inbox with e-mails, fear not. With Google Alerts, you can specify the frequency of e-mails to receive updates on a as-it-happens, daily, or weekly basis.
Creating a Plan
As you start to develop your social media strategy, devote some time and energy to
careful planning. Consider your target audience, determine your goals (brand building, marketing products, strengthening customer relationships, etc.) and evaluate the best social media tools to reach them. For instance, if your goal is to stay informed of industry news, Google Alerts might be the right tool. If you want to market your company’s products, Twitter might be a better forum. After you have established your goals, determine the metrics you will use to evaluate progress and how you will define success.
Once you have determined this part of your strategy, designate a staff member (or members) to be responsible for implementing and maintaining your social media platforms and invest in a social media training program for those personnel. Choose staff members you trust to speak on your behalf, manage your marketing and branding, and protect your company’s reputation. Additionally, make sure that these staff members are knowledgeable of your company’s policies and have the authority to address the customer complaints or issues that might arise in these public forums. Your designated staff members will be representing your company on a global scale; thus, it is important that
their communications are professional and their responses improve your brand, rather than harm it. Think of your social media applications as a billboard advertisement for your company on the highway. How would it look if your company’s billboard contained a misspelling or grammatical mistake?
The next step is to make your social media strategy a priority. Create a flexible calendar addressing the topics and timeline of posts. Set reasonable and specific goals, e.g., write one Facebook post each morning or week. A social media plan is not something you develop and then forget about; it’s an ongoing effort. Overall, make sure your company supports staff and allows them the time needed to learn about social media and implement your plan successfully.
Social Media Management
You will probably choose to use more than one social media channel in your marketing strategy. Fortunately, there are a few tools that are designed specifically to help you manage your entire social media campaign from just one website. These time-saving tools are a great help to a small marketing team. When selecting a social media application, it’s important to select a program that includes all or most of your social media websites so that you’re not just adding another program to the list of websites you have to monitor.
- TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com)
This free website manages Twitter and Facebook accounts.
- Hootsuite (hootsuite.com)
This social media management program allows you to manage your Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Ping.fm, WordPress, My Space, and Mixi accounts all from one website. It also allows you to add customized applications, such as YouTube, Flickr, and Tumblr. Hootsuite has various paid levels that are affordable for small businesses.
- Hubspot (www.hubspot.com)
This social media management program is more extensive, as it offers a complete marketing system for small businesses. It includes website management, blogging tools, lead nurturing, e-mail marketing/automation, inbound marketing analytics and other tools. Free trials are available, but it costs $100 a year for the basic program.
One of the biggest perks of the “digital age” is that marketing your company does not have to cost a fortune. With a savvy and selective media strategy, you can utilize free (or inexpensive) social media applications to brand your company; foster relationships with current and potential clients; recruit talented personnel; and keep tabs on new developments in your field, your competitors’ activities, and your own reputation. Social media can serve as a reasonably inexpensive way to expand your company’s marketing reach, in addition to your existing traditional marketing strategies.