Manas Kumar, Thinking out Loud

my thoughts & visions for technology

Social Media for businesses: top 10 tips

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Social media, as I have mentioned in many of my previous posts, is no longer something reserved for the teen space. Over the past 18 months, social media has grown into a phenomenon that will either have a positive or negetive impact on your business (depending on how you use it).

To understand social media, you need to first understand the transition of the world wide web. You have probably heard the term “Web 2.0” – well in reality does it mean that the internet is in it’s second version? Not quite.

It’s more like the internet has moved onto it’s next level of influence.

You see, all this while the internet has been known to be the information super-highway. You type in a question in Google and out comes the answer. Very two dimensional, very mechanical not to mention how it can be manipulated for personal gain.

Enter Web 2.0 – Now you type a question, when you find the answer, you share it with your friends – your social community. The more answers are shared, the more powerful the community. Web 2.0 has not just given birth to a new era in social interaction, but it has also opened opportunities for taking the web to one level further.

Web 3.0 (which is yet to become a fad term like web 2.0) is all about semantics – it’s also being referred to as the “Semantic Web” – where the internet no longer responds to 2 dimensional queries typed into a search engine; instead  it tries to understand your nature, your social footprint, your sentiments, before it spits out a search response.

Sentiment analysis is one such emerging technology that will change the world wide web as we know it.

Earlier this month semantic search engine Evri released a new sentiment web API that claims to understand how the web feels. While busy scouring the net for people, places, and things and determining the relationships between them, the search engine is now able to understand the feelings associated with these entities, be them positive or negative.

So you can probably see how critical social media is going to be for businesses that want to remain competitive in the coming years.

After thinking long and hard (Belinda’s constant push to write this article helped) I have put together the top 10 tips for using social media most effectively for business growth.

1. Define your reason to be on social networks.

Social media marketing is not suitable for every business. The fact that your neighbour has a facebook page does not mean you go ahead and create one for your business. It is critical to determine whether or not social media is suitable for you. The answer to this question will come from looking at your target market profile. If your target market seems to be avid social media users then yes, there may be a case for you to enter that marketing space.

2. Select which social media platform to use.

As of now, there are over 100 social media platforms out there, each with their own bias about originality and flavour. In reality, they differ from each other only in terms of graphics and layout. The underlying concept is pretty much the same across the board. However, there is a preference among users. Some like Facebook, others like Bebo while the other group is more into MySpace. Once you are convinced that your target market is using social media, the next step is to survey them and understand which particular platform they use more frequently. You may find that some people use multiple platforms (I am guilty).

3. Develop a strategy first

There is nothing worse than you jumping into social media marketing with no plan or strategy. As a matter of fact, most businessses I know that are using social media are doing so with no strategy at all – They read somewhere (probably on my blog) that social media is the next big thing, so they all jumped on the band wagon and became social media gurus overnight.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want to achieve out of exposing my business to social media
  • Are my social media activities going to focus on building brand awareness or am I expecting to generate direct sales from it (the strategy is markedly different for the two objectives)
  • Who in my team will be responsible for managing this channel
  • How much budget will I allocate toward this channel (Yes, it cost money. Not to be on the networks but to manage it and guide it to get good results. Water is free but you still buy it in a bottle; right?

4. Pull together the resources needed

Social media networking, just like real world networking requires a lot of work and a long term strategy. I call it the farming approach instead of the hunting approach. You need a team of people who will manage the process for you. It’s very easy for entrepreneurs and people holding C-level positions to get sucked into the social media black hole. Develop the strategy and then let the experts execute it for you.

5. Track and measure

There’s nothing worse than having an investment that cannot be measured. There is an abundance of tools available today to measure performance on social media networks. For example: if you are in the professional services sector, and your social media strategy was to simply hunt for blogs that talk about relevant issues and comment on them, then the best tool for you to monitor your effectiveness will be a combination of Technorati (tells you how many times something was mentioned in the blogosphere) and Google Analytics (will tell you how many of these comments resulted in click throughs to your website). So you must have means to track and measure the performance.

6. Thou shalt not assume

Many years ago I worked with a guy named Karl – He was a genius when it came to sales management. Fickle as anything, he taught me the real meaning of “assume” – He told me to break down the word into “ass”, “u”, “me” – his conclusion was that when you assume, you actually end up making an “ass” of “u” and “me”. This is so true for social media networking. Once you have executed your strategy, you need to let it roll for at least 3 months before making any major changes to it. It takes a while for social media traffic to produce some results. And during this time, if you make any assumptions about what’s working and what’s not working, then you will end up paying dearly for those down the track.

7. Experience it yourself

A good way to understand social media is to experience it yourself. Depending on which strategy best suits you, you could have a blog (like mine) or a social media profile (like mine) or a twitter profile (like mine) or all of the above (like I do). As you use it yourself you will discover things that you may not have thought of before.

8. Keep an open mind

In the early days of your exposure to social media you may come across suggested strategies that may raise a few eyebrows. I suggest you hear every suggestion with an open mind and make a judgment based on tips 1, 2 and 3. One such strategy that I have found extremly powerful is using Facebook to virally grow your email marketing database.

9. Build a community, not a sales channel

Imagine if everyone in your target market was your friend; how would you interact with them? What would you say to them? What kind of topics would you be discussing with them? Would you bombard them with continous sales blah blah or would you make an honest effort to “share” information that could add value to your friends’ time looking at your post.

It’s not about how much you say or how well you say it, if your target makret does not find value in it then they won’t bother coming back to your Facebook profile the next time around. For social media networks, less is always more; and because of the bias you will carry toward your business (biassed? Me? No way – yeah right) sometimes your interactions may carry a sales disguise – now the social community sniffs it out – don’t ask me how, but they know when they are being sold something. The magic is in developing a communication strategy based on adding value, not just ad-hoc sales and marketing promos. So say less, do more, and build a community

10. Whatever you do, do it with purpose and integrity.

Social media is powerful. It is so powerful that one wrong move can ruin your online reputation. and because blogs and social media sites are not governed by any particular privacy laws, the voice of the people all of a sudden becomes more powerful than the company’s legal team. Understand your market, develop a strategy, find the right people, say the right things and most importantly – do it with integrity.

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One Response

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