Social media is the new “buzz phrase” in marketing today, and small business owners are anxious to get started. Unfortunately, most do so without a clear plan of attack or a stated goal. Jumping in and using these social networking sites without a plan will lead to wasted time, frustration and eventual abandonment of what could be a very valuable asset. It’s important to understand that social networking sites are simply tools you can use to grow your business. To make sure you maximize your social networking resources, consider how these tools can be used to craft a strategic plan that fits into your overall business strategy.
First of all, every business is unique and a business owner needs to understand that there isn’t a magic bullet out there. A solid social media strategy takes effort. Second, understand that you need to make a long-term commitment. Done correctly, social media is a very cost- effective way to accomplish your goals. You may have heard social media is free, but that is misleading — it takes time.
Determine your goals and objectives. Make them specific, attainable and measurable. For example, you may want to acquire new visitors to your web properties, convert visitors into customers or improve customer service.
Research where your customers are and what they’re talking about. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are some of the most popular sites today. With the numbers these networks are attracting daily, it’s a good bet you may have a good number of customers on these sites.
Join the conversation. Keep in mind that people do not join social networks to be sold to. Like any relationship, you need to get to know someone before you can develop trust. Remember, relationships are based on trust and trust builds business. Sales are not the goal here — making connections and building relationships is the goal.
Measure results. If your objective is to increase traffic, then you should track the number of visitors to your website and which social media sites referred them there. If you are looking to find out how your latest product is received (real-time focus group) you can track mentions on sites like Twitter. You can also measure customer satisfaction with surveys, referrals and renewal rates. Measure customer engagement by tracking newsletter subscriptions, online community activity, event attendance, testimonials and the amount of feedback you receive.
Analyze, adapt, and improve. Analyze what customers are saying about your product and service. Understanding what your customers want or don’t want allows you to change rapidly and improve your products, services and processes in real-time.
Because social media presents so many opportunities, having a strategy is imperative. Think of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as tools that tie into your larger strategy.
Pick one or two goals and use the steps above to launch and manage a successful social media effort. Similar to football, once you have a game plan it’s just blocking and tackling that. The better you execute your game plan, the more success you will have.